Segment #4: Barak: "I don't review polls" – pages 75-86


"Keren Neubach, the Israeli Channel 1 reporter had the rare chance to tell an Israeli PM, on air, that she doesn't believe him. Neubach tried to ask Barak about findings from polls that were published shortly before the interview, Barak didn't like the question and responded flatly: "I don't review polls"; Neubach's immediate response was: "I don't believe that".

In this part of the book (chapter 6) the author tries to re-address the argument that Barak was addicted to polls. The chapter deals with the different pollsters ('private' versus 'public') and the magnitude of their effect on his decision-making.


"Ehud Barak reviewed many polls during his term. In fact, Barak's use of polls was unprecedented by any other Israeli PM, including Netanyahu. Other than his office-financed polls, dozens of other polls were passed to Barak by people favoring his policies [throughout the book, the Jewish millionaire Danny Abraham and his representative in Israel, Jim Gerstein, are repeatedly referred to in that matter; J.A]. There was no 'Poll-less week' during his term.

Barak included nearly every possible issue in the polls conducted on his behalf– from routine questions concerning his public image and the people's opinion of security and foreign policy matters, through issues about taxes, political questions and even questions such as: 'who do you believe will be the best Israeli representative abroad? Do you find the IDF's recent operation in Rammallah to be adequate?

In the time frame between Barak's meeting with Syrian foreign Minister Farouk A-Shara and the Shepherdstown Summit, Barak's polls started to play a key role as a basis for decision-making. It is plausible that the findings of these polls are responsible for the fact that Barak ultimately failed to reach an agreement with the Syrians. Polls conducted at Barak's request played a vital role designing Barak's negotiation strategies in the Palestinian channel.

Immediately after winning the elections, Barak introduced two 'poll systems'. The first was official and paid through the PM's office. Barak's brother, Avinoam Brog, who used to work for the 'Gallup' polling institute, introduced Barak to Mrs. Daphna Goldberg-Anavi, a pollster in the institute. The fact that Goldberg had served previously under PM Netanyahu didn't seem to matter and Goldberg was hired by the PM's office [..].

A pollster [the literal translation of the term used in the book is: 'Polling Advisor'; J.A] is considered to be a prominent figure in the Prime Minister's team. In the vast majority of cases, complete trust prevailed in the relationship between the pollsters and the PM. Hence, the findings of the polls, as well as the issues they dealt with, are viewed as one of the most confidential secrets in the Prime Minister's office, and an 'exclusive group' of people are exposed to them. The group is predominantly the PM's closest circle of strategic advisors".

[The author proceeds to describing the troublesome relationship between Barak and Goldberg, as reflected by the fact that she never got the chance to meet Barak or talk to him directly, throughout the whole term of his office; various incidents illustrating Barak's disregard for her efforts are presented at length]

"Barak insisted on reviewing new poll findings as soon as they were available, at any time of the day. Haim Mandel Shaked used to read him polls results sometimes on the hour and Barak constantly tried to affect the questions and formation of the poll. Goldberg didn't allow that, claiming that Barak's directives (delivered through Shaked) reflect too much bias benefiting Barak".

[Drucker provides with the reader with information that the Gallup institute was also contracted by the Israeli Daily 'Maariv' to conduct political polls, which Goldberg was prohibited to conduct as part of her duty in the PM's team; Many times Barak gained from this fact, as Goldberg managed to pass him Maariv's data, prior to its publication; Barak, however, saw Goldberg's close ties with Maariv a threat to his strict 'no information disclosure' policy and in a paranoidical manner befitting him, always tried to 'unravel the plot']

"It seemed that Barak had a hard time trusting the official poll channel".

[The private poll channel was headed by] "Stanley Greenberg, who is one of the renowned poll-advisors in the US. He served as President Clinton's pollster and is considered globally to be an expert in the field. During the 1999 campaign, he displayed such confidence in his findings indicating Barak's victory, until his colleague James Carville, gave a 'winner's interview' to the Israeli press, four days prior to the election after which he immediately left the country. While Carville was giving the interview, Yitzhak Mordechai was still in the race, and the commentators anticipated a second election round.

Following the elections, the three American advisors established GCS (Greenberg, Carville, Schrum), incorporating two of Barak's main figures of the campaign: Tal Zilbershtein and Moshe Gaon. Gaon and Zilbershtein explained to the media that the company's objective is to implement the Barak campaign strategy in different election campaigns worldwide. Indeed, this company profited greatly from its professional knowledge, as well as from its close ties with the Prime Minister himself. Retrospectively, it is evident that Greenberg and Gaon are the two prominent links of the private poll channel".

The private poll team issued, three months after the elections, a well-rounded program for Barak's decision-making process, in which each of the three partners contributed his advantages. Schrum focused on messages and narratives ('we inherited stagnation', 'it’ll take time' and more), Gaon focused on media interview techniques and strategies ('talk to the people over the head of the media'). Greenberg focused his part of the plan on reflecting troublesome findings that demand the PM's attention: (1) the public would like the PM to focus on internal affairs, and their evaluation of him on these matters (after three months in office) is rather mediocre; (2) There is a growing gap between men and women with regards to their level of trust in Barak. Greenberg based his findings on polls conducted by Dori Shadmon. [Drucker reiterates Greenberg's blunt, straightforward approach throughout the book, see examples below]

[The GCS model is described see abstract]

