A new report suggests potentially alarming trends in support for Israel among Americans.
Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant produced a poll, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, of the country’s “opinion elites” – highly educated, very active political operatives – and found sharply divergent views between advocates for each party.
“Israel can no longer claim to have bipartisan support of America,” Luntz asserted.
Among the Democrats Luntz polled, 76% of those responding said that Israel has “too much influence” on U.S. foreign policy. Among Republicans, the number who affirmed that position was 20%.
Asked if Israel is a racist country, 40% of Democrats said it is, while 13% of Republicans agreed.
As to whether Israel wants peace with its neighbors, 88% of Republicans contended that it does, while just 48% of Democrats said so.
Questioned whether they would be more likely to vote for a politician who supports Israel and its right to defend itself, 76% of Republicans said yes, but only 18% of Democrats concurred. Seven percent of Republicans said this would make them less likely to support the candidate, while 32% of Democrats said so.
Asked whether a politician who criticizes Israeli occupation and “mistreatment of Palestinians” would get their vote, 45% of Democrats said yes, while six percent of Republicans agreed.
One-third of Democrats and 22% of Republicans said that they were upset that “Israel gets billions and billions of dollars in funding from the U.S. government that should be going to the American people”
On the choice of whether the United States should support Israel or the Palestinians, 90% of Republicans said Israel and two percent said Palestinians. Among Democrats, 51% said Israel and 18% said Palestinians. Asked to self-identify, 88% of Republicans and 46% of Democrats called themselves “pro-Israeli,” while 27% of Democrats and four percent of Republicans said they were “pro-Palestinian.”
Half of Democrats and 18% of Republicans said that “Jewish people are too hypersensitive and too often labeled legitimate criticisms of Israel as an antisemitic attack.”
The numbers look bad at first glance. But first glance is about all Luntz has given us. As other commentators have noted, the entirety of the poll’s methodology and results have not been made public, and the term “elites” suggests the interviewees may have been more “activist” than the average voters – read: “more liberal” in the case of Dems and “more conservative” in the case of Republicans.
As well, we would like to point out that asking someone if they support Palestinians or Israelis is a “false choice,” almost akin to asking which of their children they support. Such simplistic dichotomies are yet another example of the weakness of polling.
However, regardless of the specifics of the poll and its merits, Luntz had some common sense suggestions about pro-Israel messaging to which Americans, especially Democrats, respond well: messages of encouraging more communication and cooperation, and more diplomacy and discussion, not less, for example. The boycott, divestment and sanction movement, for instance, is opposed to these things and that is an Achilles’ heel for them.
Emphasizing the equality of women and freedom of religion, he found, were effective at increasing sympathy for Israel, while less successful were messages emphasizing the need for Jewish sovereignty after the Holocaust, claims to the Holy Land and depicting Israel as a “startup nation,” said Luntz.
Though the extent of the “crisis” may not be as severe as Luntz implies – Democratic nominee-apparent Hillary Clinton is striking an unambiguously pro-Israel tone in her campaign, for example – no one doubts that there are frictions in the Israel-U.S. relationship that are stronger on the Democratic side.
Certainly the petulant relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not made things better.
There is also the fact of 15 years and counting of concerted anti-Israel mobilization on the left, especially on American university campuses, and in the burgeoning online media world.
Some of the unfriendliness may reflect simple political differences between a Democratic administration in the United States and a Likud government in Israel.
Despite the right-wing government in Israel, though, it remains ideologically consistent for people on the left and centre-left to remain committed to Israel because of its inherent liberal values. That is a message that needs to be more emphatically expressed by Israel activists on this side of the ocean. It won’t solve every problem, but it will be a start.
Canada, in this as in other things, differs. In Canada, the trajectory may well be the opposite, with the federal government’s pro-Israel position dragging the opposition parties and some of the public closer to Israel.
In both Canada and the United States, pro-Israel activists should be careful to tend all sides of our gardens. We need to ensure that people of all political persuasions understand that the existence, security and thriving of Israel is not a partisan matter, but one that, in addition to all the other reasons, makes the world a better place.