The Pew Research Center has polled Americans about their respective attitudes toward Palestinians and Israelis. Historically, Americans have harbored some of the most favorable views in the world toward Israel. Views of Palestinians have been correspondingly low as well. There are many reasons for this, chief among them the activism of American Jews and power of the Israel Lobby to mold public opinion favorably toward Israel.
But the Pew survey published today reveals some striking changes in these attitudes. Not among the entire American public. But among a significant segment which I view as the trendsetter for future changes in political and social attitudes: they are liberal Democrats and Millenials. If you review American attitudes on divisive issues like civil rights, gay rights, and liberalizing marijuana laws, you will find that the majority of Americans harbored negative views at first. But gradually over a span of decades attitudes slowly transitioned toward a more liberal, tolerant perspective. If you review the groups that began this trend you’ll find it was the liberal Democrats and the youth.
The survey notes that among liberal Democrats, for the first time, more favor Palestinians than Israelis by a 40% to 33% margin. In the past year, support for Palestinians in this cohort more than doubled from 20% to 43%. Going back in time to 2001, support among liberal Democrats was reversed: 48% favored Israelis and only 18% favored Palestinians.
Among Millenials, the swing is less pronounced, but still noticeable: in the past decade support for Palestinians tripled from 9% to 27%, while support for Israel declined from 51% to 43%.
Republicans will cheer this news, believing it’s a forerunner of a major realignment among Americans who support Israel. The problem is that support for Israel among all groups, while strong, will eventually begin to decline. So the GOP will gain little advantage from this. Not to mention, that loyalty to Israel is far down the list of issues that voters care about. The only voters who cast their votes largely regarding support for Israel are a narrow segment of American Jews and evangelicals. Not enough to matter in most elections.
Change comes slowly, but it does come over time. This is precisely what happened regarding the issues I noted above. Attitudes that were cast in stone one decade begin to change just as the force of ocean waves carve out rocky cliffs through erosion.
That’s why I’ve called the liberals and Millenials harbingers of change regarding Israel. If Israeli leaders were smart they would do something more than switch their cultivation from American Jews to evangelicals. They would try to understand the forces at work to bring these changes. They’d try to get out front of the changes so that they don’t smash them like a ton of bricks when things move in a direction less hospitable to Israel. Most of all, they’d consider moderating their policies to address the reasons why these changes are gathering steam. Alas, there is little change of that happening. And Israel’s leaders and the Lobby will have no one to blame but themselves when the stuff hits the fan.