Polls show that the way ordinary Russians perceive this conflict is almost entirely free of the former Soviet image of "aggressive Israeli militarists," "the long-suffering people of Palestine" and other propagandist cliches and ideological stereotypes. Moreover, Russians' opinions on the Middle East confrontation are largely non-ideological. The major media, both electronic publications and quality newspapers, offer fairly objective coverage, providing information from each party and leaving it up to readers to assess the news and form their opinions.
Now, as the conflict has escalated into a more active phase, Russians' stand is largely determined by their attitudes towards Israel, which, despite an increase in xenophobia, have been increasingly neutral in recent years. At least, a February survey by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that 61% of respondents were indifferent to Israel, and 49% were not interested in the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. At the same time, however, the number of people who have a positive view of Israel has fallen, from 30% to 24% in the last five years. Still, the change is not too dramatic, although it should perhaps be viewed in the context of stronger anti-American and anti-Western sentiments in Russian society.
July polls by the Public Opinion Foundation and the Levada Center yielded similar results. As many as 13% of respondents supported Israel and 8% sided with its opponents, according to the Foundation. In the Levada poll, 5% said Russia should support Israel, and 4% - Palestine and Lebanon. Many more respondents opted for a neutral stand: 63% in the Foundation's poll said they did not side with any party and 41% said they disapproved of Israel's actions and that the conflict should be settled peacefully. This opinion was shared by 48% of the Levada poll's respondents. Those who approved of Israel pointed out that it was trying to rescue its kidnapped soldiers. Still, most Russians are certain that escalation of the conflict will only encourage terrorism.
Perhaps, it would be wrong to say that the neutral position prevails only because the time when Russians had clear political and emotional preferences in Palestinian-Israeli wars is long gone. It is now more difficult for Russians to determine their attitudes towards those who fight against Israel.
In the February survey, respondents were asked to define these people as either terrorists or freedom fighters, and as many as 63% of respondents could not answer. Remarkably, the share of Russians who adopt a neutral position is similar. Now 17% of respondents (versus 20% two years ago) think that Palestinians engaged in fighting are terrorists. This, however, does not mean that the latter enjoy more sympathy: the share of people who view them as freedom fighters also dropped, from 26% to 20%. This is another proof of a growing uncertainty in assessments.
To sum up, neither the old Soviet stereotypes, nor stronger xenophobic sentiments influence Russian public opinion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moreover, not all Russians follow the developments even when they make international headlines: only 13% of respondents knew what had caused the recent escalation, while 24% had no idea.