And the loser is … Israel

It is been a very long time since I wrote a post. Apologies.

I think unconsciously I was waiting for some positive news to write about. I live in a country which attracts incredible negativity worldwide, so I try to counterbalance this by tuning in to uplifting stories.

This year I took a liking into surveys. I previously wrote about how Tel Aviv scored among the 10 best-rated beach cities in the world. I wrote about how the quality of life in Israel has been polled and ranked high, surprisingly close to countries like Italy and Spain. I wrote about how Israelis are ranked as being very happy people, taking the 8th place in the worldwide happiness chart.  This is all great news. But what is next?

The last global survey conducted for BBC and published two weeks ago, looked into the popularity of countries in the world. Here, Israel managed to score 4th from the bottom, which makes it one of the least popular countries in the eyes of the world. In terms of negativity, Israel is second only to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran (!). Compared to the previous year, when Israel was at the bottom of the chart, this could actually be my next good story. But it is not.

While researching a bit on this poll, I had a few interesting insights, which I want to share.

28,000 people across the world were interviewed between December 2010 and February 2011 by international polling firm GlobeScan. The exact question was: “Please tell me if you think each of the following countries is having a mainly positive or mainly negative influence in the world”. No matter the increasing positive trend Israel experiences (from 21% mostly negative to 19% mostly negative), it seems that Israel is still the champion of negativity, at least judging from the angle expressed in the headlines:

“Israel, Iran, Pakistan World’s Least Popular Nations”IPS news

“Israel, world’s least popular country”IRAN English radio website

IRAN English radio website, interestingly, goes as far as declaring “Israel, world’s least popular country”, not only distorting the results, but forgetting to mention that actually Iran itself won the title. I tried to correct the article by commenting on this detail, but my comment never made it through the security check. How I love free press.

Taking a closer look at the survey, we find that the countries which expressed the more positive attitude to Israel were the US (43% supported Israel), Russia (35%,) Ghana (32%) and India (21% ). While US support is stating the obvious, Russia may have a condescending look on Israel given the 1.5 million Russian people living there. As for India, it sees thousands of Israelis tourists every year, generating a significant income. The only mystery for me is the wide positivity expressed by Ghana, the root of which may be found in some obscure reason related to football, of which I know nothing about.

The countries  expressing more negativity towards Israel were Egypt (87%), Spain (71%), Turkey (70%), Australia (67%), and Germany (65%). Actually, the most popular country in the world, according to this survey, is indeed Germany. Germany is portrayed as being the country which has the most positive influence on the world as of 2011. Interesting that the country which was voted more favorably, showed up as one of the countries whose population most dislikes (I do not want to write hate) Israel. Does that mean anything?

I often feel a bit schizophrenic living as an Italian (one of the most sympathy-inspiring nationalities) in Israel (one of the less sympathy-inspiring nationalities). To cheer up a bit, I resorted to my Italian pride and began wondering how well had Italy scored. So I took a close look at the 17 countries considered for evaluation, and realized Italy was not among them. How can this survey be representative of the world countries’ influence? If a reader only refers to the headlines generated by this survey, he will clearly get the impression that Germany is a better place than, say, Italy. One can see how easy is to come up with sensational headlines with a very restrictive and biased survey. If you still believe that statistics are not open to manipulation, keep reading.

Germany, the country which was awarded more positive reviews,  was also part of the 27 countries which were given a voice in the survey, while Israel was not. I am not an expert, but does not this pollutes the results? Is it statistically correct? The more I looked at this survey, the less I liked it. So I took the time to cross-check the list of the 27 countries were the survey was conducted:

Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, UK, US

… with the list of the 17 countries on which an opinion was requested:

Germany, UK, Canada, EU, Japan, France, Brazil, US, China, South Africa, India, South Korea, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran

Unless otherwise stated, I am assuming the questionnaire was identical in all the countries. So here is my amazing finding:

Of the 17 nations examined, Israel and North Korea are the only two nations in the list which were being judged by other nations (themselves subject to evaluation) but were not part of the poll of interviewed countries. In other words, Germany could express positivity or negativity for Germany, Japan for Japan, Iran for Iran, but Israel and North Korea were the only nations which were judged (positively or negatively) but were not given a voice. Maybe they are far too dangerous places to venture for an interviewer. Maybe nobody cares what they have to say, actually. Not BBC, who commissioned the survey.

And then they say it is not nice to talk about people when they are absent from the room!

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