A huge shift in public opinion: Israel’s war on Gaza and the Arab World

Israel bombing

The current Gaza War is a historic event. Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people, the US and Western world’s unlimited support for it, and the heroic struggle of the Palestinian resistance — all this has shaken the world and provoked an unprecedented global pro-Palestine solidarity movement .

Recent votes in the UN General Assembly have demonstrated that never before has the US been so isolated on a crucial issue of world politics. Support for the Palestinian liberation struggle is massively increasing — even in countries where the ruling class and their media have waged a relentless campaign of support for Israel and of hatred towards the “terrorist” Hamas.

The shift in public opinion is particularly strong in the Arab world. Unsurprisingly, this has made Western strategists increasingly nervous. Foreign Affairs recently published an essay[1] confirming this assessment — which is all the more remarkable as this magazine is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank with close ties to the US State Department.

This essay is based on the findings of an extensive survey in Tunisia, conducted by research firm Arab Barometer. By chance, about half of the 2406 interviews were completed in the three weeks before Hamas’ October 7 attack, while the remaining half occurred in the three weeks after. Hence, researchers could observe shifts in public opinion.

While the survey was limited to one country, it is representative of the Arab world. Tunisia is, as the authors note, “about as close to a bellwether as one could imagine. In previous Arab Barometer surveys, Tunisians have had views similar to those found in most other Arab countries.” Tunisia is one of the most pro-Western countries in the Arab world, given its long-standing links with Western Europe not only via trade but also tourism — one of the most important sectors of the country’s economy. In any case, the authors are correct to state that “analysts and officials can safely assume that people’s views elsewhere in the region have shifted in ways similar to the recent changes that have taken place in Tunisia.”

Numbers don't lie

Let us briefly summarise the most important findings of the survey. Confirming the historic dimension of the Gaza War, the authors say: “Those shifts have been dramatic: rarely are changes of this magnitude seen in the course of a few weeks.”

One crucial finding is the collapse of popular sympathy for the U.S. In the interviews carried out before the October 7 attack, 40% of Tunisians had a positive view of the US, compared with 56% who had an unfavourable opinion. “But after the war in Gaza began, that quickly changed. By the end of our fieldwork, only ten percent of Tunisians had a positive view of the United States. Eighty-seven percent, by contrast, had an unfavorable impression.”

In contrast, China and Russia, having taken a neutral stance in the Gaza War, have kept and even raise their sympathy values.

Likewise, Tunisians view of Saudi Arabia — which was considering the so-called “normalisation” of its relation with Israel before October 7 — also dimmed. Approval rates for Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declined from 55% before the attack to 40%. The same can be seen for UAE ruler Mohammed bin Zayed, whose approval rating declined from 49% before the attack to a third in late October.

Likewise, the idea of “normalisation” has become even more despised. Already before the war, only 12% of people supported normalisation. However, since October 7, with just 1% expressed sympathy for this idea.

Iran took the opposite stance and expressed itself publicly and in strong terms as a supporter of Hamas. Hence, while just 29% of Tunisians held a favourable view of Iran’s foreign policies before October 7, this figure rose to 41%.

Views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also changed in important ways. Before October 7, 66% of Tunisians “favored a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, whereas 18 percent favored an alternative diplomatic path, such as a single state with equal rights for all or a confederation. Just six percent of Tunisians chose ‘other,’ the vast majority of whom proposed armed resistance to Israel’s occupation, possibly entailing the elimination of the state of Israel. But by the end of our fieldwork, only 50 percent of Tunisians supported the two-state solution. Those in favor of a one-state solution or a confederation fell by seven points combined. The biggest gain was the “other” category, which increased by 30 points to 36 percent. Once again, the vast majority of these Tunisians wanted continued, armed resistance.”

Many worries for Western leaders

It is hardly surprising that the authors of the Foreign Affairs essay are deeply worried about such development, which they consider — correctly — as representative of the Arab world. “In just 20 days, Tunisians’ views on the world shifted in ways that rarely happen even over the course of a few years. There is no other issue across the Arab world to which people feel so individually and emotionally connected.”

They fear the US has suffered a strategic setback in its global influence, particularly in the Arab world. “Public opinion matters even in nondemocracies, where leaders must worry about protests, and these shifting views will reshape politics in the Arab world — as well as around the globe. The United States and its regional allies will have great difficulty expanding the Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between several Arab states and Israel. Washington may also lose the advantage in its contest with a rising China and a resurgent Russia. The United States could even find that many long-standing allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates become less friendly toward the United States and more receptive toward its rivals.”

Equally alarming for Israel as well as for Washington is the dramatic rise in support for armed struggle the Zionist state. “[F]ar more Tunisians today want the Palestinians to resolve their conflict with Israel via force rather than with a peaceful settlement. The growing support for armed resistance could also have dangerous consequences.”

It should be noted that the survey ended in late October. One can take it for granted that since then, the US’s prestige in the Arab world has further collapsed, sympathy for a two-state solution has continued to decline, and support for armed struggle against the Zionist state has increased even more. The recent successful strikes of the Houthis in Yemen against Israel-linked shipping vessels can not but have increased popular support for a militant course.[2]

While we cannot foresee what the outcome of the current Gaza War will be, there exists no doubt that this is a world-shaking event.[3] It is politicising and radicalising new generations all over the world, bringing them in contact with anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist ideas. This includes a new generation of young US Jews who are fed up with the hypocrisy and brutality of the colonial settler state of Israel.

We are amid a historic event similar to 1968 or 2003. The task of socialists in such a situation is to double their efforts in educating and organising, in order to be up to these tasks.

Michael Pröbsting is a socialist activist and writer. He is the editor of the website http://www.thecommunists.net/ where a version of this article first appeared.


[1] Michael Robbins, MaryClare Roche, Amaney A. Jamal, Salma Al-Shami, and Mark Tessler: “How the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza Is Changing Arab Views. Support Is Falling for America and the Two-State Solution — but Rising for Iran and Violent Resistance”, Foreign Affairs, December 14, 2023, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/middle-east/how-israel-hamas-war-gaza-changing-arab-views. All quotes are from this essay if not indicated otherwise.

[2] See on this RCIT: “Gaza War: The Houthis and the Looming Imperialist Intervention in the Red Sea”, 14 December 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/the-houthis-and-the-looming-imperialist-intervention-in-the-red-sea/; and Michael Pröbsting: “Gaza War: The Houthis Have Opened the Second Front. Major international shipping companies stop their operations through the Red Sea after a series of attacks by the Yemeni rebels”, 16 December 2023, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/gaza-war-the-houthis-have-opened-the-second-front/.

[3] We refer readers to a special page on our website where RCIT documents on the 2023 Gaza War are compiled https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/compilation-of-articles-on-the-gaza-uprising-2023/.