J Street has just released its latest poll (full results, analysis) about American Jewish attitudes toward the Israeli-Arab conflict. As usual, it contains some heartening results and some worrisome ones. Perhaps the most important trend noted is that American Jews support a muscular U.S. policy that actively encourages the warring parties to resolve their differences through negotiation. Not only that, Jews are willing to see Pres. Obama crack heads, if necessary, to achieve those ends. 86% are in favor of an active U.S. role if that means publicly stating disagreements with the parties. 66% favor an active role if it means publicly disagreeing with ISRAEL. 64% support an active role if it means exerting pressure on Israel. 77% support naming the party responsible for blocking an agreement. Almost half would support reducing Israeli military aid if it is such a party. Those are surprisingly robust numbers considering the questions allowed for quite strong criticism and pressure on Israel if it was the recalcitrant party.
60% oppose expanding Israeli settlements. 76% support a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement along the lines of the Geneva Accords (though I do wonder whether the outcomes might have been slightly different if the question specifically referred to an Israeli return to 1967 borders).
57% believe that in George Mitchell’s role as Israel-Palestine envoy he should be an honest broker, rather than an Israel partisan.
69% would support Israeli and American engagement with a Palestinian unity government even if it included Hamas. This is an especially important finding both because Palestinians are earnestly negotiating towards this goal in Egypt as I write. And because the recent budget bill passed by Congress contains some truly bizarre, draconian provisions that would outlaw ANY U.S. involvement with a Palestinian government that did include Hamas. Steven Zunes also reports in Foreign Policy that there is even a declaration that the U.S. may not engage with the PA in Jerusalem EVEN IF the Israeli government has reached an accommodation with the Palestinians and divided/shared the city. What is important here is to note how completely off the reservation Congressional Democrats have gone in accommodating the Aipac holy warriors.
69% of Jews reject Avigdor Lieberman’s call for loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs and his more bellicose anti-Arab positions like killing MKs who support Hamas. But surprisingly only 29% had an unfavorable view of him while 27% had a favorable view.
American Jews reject the contention of many pro-Israel hardliners that public disagreement with Israeli policy is not acceptable for Jews. 58% disagree.
50% consider themselves liberal or progressive, while 28% consider themselves moderate. The survey also indicates just how “grey” the Jewish community is: 47% of respondents are over 55 years. 32% are between 18-39.
When we consider the issue of whether the Israel lobby or organized Jewish community represent the views of the majority of American Jews, it’s important to remember that 58% do not belong to a synagogue and 53% do not belong to a communal organization. This means that over half of Jews are unaffiliated.
There are of course responses which either surprised me in a negative way or that I found distressing. American Jews seem, to a certain extent, to have bought into the Israel lobby’s scare campaign regarding Iran. 39% support negotiations and incentives aiming to persuade Iran to abandon its possible nuclear weapons program. 37% support sanctions to force Iran to comply. 41% believe the U.S. should not attack Iran if it “on the verge” of attaining nuclear capability. 40% believe it should.
American Jews seem to be moving in a different direction than Barack Obama, who made a magnificent statement attempting to engage Iran in building a more constructive bilateral relationship. These numbers are worrisome as well since there are strong elements within Israeli intelligence, the military command, and rightist political circles (including the incoming prime minister Bibi Netanyahu and foreign minister AVigdor Lieberman) who are known to support a military attack with or without U.S. support.
75% of Jews supported Israel and its invasion of Gaza. An earlier Pew study found that 55% of Democrats opposed the Gaza war. Which means there is a real split between Jews and Americans when it comes to such matters. 85-90% of Israeli Jews who supported the war. The difference in levels of Israeli and Diaspora war support is significant, though I am disappointed there wasn’t more opposition here and in Israel. It should be added that there is a natural reservoir of support for Israel during wartime due to Jewish belief that war poses an existential threat to Israel. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any polling of Jewish support for the 2006 Lebanon war. I’d be interested in comparing the two.
41% of Jews believe the war did nothing to increase Israel’s security and 18% believe it harmed it. 41% believe it made Israel more secure. Apparently, they haven’t been reading the newspapers and news from southern Israel.
Despite my disappointment at the numbers supporting the Gaza war, 69% believe Israel’s response to Hamas rockets was “disproportionate.” 56% believe Israeli military actions that involve killing civilians “create more terrorism.” 65% believe that Israel’s siege against Gaza and the notion of collective punishment is wrong.
47% believe that traditional Jewish organizations are doing a “good job of representing my views on Israel.” A healthy 30% disagreed though. I was slightly disappointed that only 35% of respondents knew of J Street (64% knew of Aipac) and that 17% viewed the former favorably (37% the latter) and 12% viewed it unfavorably. Though if you consider that J Street is barely a year old and Aipac is 50 years old and that J Street has 1/10th Aipac’s annual budget if that, I suppose I shouldn’t be too disappointed. And it is heartening that Aipac’s favorability rating is as low as it is. This indicates a healthy level of skepticism about the organization and its methods.
