Commentary Magazine


Who Are Israel’s Friends?

On Friday, I looked at the results of a new poll surveying voters’ opinions on Israel and, more generally, the Middle East. While Americans remain overwhelmingly pro-Israel and are troubled by Obama’s approach to the Middle East, there are significant differences between sub-groups of Americans. In this post, I’ll focus on the cross-tabs that highlight the differences in attitudes toward Israel among religious groups and those self-described atheists. The full cross-tabs can be found here.

I’ll begin with a general observation: almost all the support for Israel statistically comes from non-Jews. This is simply a mathematical reality. The poll sampled 1,000 voters, only 1.6 percent of whom were Jewish (slightly below the commonly used 2 percent figure). Fifty-eight percent were Protestant, and 25 percent were Catholic. That means the overwhelming number of those who support Israel, as is the case in the general population, are non-Jews.

However, this doesn’t mean religion is irrelevant. Take the question as to whether voters favor Israel using military force against Iran if sanctions don’t derail its nuclear program. Overall, 58 percent would approve. That number is 72 percent for Jews but nearly as high for born again Christians (67 percent). Among atheists? It drops to 40 percent. This pattern repeats itself throughout the poll.

On the question of how concerned we should be about Israel’s security, 100 percent of Jews said “very” or “somewhat.” The lowest/worst response was 88 percent (still high) from atheists, and the second highest/best response again came from born again Christians, with 94 percent.

On Obama’s handling of our relations with Israel, 52 percent of Jews approve; only atheists, at 61 percent, have a higher approval. Protestants and Catholics rank him in the low 40s, and once again, born-again Christians give him the lowest marks (35 percent). All groups except atheists think by a strong plurality that Obama is harming Israel’s security. If Israel attacked Iran to prevent it from going nuclear, 66 percent of Jews said that would be a “defensive” move. The number for born again Christians is 71 percent.

This vividly illustrates a point that I and others have made for some time: Jews by themselves are a tiny percentage of the population who, on their own, could not sustain national support for Israel. It is by and large the support from the majority of Christians that nurtures the U.S.-Israel relationship. Protestants and Catholics demonstrate solid support for Israel, while born again Christians consistently are the most critical of Obama and the most supportive of Israel. Although the poll doesn’t ask why respondents believe as they do, it’s fair to conclude that a great number of the most resolute non-Jewish supporters (i.e., born again Christians) do so for religious reasons.

And what of the other Americans, religious or not? It’s reasonable to conclude that there is a large segment of Americans who, for reasons entirely distinct from religion and with no personal or ethnic tie to the Jewish state, nevertheless are strongly committed to its security and survival. That is remarkable, a tribute the innate decency and common sense of the American people. They have, despite a barrage of propaganda from Israel’s foes, figured out who are the “good guys” in the Middle East and which country shares our values and concerns.

This data is helpful in rebutting the Israel-haters’s rhetoric railing against the “influence of the Israel lobby.” Their beef is not with Jews (or only with Jews) who support Israel; it is with their countrymen of every faith. For religious reasons or not, the American public hasn’t been swayed by the delegitimizers and Israel-bashers, to the great frustration of those who blame Israel for the woes of the Middle East.

In the next post on the poll, I will look at the politics of the Israel-supporters and -bashers. No surprise to readers of this blog: Democrats and liberals more generally aren’t the mainstay of support for the Jewish state.