U.S. Jewish Community Still Hawkish on Israel

I wish I could take as much comfort in the results of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish opinion as Glenn Greenwald, but, unfortunately, I considered some of the findings quite disappointing, particularly when viewed in the context of the AJC’s previous polling.

In his article in ‘Salon’ yesterday, Greenwald argued that the poll results demonstrated how unrepresentative neo-conservative groups are of the U.S. Jewish community as a whole. (I wrote a news article about the poll yesterday, which you can find here.) I don’t disagree with him in general terms, as well as his main conclusion — that a relatively small minority of U.S. Jews hold neo-conservative views.

Particularly notable, of course, was the lack of support among American Jews for U.S. military action against Iran ”to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.” Only 35 percent of respondents said they would support such action, while 57 percent said they would oppose it. What Greenwald neglected to note is the remarkable erosion in support for military action against Iran over the last two years. In the ’06 survey, the margin was 38-54; and in the ’05 survey, a plurality of 49 percent of respondents said they supported an attack to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, compared to only 46 percent who opposed it. And, remember, the latest poll was carried out in November, before publication of the NIE last week.
Of course, Greenwald is also right to point out Jewish disillusionment with the decision to go to war in Iraq (67 percent said Washington should have stayed out, as opposed to 27 percent who said it was the right thing to do), as well as its pessimism over how things will turn out there (despite the ongoing best and expensive efforts of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) leaders who are behind Freedom’s Watch). This, too, represents a remarkable erosion of support — although not so different from the American public as a whole — for the Iraq adventure, particularly when you consider that 59 percent of respondents in the ’02 AJC poll supported an attack on Iran.

That said, there are still some very disturbing findings in the most recent poll that suggest that neo-conservatives have made some gains in framing how many Jews see the Middle East and recent events there. One particularly remarkable result, for example, is how much U.S. Jews have bought into the “clash of civilizations” frame which neo-conservatives have worked so fervently to propagate since 9/11 and before. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they agreed “with those who claim that the West and the Muslim world are engaged in a clash of civilizations.” Only 26 percent said they disagreed. Last year’s survey found a 64-29 percent split, so this year’s result wasn’t just some blip. (Unfortunately, the question had not been asked before, although it’s worth noting in a BBC-PIPA poll taken one year ago 49 percent of U.S. respondents said they viewed the cause of tensions between the Islamic world and the West more about “political power and interests” than “differences of religion and culture” (29 percent) — a stand-in for the “clash of civilizations” thesis.) Sixty-eight percent of respondents in the latest poll also said they considered anti-Semitism in the Muslim world to be a “very serious problem,” although that was down from a high of 77 percent in the ’03 survey.

As for prospects for peace, U.S. Jews, as Greenwald himself notes in passing, seem ever more sceptical about a two-state solution. Respondents were were asked if, “in the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?” A bare plurality of 46 percent in the most recent poll said they favored it, versus 43 percent who said they were opposed. Despite intensified pace of bilateral exchanges this fall between Olmert and Abbas, this was the lowest level of support for a Palestinian state since the question was first asked in 2001! In 2006, 54 percent of respondents said they supported a Palestinian state against 38 percent who opposed. In 2005, the margin was 56-38; in 2004, 57-37; in 2003, 54-41; in 2002 (the year in which the second intifada reached its height), 49-47; and in 2001 (after the collapse of Camp David), it was 53-49. Thus, at the moment when peace efforts are most in need of support, particularly from the U.S. Jewish community, American Jews are least supporting of the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Even more gratifying to U.S. Likudists are the latest responses to the question, “In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?” Here again, support for such an outcome is the lowest since the question was first asked in AJC’s 2000 survey. While a majority of AJC’s respondents have always opposed such a concession, that majority reached 58 percent this year, compared to only 36 percent who supported such a move. Last year, the margin was 52-40; in 2004, it was 53-42; in 2003, 54-42; in 2002, 55-41; in 2001, 50-44; and in 2000, just after Camp David, 57-36 — roughly the same as today.

Finally, the answers to this question — “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? ‘The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel'” — are demoralizing, to say the least. In the latest poll, 82 percent agreed with the statement; only 12 percent disagreed — a finding that is more or less consistent with findings since 2002 but quite a remarkable increase from 2001, when the margin was 73-23, and 2000, when it was 69-23. The fact that distrust of the Arabs has remained so high over such a relatively long period of time (despite the Arab League Initiative and Condi’s efforts to sell an Israeli-Arab strategic consensus against Iran) marks a real triumph of neo-conservative thought.

One might add that, given the high identification of the survey’s respondents with the Democratic Party, this profound and sustained distrust by U.S. Jews of Palestinians and Arabs, as well as their opposition to territorial concessions in Jerusalem, is clearly bipartisan and bodes ill for peace efforts even under a Democratic administration.

Still, Greenwald is right to stress that most U.S. Jews are focused in this political season much more on domestic issues than on Middle East politics. And there is one other interesting finding noted by Greenwald — that 69 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” While that’s an impressive number, it is significantly less than the 80 percent who agreed with that statement in the 2000 survey. Moreover, 28 percent of respondents disagreed with that statement, compared to 19 percent as recently as in the 2005 survey. That decrease must be cause for real concern to the leadership of the so-called “Israel Lobby.”

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.