No one knows what the outcome of the Gaza crisis will be, but Peter Beinart is sure of this: it has proved him right. Beinart has been saying for some time that Israel and its defenders in the United States are out of step with a changing America. Millennials do not favor Israel as much as their parents do, and blacks and Hispanics do not favor Israel as much as whites do. Beinart also thinks that young people and minority groups are right to reject the pro-Israel arguments of America’s Jewish establishment and its allies. This establishment, Beinart explains in his Haaretz column (unfortunately gated) this Thursday, is best described as Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf described Jewish leaders more than 40 years ago: “they do not demand support, but rather submission.” This description was false then and is false now, but never mind. Beinart, who declared four years ago that Obama and his skepticism about Israel are “the new normal” believes that we are entering a new political world whose salient feature will be that more people agree with Beinart.
This prediction looked bad last year when Gallup declared, “American’s Sympathies for Israel Match All-Time High.” Indeed, Americans leaned “heavily toward the Israelis over the Palestinians, 64% vs. 12%.” “Americans’ partiality for Israel” has “consistently exceeded 60% since 2010,” the year Beinart penned the first article I linked. That number was only 55 percent for younger respondents, but Gallup called the variation “minor” and added that young people are “no more likely to favor the Palestinians. They are simply less anchored about whom they favor.” In a February 2014 Gallup poll, 72 percent of U.S. respondents viewed Israel favorably, with younger Americans coming in at 64 percent.
Beinart did not recant, of course. Like all people who think they are on the right side of history, he treats contrary data as an indication that history is taking a while longer to sweep aside his opposition than one could wish. Last week, though, Gallup published what Matt Drudge would call a “shock poll.” Only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents consider Israel’s actions Gaza justified. 51 percent consider them unjustified. To complete Beinart’s feast, the nonwhites whom he considers part of the coalition against today’s Zionist establishment also disapprove of Israel’s actions, 49 percent to 25 percent. The Pew Research Center offers a more complex picture but has majorities of blacks, Hispanics, and younger respondents blaming Israel more than Hamas for the present violence.
One can’t blame Beinart for displaying this rare sign that he could be right. But two data points hardly show that “every time a conflict like this breaks out—especially if Israel continues to elect governments hostile to a viable Palestinian state—the American mood will incrementally shift.” American opinion of Israel has dipped during conflicts before without producing such an incremental shift. In 2006, during the Lebanon war, a CBS/New York Times poll found that a plurality of Americans blamed Israel and Hezbollah equally for the violence. A majority thought that the United States should either stay silent or criticize Israel, not support it. Israel’s reputation recovered. In 1989, during the first intifada, another CBS/New York Times poll asked whether Israel had done enough to prove its interest in peace; 17 percent of respondents said yes, 70 percent no. Israel’s reputation recovered. In 2002, during the second intifada, Gallup found that just 34 percent of younger respondents favored Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians while 22 percent favored the Palestinians. Israel’s reputation recovered.
In a way, the Beinart of 2010 undercuts the Beinart of 2014. In 2010 Beinart thought that opinion would turn against Israel because Israel’s enemies were more appealing than before. Gone were the days when “Israel’s foes could be trusted to make it look good by comparison.” Israel’s leading critic was now Turkey, “a democracy and a member of NATO.” The face of Palestine was Salam Fayad, a “proponent of nonviolence, a source of anti-corruption and a devotee of the Texas Longhorns.” Today, Turkey looks a little different, and Hamas is the face of Palestine, but Beinart’s argument hasn’t changed. He still thinks that the young people he describes as more liberal, peace-loving, and secular than their elders will in the long run cease to support Israel in its conflict with Hamas.
Beinart neglects one of Gallup’s findings: the “more closely Americans are following the news about the Middle East situation, the more likely they are to think Israel’s actions are justified.” And as Pew notes, young Americans are as a group not following the conflict very closely; 23 percent of younger respondents say they are doing so. Far from being on an inevitable path to rejecting Israel until Israel adopts policies Beinart likes, the opinion of young people is not fixed and, in ordinary times is sympathetic toward Israel. This group can certainly be persuaded that Israel has a right to defend itself against the likes of Hamas.
As for Beinart, he need not worry about persuading anybody because he believes, as his headline writer aptly put it, that “the age of Obama” has changed everything. Now who’s out of step?