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Pew Poll: Declining Democratic Preference for Israel

pew poll on israelM.J. Rosenberg just featured the latest Pew poll on American attitudes toward Israel and Palestine.  He focussed on a decline among Democrats in those who say they favor Israel over the Palestinians.  In the past 35 years, those who declare their sympathies lay more with Israel declined from 44% to 39%.  While preferences among Republicans rose from 49% to 66%.

While I agree with M.J. that this is an important statistic, I don’t share his optimism that the Democratic Party will shed its knee-jerk pro-Israelism anytime soon.  Nevertheless, I do think that numbers like this indicate a long-term shift in the making.  As he notes, the Democrats have historically been far the most pro-Israel of political parties.  Harry Truman recognized the new Israeli state.  LBJ helped Israel win the 1967 war.  Jimmy Carter negotiated Camp David with Menachem Begin.  Bill Clinton made his own valiant Camp David effort, though it came up short.

Republicans have, in the past, been laggards in supporting Israel. Eisenhower ended the Sinai War by threatening Israel and its allies.  Nixon and Kissinger urged Israel to accept a ceasefire by threatening to withhold further military aid.  Remember Jim Baker’s foul-mouthed taunt of Yitzhak Shamir and George Bush’s aid freeze?

All that has changed of course in the past decade or so as wealthy Jewish corporate titans like Sheldon Adelson and a host of others have poured hundreds of millions into GOP coffers.  As M.J. correctly notes, the Republicans are playing catch-up.  Now, at least, there is a competition between the parties to see who can be the most slavishly pro-Israel.  A perfect, and most unseemly example, is Barack Obama’s recent dog and pony show in Israel during which he hit all the high notes from the Israel-America hymnal.

But what if the two parties are gradually moving in quite different directions on this subject as the Pew poll indicates?  What if the GOP becomes virtually a mirror image of the Likud in its Israel-related agenda, while the increasing alienation of the Democratic rank and file leads to challenging the accepted pro-Israel wisdom?  What if it is no longer critical for Democratic candidates to ask “how high” when the Lobby tells them to jump?

Though American politics are always tough to predict, it appears the GOP has entered what could be an extended hiatus in which its influence wanes.  Its ability to elect presidents appears curtailed, at least for now.  It has lost much of the vote among Blacks, Latinos and Asians.  It has found itself out of touch with the mainstream on issues regarding gay rights and gay marriage.  What if, in becoming the most pro-Israel party, the GOP is only further cementing its isolation from the mainstream?  What if the Democrats are in the midst of a long-term period of dominance in presidential politics that continues for some time to come?

I would predict that just as attitudes among youth serve as the leading edge among Americans as harbingers of change, this may be the case with Israel as well (only 36% of those 18-29 favor Israel over the Palestinians in the poll).  The older generation, schooled in the folk myth of Israel’s founding in 1948 and its fight for survival among Arabs seeking its destruction, will eventually give way to a younger generation who sees nothing but stalemate and rejectionism on both sides.  Unlike in the past, they will blame the Israelis at least as much as the Palestinians, perhaps more.

That could lead to a gradual divorce of the Democratic Party from robo-Zionism.  While it will never lead to a full-fledged embrace of the Palestinian cause, it might allow the U.S. to play the role of a truly honest broker, pressuring both sides (but especially Israel) to make the compromises necessary  for peace.

What this means is that while it remains critical for the Democrats to battle toe-to-toe with the GOP on issues like national security in order to preserve their electoral advantage, Israel may become an after-thought in U.S. politics.  An onslaught from Aipac or the Republican Jewish Coalition accusing the Democrats of betraying Israel may no longer be answered with fusillades of pro-Israel campaign rhetoric.  It may, instead, be answered with a shrug and a “who cares?”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing that the GOP will be right in making such argument or that the Democrats will become anti-Zionists, as Sheldon Adelson would have you believe.  We should keep in mind that this poll isn’t literally indicating a decline in support for Israel.  Rather it’s indicating a decline in favoring Israel over Palestine regarding the conflict.  The distinction is subtle, but important.

The frozen iceberg that has characterized pro-Israel politics in this country may begin melting and allow a change and a fluidity never before possible.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Oui April 3, 2013, 6:58 AM

    An interesting statistic which must be a wallpaper in the room where Israel’s cabinet meets. Israel’s existence is dependent on the opinion poll in the US. After the embarrassment of the Camp David Accords and later the Oslo Accords, Israel focused it’s policy on aggression and propaganda, telling its lies to manipulate public opinion. I’m not optimistic about any long Democratic leadership in the White House as the House will be in hands of the Republicans. Their base of evangelical christians and a large part of Catholics will ensure the embrace with Israel. See this earlier Pew survey.

