Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Israeli government, American Jewish groups, and the head of the European Commission have expressed serious concerns about the results of a recent poll in which a majority of Europeans said they believed that Israel posed more of a threat to world peace than any other nation.
The United States also ranked high on the "threat" list.
The results of the European Commission survey were officially published on Monday but some finding were leaked to the press ahead of time.
The poll surveyed more than 7,000 Europeans from the European Union's 15 member countries on issues primarily concerning Iraq but also the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and other topics.
Respondents were given a list of 15 countries and asked if each country was a "threat to world peace."
Fifty-nine percent - the highest percentage - said they believed Israel to be such a threat, while 53 percent viewed the U.S., Iran and North Korea as a threat to world peace.
Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman David Saranga suggested that the poll results were the outcome of "unbalanced declarations" made by European nations during recent years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Europe has largely backed the Palestinians. It sent diplomats to visit Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah long after Israel and the U.S. had stopped dealing with him.
"The fact that two democratic countries, Israel and the U.S., are leading the list [of threats to peace] is something strange," Saranga said in a telephone interview. "We think that Europe should check itself whether its unbalanced declarations of the last years are the reason for this perception.
"We ask ourselves [why] the PA is not part of that poll [list] when they're talking about a conflict between two parties," he said.
Israeli and Europe are trading partners, with an annual trade volume of some $21 billion -- and two-thirds of the goods moving from Europe to Israel, Saranga said.
Saranga also noted that Israel has fared better in other recent European polls, including one published in June, which showed that Europeans' sympathy for Israel had risen five percent over the last six years.
Anti-Semitism a factor?
Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky, who is responsible for Jewish affairs throughout the world, said that the fact that Israel -- rather than terror-sponsoring states -- was deemed a danger to world peace proved that "behind the 'political' criticism of Israel stands nothing less than anti-Semitism."
"Just as in the past, when Jews were considered 'the devil,' responsible for all the world's ills, the 'civilized' world today blames the Jewish state, Israel, for all the world's problems," Sharansky was quoted as saying.
Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, Jerusalem director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, blamed anti-Semitism as well as other factors for the poll results.
"It's very simple," Zuroff said by telephone. "It's a combination of very bad press [for the last three years], a degree of anti-Semitism and [perhaps] even to a larger degree, anti-Americanism."
According to Zuroff, America is seen as a staunch supporter of Israel and Israel is viewed as America's "messenger." That creates a vacuum in the Arab world, which the Europeans view as an opportunity to fill, he said, disqualifying them from any meaningful participation in the peace process.
Israel has for years blocked any significant European participation in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks because of its perceived bias toward the Palestinians.
"Heaven help us [if the results of the poll are accurate]," Zuroff said.
"Heaven help them also if they can't recognize the dangers of North Korea and Iran," which is openly calling for the destruction of Israel and on its way to obtaining a nuclear bomb, he added. "Send them all back to elementary school for re-schooling."
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman also blamed the poll results on anti-Semitism bred by harsh criticism of Israel.
"This poll serves to confirm a dynamic that has been underway in Europe for some time - that excessive criticism of Israel is fanning hostilities and hatred across the Continent and contributing to anti-Semitism," Foxman said in a statement.
"European leaders must understand that their one-sided criticism of Israel has consequences for European policy and opinion," he said.
While it is legitimate for the EU to disagree with Israeli policies, the "frequency and tone" of the criticism "is often aired in a manner that taints the entire State of Israel," Foxman said.
"Such criticism is bolstered and augmented by the vilification of Israel in much of the media in Europe. Little mention is made of the strength of Israeli-European diplomatic and trade relations...
"These findings undoubtedly create the climate in which anti-Semitism flourishes and in which governments rationalize it," he said.
Two public opinion polls by the ADL of 10 European countries in 2002 on attitudes toward Jews and Israel "found similar hostility towards Israel by Europeans."
Foxman and several other Jewish leaders met with European Commission President Romano Prodi in New York to discuss the results of the survey.
Following the meeting, Prodi also expressed his deep concern over the results of the survey.
"I am very concerned at the results of this survey," Prodi said. "They point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand. To the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical.
"In the Europe born in reaction to the horrors of war and the Shoah [Holocaust], there is no place for anti-Semitism and it cannot be tolerated," Prodi said in a statement.
"The survey reveals signs that we must all consider carefully with the aim of finding the right responses," he added.
Prodi stressed that Euro-barometer, which carried out this poll and conducts various surveys for the EC, "does not reflect the Commission's thinking or policy.
"The Commission does not base its policy on opinion polls nor does it decide or control what public opinion thinks," he added.
Foxman welcomed Prodi's statement and what he called "his readiness to consider and support a seminar to address the fundamentals of the issues that underlie these disturbing attitudes."