"For the two monthly polls, Greenberg charged $40,000 USD. A price tag of $27,000 USD was given to the quarterly 'message research'. In total, an annual poll program will cost Barak $503,000 USD. $78,000 USD were requested for focus group research. Greenberg's salary ($20,000 USD per month) and a yearly traveling fee of $16,000 USD add up to around a million USD per annum. Greenberg, knowing that Barak might not have that kind of money available wrote [an email from Stanley Greenberg to Tal Zilbershtein is presented and cited, see appendix 1]: "if the costs of the program exceed Barak's financial abilities, it is possible to reduce the polls model, or, alternatively, to cover the expenses through the 'Peace Institute' dealing with public education for peace. At least two focus groups can be funded through the government budget, based on the existing law. Teleseker will conduct ad-hoc polls to assess different issues the PM deems require his immediate attention; Dori has made a specific plan. I hope this allows you to proceed with Doron Cohen".[Drucker mentions that Doron Cohen, Barak's brother in law, is Barak's 'right hand', especially in matters of finances and management] "Greenberg and his team worked for Barak throughout his term. In hectic times such as the Shepherdstown and Camp David Summits, as well as the 2001 campaign, the group intensified its activity and conducted polls more frequently. Greenberg mentioned in his business plan that such intensified effort, will require additional funds. A careful estimate is that Barak paid over 1.5 million USD for the services of the GCS team.

The main financer of the effort was Danny Abraham. Abraham, a rich 'media shy' Jew who used to own the diet product 'Slim Fast'. Abraham is considered a man who takes the peace process very seriously and has invested time and money supporting the efforts to advance the peace process. He is also regarded as a contributor for the Clinton administration, and therefore is known to have strong ties with the former President. Two weeks prior to Barak's victor in 1999, Doron Cohen received a message from Abraham with the following: "I would like to establish an organizational framework that will actively work to effect the public opinion according to Barak's agenda. I am willing to provide substantial financial support for the matter". Cohen, off course, accepts the generous offer, which is quickly followed up by Jim Gerstein, an American in his mid-thirties, who is familiar with the intricacies of Israeli politics. Gerstein was the coordinator for the three American advisors throughout the 1999 campaign.

Gerstein established a Tel Aviv office and basically dispersed Greenberg's analysis to Barak and Gaon. Barak himself used to talk directly with Gaon and Greenberg, consulting them, instructing them and brainstorming the analysis of the findings. [a sharp contrast to the Goldberg case].

Another financial supporter of the private channel was Martin Bunzl who was very familiar to the Labor party officials. He was also a man known for his keen interest in advancing the peace process, an interest often backed by financial support. Bunzl mainly dealt with the Russian community polls, and reviewed Greenberg's poll analysis himself".

 A third 'voluntary channel' was also active, though in reduced intensity and frequency. The main figures of this channel were Dori Shadmon, the 'Shvakim Panorama' institute and more. This channel enjoyed the sporadic financial support of Jean Friedman, Barak's close acquaintance.

Barak ran these two main channels in a discrete manner. Greenberg's team was convinced that the official channel lacked credence and was not supplying substantial information. Goldberg was not permitted to see any of Greenberg's material. She was unaware of his methods, as well as his questions and findings. The result was perfect, as far as Barak was concerned. He was the only one looking at the whole picture.

On December 12th, 1999, ten days prior to the Shepherdstown summit, Barak receives a secret analysis report from Greenberg: "The first poll, conducted after the White House summit with A-Shara raises several 'warning flags' with regards to a possible agreement with Syria. The public is afraid the proceedings in Washington are being done too fast and is concerned with that. In the past three weeks, the percentage of Jewish population thinking that the process is running to fast rose dramatically from 25 percent to 47 percent. Fifty-nine percent believe that Barak is proceeding to fast in the Syrian channel. The public trust in PM Barak has declined (from 45 percent to 35 percent) and the support for a possible Israeli-Syrian agreement, within the Hebrew-speaking population has dropped and is now 46-46 favoring and opposing the agreement. This situation will leave us far behind with regards to a possible Jewish majority in a referendum, and, seemingly, also without a majority in the entire population. We are clearly in a dangerous position if you are seeking to lead the county to a new era".

Greenberg proceeded with concrete advice on improving the situation: "you must present the negotiation as part of a national effort rather than a fruit of your personal effort and leadership, since an efficient opposition message is that 'Barak is running on his own,' disregarding the lack of support. This must be done (among other measures) through using concessions made by previous Prime Ministers such as Rabin and Netanyahu". Barak followed this advice.

Greenberg's 'pearl of wisdom' in his report was the advice to use the moments of crisis in the negotiation, to assert these messages. "it is clear to me that there will be moments" Greenberg wrote to Barak, "in which it will seem as if the process is stuck, these moments will serve you well. The public would like to see a tough negotiation and a careful approach discussing such delicate issues".

Pursuant to this report, Barak received another analysis by Gaon and Eldad Yaniv, both also highly regarded by Barak. The two wrote: "the public fears a failing agreement, and the distress felt by the possibility of losing the Golan Heights might cause an emotional response against an agreement. Giving up the water resources and enabling the Syrians to 'paddle their feet' in the Sea of Galilee, are both seen as factors instigating fear in the public, thus creating a major hurdle for the process". Yaniv and Gaon also noted that "the opposition is aware of these issues, and will probably try to 'spin' the media, prior to the delegation's departure for Shepherdstown. The spin will argue that following the Golan Heights are going to be compromised during the summit, and the deal was closed a-priori, by the Americans, at the expense of Israel's security interests. Should you return with a 'core agreement' entailing concessions in the Golan Heights, which weren't met by a full normalization agreement by the Syrians, this opposition's spin is expected to permeate to the public. Barak immediately called his closest team for a meeting held in his private residence, trying to devise a plan that will confront the said challenges.

Only Ehud Barak can explain the motives behind his negotiation strategy in Shepherdstown. The polls and pessimistic analyses presented to him frequently, during the summit, surely affected his decision-making.