Most American Jews say they “support Israel.” But a recent poll casts serious doubt on this, or at least indicates that their idea of “support” is not what one might expect.
The poll was done by the Jewish Electorate Institute, described as a “group led by prominent Jewish Democrats,” and unsurprisingly some of the questions are clearly designed to elicit a desired result. For example,
Q.25 As you may know, the Trump Administration eliminated humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The Biden Administration has recently reversed Trump’s policy and has renewed humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Do you support or oppose Biden renewing this aid?
Given the large preference for Biden over Trump by poll respondents (when scored on a scale of 0-100, Biden had a mean grade of 67 vs. Trump’s 19), and considering that the question did not discuss the reasons for Trump’s action – the Taylor Force Act and the use of aid money to pay terrorists – but only related the issue to Biden and Trump, it was foreordained that the majority would favor resuming “humanitarian” aid.
The distribution of poll respondents by denomination closely mirrors the American Jewish population:
31% No particular denomination
1% Not sure
85% of them said that their religion was Judaism, and 100% self-identified as Jewish.
I am not especially interested in their responses to the questions about aid to Israel, the two-state solution, and so forth. These questions are too general and do not supply enough information to enable the respondent to make a real choice. We already know that most American Jews favor a “two-state solution,” but what if the question were “do you support a two-state solution in which terrorists fire rockets at Ben Gurion Airport from within their state, a mere 7 miles away?” This is not usually how it is asked.
I do want to know how they see Israel in relation to themselves. What does the Jewish state mean to Jews who live in America?
The first question connected to Israel listed various political issues and asked respondents to choose two of them as top priorities for the administration. Israel came out close to the bottom of the list, with only Iran and abortion below it. Unfortunately the question did not ask what the respondents’ personal priorities were, only what they wanted the government to focus on. If I had answered the question, I too would have put Israel last. As Tevye said about the Tsar, the less attention paid to us the better.
Next, we got this: “How emotionally attached are you to Israel?” This question is too subjective. Who knows what each individual thinks it means? Do they visit Israel, have relatives here, donate to Israel-related charities? A better question would be “if Israel disappeared, would you be (a) desolated, (b) mildly unhappy, (c) unmoved, (d) mildly pleased, or (e), ecstatic. But they didn’t ask this. 29% said they were very attached, 33% somewhat attached, 25% not too attached, and 13% not at all attached. While I would like to know the answer, this really doesn’t help.
But some questions stand out, and the answers are not good. Only 9% agreed with the statement “Israel doesn’t have the right to exist,” and 67% said that the statement was antisemitic. But when asked if Israel is an apartheid state, 25% agreed. When asked if “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the U.S.,” 34% agreed. And – probably the most incredible of all – 22% agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.”
It is shocking to me that one out of four American Jews thinks that Israel is an apartheid state and is committing genocide against the Palestinians.
Genocide! Do they have the slightest idea of what the word means? I suppose they don’t know that the number of Palestinians between the river and the sea has increased by more than 2,710,000, a factor of 2.5, since 1967, but still – where are the concentration camps, the smokestacks? Where are the killing fields? Surely, if there had been such mass murder, the New York Times would have (joyfully) reported it.
And apartheid. Actual apartheid, the separation of races that was practiced in South Africa until the early 1990s, is well-documented, and there are plenty of people still around who experienced it themselves. It was absolutely nothing like the treatment of Arabs by the state of Israel, either within the Green Line or in the territories. There are no racially-based laws, no system of classification by race, no separate beaches or drinking fountains (except for the ones on the Temple Mount, which only Arabs are permitted to use). Only complete ignorance of both history and the facts about Israel could allow someone to believe this.
These results are inconsistent with one another. After all, does a state that commits genocide and practices apartheid have a right to exist? I think most people would say no. Should I add that the proposed state of Palestine, which will not permit Jews to live in it and whose heroes have always been the ones who killed the most Jews, fills the bill for a state that doesn’t have the right to exist?
I am not surprised that more than one out of three American Jews believe that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is like the American race problem, because they have been told this over and over, by national figures like Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama, by many of their liberal rabbis, and of course by movements like BLM. I suppose they took the easy way out by choosing to analogize everything to their own experience rather than to actually think, but consider: Arabs were never slaves to Jews, the US is not surrounded by enemy states populated by blacks, blacks do not occupy Arizona and are not firing rockets from there into California, and … I could go on, but it should be obvious that it is not the same. Not even a little.
So despite the fact that this is technically a very bad poll, the results are still not encouraging. They are not good for anyone in Israel who thinks that American Jews might lobby for her in a pinch, and they are not good for the American Jews who appear to be prepared to believe the worst accusations imaginable about their own historic homeland.
Several comments on your article.
1. I am an ardent Zionist, from ’67 when I was a volunteer, although without any prior
connection to Israel.
2. I just read a thought provoking article in Tablet called The Enforcers by Shaul
Magid. He has an Israeli name and he is a Fellow at some American colleges. He
argues against the idea of Zionists dictating to other Jews how they should relate to
Israel. Even though I am a Zionist I agree with his thesis.
3. Therefore, I suggest we should stop being concerned about how the majority of
American Jews relate to Israel. The big majority of these Jews are far more
concerned with “tikkun olam” than with Israel or the real world. So let them
continue with their fantasies!!
4. The real problem is that a significant portion of the Israeli “elite” want to be
identified with America, even to the extent of going against their own country.
I take issue with the comments posted by nudnikJR.
Zionism is the belief that Jews deserve a state of their own — or put differently, to oppose the notion that among all the peoples on this planet, Jews are the one group who don’t deserve their own state. Under that broad definition, it is difficult for me to understand how any Jew could not be a Zionist, though I know there are Jewish fringes on both ends of the political and religious spectrums who are not Zionists.
I haven’t read the article in Tablet he mentions, so I have only his description of what it says, but I am unaware of being “dictated” to by any group of Jews, whether or not they call themselves Zionists. I may disagree with liberal American Jews about how Israel should be governed, but they are entitled to their opinions as I am to mine. We don’t dictate to each other.
Why American Jewish support for Israel is essential is obvious to anyone who’s ever visited the Jewish state. Virtually every building on hospital and university campuses have been donated by wealthy American (and other disapora) benefactors, nor should we fail to recognize and appreciate the many American Jewish and Christian Zionists who counter the rising tide of anti-Semitism both in the streets and the halls of Congress. So I think we should be very concerned about how the majority of American Jews — and non-Jews — relate to Israel.
I’m confused by his final point about what he thinks is the “real problem.” I presume by “elitist” Israelis he’s referring to, say, the editors at Haaretz you often rail against in your blog, but it’s an imprecise label that might equally apply to Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, who are both wealthy and live in exclusive neighborhoods, but who would never put another country’s interest before Israel’s. Besides, as we saw during the Trump administration, to be an Israeli “identified with America” was a positive.
Victor has described the situation accurately. I’m afraid the explanation for the lack of support for Israel by American Jews is due to our own failure to educate our youth. It has become more and more obvious that Jewish college students have totally inadequate knowledge (and love) of Israel and their Jewish heritage to combat the anti Semitic and antiZionist propaganda rampant on college campuses. It also appears to me that Israel has given up on hasbara aimed at the general populace, preferring to focus on politicians, diplomats and other political professionals.