Israel's Image Suffered in Media Following Gaza Pullout

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Contrary to the expectations of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, international pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians increased and Israel's image in the foreign media deteriorated following Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, according to the results of a new study.

At the time of the disengagement, the Israeli leadership expected to reap public relations and media benefits from its unilateral decision to uproot 9,000 Israelis from their homes in all 21 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank. They also hoped that the pullout would lessen demands from the international community for further territorial concessions.

(In fact at the time Sharon's advisor, Dov Weisglass, said the disengagement would put the peace process in the "deep freeze" for years to come.)

But that has not been the case, according to the results of a new study conducted by Dr. Tamir Sheafer and Itai Gabai from the Departments of Politics and Communications & Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

During the month leading up to and including the disengagement, Israel's image improved, Sheafer told Cybercast News Service, but during the half year following the pullout, it actually deteriorated, he said.

"Improving Israel's image and lowering the demands for further concessions were among the goals for the disengagement," Sheafer said. The opposite actually happened.

"We found that one of the main reasons for this phenomenon is that Israel continues to be viewed by the world as a conquering state," Sheafer said in a statement.

The researchers also found that the international community actually increased its demand from Israel to make territorial concessions following the disengagement, he said.

According to Sheafer, it was not entirely clear why Israel's image had declined instead of remaining constant.

But Sheafer said that his assumption is that the disengagement showed that Israel could leave areas that the Palestinians claim and remove the Israeli settlers that are living there. So the world thinks that if Israel can do it, then it should, he said.

"In a way it backfired," Sheafer said.

Nevertheless, Sheafer said that it was important to point out that the image of the Palestinians also deteriorated in the foreign media due to the strengthening of Hamas as a result of what were supposed to have been democratic elections.

Sheafer and Gabai analyzed data from thousands of on-line sources including the New York Times and USA Today as well as American television networks - ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox - and British media - the London Times, the Guardian, the Independent and the BBC - as well as declarations of American and British leaders, ministers and politicians on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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