    “In the same 2003 survey, 36% of U.S. adults expressed the belief that creation of the state of Israel is a step toward the Second Coming of Jesus.”

    In this survey, there is no hope the US will ever be seen as a neutral broker in the IP conflict. In the Muslim nations, this percentage is in the single digits. Israel has done a great job by abusing the 9/11 attack on the US and equating Palestinians and Arabs to terrorists. The support of Islamophobes in the US and Europe has done the rest.

    • mary April 3, 2013, 8:55 AM

      Your Pew survey is now 10 years old. It was taken before the siege on Gaza, the Iraq war (which went a long way towards making Americans seriously fed up with US involvement in the middle east), Operation Cast Lead, the Mavi Marmara, the bank crash in 2007 and other events causing young Americans to look at what the US is doing with its foreign policy. The future could look very different indeed, if they would vote instead of staying home.

      • Oui April 3, 2013, 9:59 AM

        Just crunching the numbers and looking at the spikes and downturn in sympathy for Israel. Looking at the chart over 35 years, the sympathy or antipathy for Palestnians hardly moved. In one month before and after the 9/11 attacks, Israel spiked seven points and Palestinians dropped seven points. In October 2005, the sympathies were back to “normal”. US elections are won or lost on domestic issues. Two states with a large Jewish vote are watched: New York and Florida, the latter being a swing state. Israel is not of importance as an issue except in the heated debate about Islamists and terror. The frustration of US voters with the Middle-East was during the ’80s and the IDF invasion of Lebanon. In the chart you see the slide in sympathy for Israel.

        After the first Gulf War and Saddam’s Scud attack on Israel, Bush #41 and James Baker III played hard-ball which led to the signing of the Oslo accords. Israel did a great job to undo any unwarranted hope for a peace settlement. All other events you mentioned are irrelevant to the US voter who by majority still believe the lie Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 and harbored Al-Qaeda. For an IP solution, watch the developments in Syria and the Arab world where the US is forced out and the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are moving in. Israel will soon have new neighbours, irrelevant of the apology to Turkey.

        • mary April 3, 2013, 1:13 PM

          I don’t think the Islamists will stay in control. At least not in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity is slipping by the day. But Obama is bored with this part of the world and will “pivot” to greener pastures in east Asia.

  • Bob Mann April 3, 2013, 11:46 AM

    The graph seems to indicate the opposite of what you claim it does. Democratic preference for Israel has risen significantly over the past ten years. Even more so among independents. Look at where the graph dips around 2005 or so versus where it is today. Preference for Israel among Democrats seems to have spiked higher over the past 8 years.

    • Oui April 3, 2013, 12:16 PM

      Gallup Polls on American Sympathy Toward Israel and the Arabs/Palestinians 1967-2013 {skewed in favor of Israel}
      Presently the sympathy as at all-time high of 64%, the same as in 1991 when Israel endured the Scud attacks. The pull-out from Gaza was seen as very favorable and caused a sharp spike. Republican and Independents show upward trend, for Democrats the trend is downward but will have little overall effect. No change in US policy in foreseeable future, that’s why Saudi King Abdullah and GCC states will follow their own policy towards Middle-East. Arabs and Muslims in the world read charts as well.

    • Richard Silverstein April 4, 2013, 12:50 AM

      @Bob Mann: As usual you ignore what is inconvenient to you. The Pew survey doesn’t cover TEN years as you do. It covers 35 years. If you want to focus on only 10 years you will be jury-rigging the facts to suit you.

      Going back 35 years shows that support for Israel has declined among Democrats and shot up astronomially among Republicans. That was my point. Even if you go back only ten years, while support among Dems went up it went up much faster for the GOP, which is still my point.

      • Nimrod April 4, 2013, 3:26 AM

        according to the poll, going back 35 years shows that support for Israel went up 4%, doesn’t it?

        • Richard Silverstein April 4, 2013, 12:25 PM

          No, down by 5% by my reckoning.

          • Julian Mannino April 6, 2013, 8:03 AM

            Your reckoning is wrong. 1978 support for Israel was 45%. 2013 49%. That’s up 4%.

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