Miles Stuart says
Thanks very much for this piece Richard.
The J Street poll is interesting. From my reading of the results there is remarkably little change in opinion from the July polling. I would have expected the Gaza atrocities to have had a greater effect. Perhaps that was a little over optimistic of me. However, I am quite certain that the grip the Israel lobby has hitherto exercised on the media has weakened considerably. The traditional media is a little less myopic and its objectivity discredited after the Iraq debacle. There are other sources where its lack of balance is challenged (which of course further discredits it). Clearly those changes will take longer to have their effect than I might have hoped. My sense is that the atrocities have had a much more pronounced effect on European public opinion.
Insofar as I can make sense of it, the poll seems to indicate that a solid majority of American Jews are behind Israel, although there is growing discomfort with the effects of Israeli policies. People seem to have great difficulty making the distinction; in realising that it is possible to support Israel without supporting what it is doing. Indeed, that the best way to ensure Israel’s future is to oppose what it is doing. There also seems to be a not insubstantial group who are definitely opposed to the present policies.
Given the apparent conflict between answers to different questions I would say there is a lot of scope for a more balanced picture to substantially shift opinion. It is remarkable just how opposed American Jews seem to be to a lot of the specifics of Israeli policy, whilst seemingly unable to withdraw support for it. I read something a while ago about the social and cultural impact of Dutch opposition to Apartheid. Obviously American Jews have a long way to go in emulating them, but I see grounds for optimism in the surveys.
From Steven Zunes report in Foreign Policy Congressional Democrats seem determined to hamstring the administration and to facilitate the Israeli policies designed to forestall any Palestinian “peace offensive”. It is remarkable how closely they have aligned themselves behind such a right wing and reactionary Israeli administration. Given this background there is absolutely zero chance of reaching any enduring settlement in the near future, which in turn means that by the time a settlement can be reached a two state solution will not be viable. The obstacle to the US playing a constructive role is Congressional opposition, not Executive reticence.
It is frequently asserted that Israel is ‘colonising’ the West Bank. This is inaccurate. Colonisation is what they were doing up to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Since then the influx of new labour has enabled them to squeeze Palestinians (from the OPT) out of the Israeli economy or any other meaningful contact with Israelis. On top of this Israel is effectively preventing trade and development. What is being done now is the slow but relentless segregation and asphyxiation of Palestinians, not exploitation of them. Of course Israel is seizing as much territory as possible as quickly as possible, effectively expelling Palestinians as they go, but they are not ‘colonising’ in the traditional sense.
I have absolute confidence in George Mitchell’s integrity as an honest broker. However, I think he is going to very quickly run into the same problems as last time, and as Tony Blair has more recently. The US is not an honest broker, or anything even vaguely approaching it. In practice it is fiercely partisan, and as long as that remains the case it will be an insurmountable obstacle to peace, not a facilitator of it. Tony Blair bought his role by shackling European policy to that of the United States. I am sure he was sincere in believing he could bring significant improvements in the conditions of Palestinians, but he has not and is not going to. The best way for Europeans to enhance Palestinian prospects now is to unyoke themselves from US policy. The European Parliament was pretty restive even before the Gaza atrocities. Israel has made a mockery of the human rights conditions of its EU association agreement. It is going to be much harder now for European bureaucrats like Javier Solana to sustain what has become an American, rather than a European policy. The worst thing that could possibly happen is the imposition of a Vichy regime on Palestinians, as was attempted by Bush and Rice and forestalled by Hamas’ takeover in Gaza. It might force quiescence in the short term, but at the cost of a much more explosive conflict later.
Richard Silverstein says
Very wise words. I do hope the EU goes its own way esp. if Obama can’t muster the will or suasion to move U.S. policy in the right direction.
Actually, there is a rise of 4% or so regarding issues related to treatment of the Gazans, lifting the siege, and openness to talking to a Palestinian gov’t including Hamas. It’s not an earth-shattering change, but is noteworthy nonetheless.
Miles Stuart says
I completely agree, 4% might not sound much especially given the sample size but it is a very hopeful sign.
I’m glad of the survey. It is good to have a concrete measure of opinion, even more so that there is enough consistency between the two to measure shifts in opinion. I hope they maintain this in future.
Richard, the 4 percentage point rise you mention in your reply to Miles is well within the claimed 4.9% ‘margin of error’ for split sample questions like those, so probably not significant.
When asked whether they ‘approve or disapprove of the way the Israeli government has handled the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon?’, 55% approved. (AJC 2006 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=ijITI2PHKoG&b=2174431&ct=3152887)
My analysis of the poll results: http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2009/04/across-potomac.html