The Jewish Electorate Institute, a voter initiative of Jewish Democrats, released a poll of views on Israel. It is a remarkable poll both for its results and for the questions it asked. Previous polls by J Street, American Jewish Committee and Pew have offered useful information on changing attitudes, but neglected to ask questions they preferred not to deal with–like levels of support for one-state vs. two-state; or attitudes toward BDS. For these groups, they are third-rail issues they’d rather not address. But this poll delved into a number of these contentious issues and offered some surprising results.
To start from the beginning: the poll asked about denominational affiliation and, as expected, a plurality (37%) identified as Reform. However, the second largest category was None, indicating that a significant number of Jews have no specific religious affiliation. 65% of poll respondents belong to no synagogue or temple. Meaning that Jewish institutions and organizations are missing a key element of the Jewish population.
Another question asked which two issues should be the highest priority for Congressional action. The highest priorities were climate change, voting rights, jobs and COVID. Israel was ranked 13th of 16 priorities. Iran followed at 14. This result is not new. Yet centrist Democrats and Republicans keep harping on the issue, attempting to pander to what they believe to be Jewish voter concerns. This should drive a stake through the issue and remind people like Rep. Gregory Meeks and Brad Schneider, who routinely lead a chorus of attacks against progressive figures like Rep. Ilhan Omar, that they’re barking up the wrong tree. Jews want what every other Democratic voter wants. Their interests are not parochial and not Israel-focussed. Remember that, the next time 13 Jewish Democrats in the House denounce Ilhan Omar or deny her a seat on a House Foreign Affairs junket to Israel (as Meeks and Schneider just did).
When asked how emotionally-attached the respondent was to Israel, an expected majority said they were. But a significant minority of 38% said they were either unattached or somewhat unattached. This indicates a strong sense of alienation among this group which I expect to increase the worse conditions get in Israel-Palestine (and they will get worse).
While a majority supported financial aid to Israel, nearly a quarter did not. Further, nearly 60% supported an approach advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders and progressive Democrats, restricting aid from being used to “expand settlements.” Though this a fairly milquetoast provision, it’s a steppingstone to stronger action in future. And Democrats should take notice of such support in their foreign policy deliberations.
One of the most important questions in the survey related to support for two-states vs one-state. The majority support two states as expected. And while the 20% who support one state may seem small, it is by no means insignificant. As Israel continues its rejection of two-states and the approach continues to fail generally, I expect this number to grow.
Though Israel Lobby groups generally waxed enthusiastic with the new Israeli government, believing with little or no evidence that it will mark a more moderate approach than the Netanyahu government which preceded it, American Jews responded with a ho-hum attitude. Those who said the new coalition will make no difference in relations with the US (30%) were equal to those who said it would strengthen relations. Apparently, rank and file Jews are more realistic in their appraisal than those who claim to lead them.
Though the vast majority of respondents were concerned with anti-Semitism, 61% said the most dangerous threat came from right-wing groups rather than left-wing. In other words, those moderate pro-Israel Democrats who are trolling progressives like Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib are barking up the wrong tree. Jews don’t see them as a threat. Only those who need to find enemies on the progressive left are doing that and they’re wasting their time. The issue doesn’t resonate with most American Jews.
One of the more surprising results in the survey was the number of Jews who believe that Israeli is an apartheid state (25%), committing genocide against Palestinians (22%, and 33% among Jews under 40 years old), and treating Palestinians with same racism as in the US (34%). Though these remain minority views, my impression is that they have gone from being marginal views to ones gaining support over time. Reports like that of B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch which declare Israel to be an apartheid state “from the river to the sea” will have an increasing impact on Jewish opinion.
A further example of the increasing alienation of American Jews from Israel is the recent DC “No Fear” rally which sought to amplify the dubious claim that May’s Israeli attack on Gaza brought out anti-Semitic demons in America. The rally, sponsored by major Jewish groups like the ADL, AJC and Jewish federations drew a measly 2,000 people. A JDL vice-president essentially confesses to this increasing alienation, though she continues to deny the validity of terms like apartheid and genocide relating to Israel:
“What we’re missing, even the centrist organizations, is that for years now we’ve been hearing these sensationalist labels, and the reason we didn’t engage with it was because it was on the fringe, it was taboo, and we thought it would stay there,” Nazarian said. “What has happened now as a result of the May conflict is the real mainstreaming of this language.”
The survey did lack two key questions which have been hotly debated in Congress: attitudes toward BDS and the IHRA “definition” of anti-Semitism. Hopefully, the next poll will include such important issues.
It’s critical to note that among younger Jews in the poll sample, views were universally more negative toward Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. This does not bode well for future US-Israel relations and explains why right-wing Israeli leaders have turned their back on the liberal views of the Jewish community in favor of Christian evangelicals and white supremacist governments like Hungary and Poland. Despite the fact that many of them hold anti-Semitic views, they evince strong support for Israel.