Commentary Magazine


Topic: Support for Israel

The American Public, Not the Realists, Understands the Middle East

The idea that America’s Middle East policy is purely the result of the machinations of a shadowy “Israel Lobby” was once again proven to be a canard with the release of a new poll that shows that an overwhelming majority of the American people sympathizes with the Jewish state. The Washington Post/ABC news poll published today on the eve of President Obama’s visit to the country shows that Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority by a margin of 55 to 9 percent, with 35 saying they liked both or had no opinion. It also showed that a plurality of those polled thought the U.S. needed to pressure the Palestinians to make peace more than the Israelis. Most interestingly, an even more resounding majority thought the U.S. ought not to be the prime mover of the peace process, with fully 69 percent saying the decision should be left to the parties while only 26 percent thought it should play a leading role.

The results, especially with regard to support for Israel, are consistent with previous polls. But the number of those who want America to be running the peace negotiations has plummeted in the last decade as the futility of trying to coax the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and embrace a two-state solution has been amply demonstrated. This gives the lie to both the “Israel Lobby” theories as well as the notion that Americans want their president to be twisting the arm of the Israeli government to make concessions to revive a process that the Palestinians have shown no interest in.

The basic numbers illustrate why those who claim the across-the-board bipartisan support for the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress is bought and paid for by Jewish campaign finance donations (as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it) is a lie. Israel has the backing of every political and demographic group measured by the poll showing that backing Israel is simply a matter of political survival irrespective of how many Jews vote or donate money in a given district or state.

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The idea that America’s Middle East policy is purely the result of the machinations of a shadowy “Israel Lobby” was once again proven to be a canard with the release of a new poll that shows that an overwhelming majority of the American people sympathizes with the Jewish state. The Washington Post/ABC news poll published today on the eve of President Obama’s visit to the country shows that Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority by a margin of 55 to 9 percent, with 35 saying they liked both or had no opinion. It also showed that a plurality of those polled thought the U.S. needed to pressure the Palestinians to make peace more than the Israelis. Most interestingly, an even more resounding majority thought the U.S. ought not to be the prime mover of the peace process, with fully 69 percent saying the decision should be left to the parties while only 26 percent thought it should play a leading role.

The results, especially with regard to support for Israel, are consistent with previous polls. But the number of those who want America to be running the peace negotiations has plummeted in the last decade as the futility of trying to coax the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and embrace a two-state solution has been amply demonstrated. This gives the lie to both the “Israel Lobby” theories as well as the notion that Americans want their president to be twisting the arm of the Israeli government to make concessions to revive a process that the Palestinians have shown no interest in.

The basic numbers illustrate why those who claim the across-the-board bipartisan support for the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress is bought and paid for by Jewish campaign finance donations (as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it) is a lie. Israel has the backing of every political and demographic group measured by the poll showing that backing Israel is simply a matter of political survival irrespective of how many Jews vote or donate money in a given district or state.

That said, the numbers do show a difference between the affection for Israel shown by Republicans and conservatives on the one hand and Democrats and liberals on the other. Republicans back Israel by a margin of 73-4 and conservatives do so by 72-5. However, Democrats back it by only a 49-11 and liberals by an even smaller margin of 39-16. Independents and moderates support Israel by margins of 51-10 and 55-10. Clearly, support on the left for the Jewish state is shaky. This is a trend that ought to worry those who believe that blind partisan loyalties for Democrats can trump principles and strengthening the arguments of those who believe Republicans are more reliable on the Middle East.

But the numbers about Americans not wanting the U.S. to take a leading role in peace talks ought not to be interpreted as indifference or neutrality about the conflict, as even the Post‘s headline on the story about the poll (“Public Wants U.S. Out of Middle East”) seems to say.

To the contrary, the poll reflects an accurate assessment of the two sides’ goals. The healthy majority that sympathizes with Israel understands that it has repeatedly shown its desire for peace by offering the Palestinians statehood in exchange for an end to the conflict and that neither the Palestinian Authority nor its Hamas rivals have ever accepted these deals or given up their dream of destroying Israel.

In this respect, ordinary Americans prove themselves to be far more sensible than many in the foreign policy establishment who call themselves “realists” while clinging to a view of the conflict rooted in the fantasy that Israeli concessions or territorial surrenders will bring peace.

For the moment at least, the Obama administration seems to have assimilated this wisdom. With the president heading to Jerusalem without seeking to impose a peace plan on the new Netanyahu government, but instead concentrating on coordinating policy on the Iranian nuclear threat, for once U.S. policy is in tune with both American public opinion and reality. We can only hope that it will stay that way.

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Obama Rabbis Must Disavow Anti-Zionist

Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

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Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

Gottlieb, who can be viewed endorsing the boycott of Israel here, previously earned the opprobrium of the Jewish community by speaking at a 2007 dinner in New York for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Anti-Defamation League lists Jewish Voices for Peace as one of the “top ten anti-Israel groups” in the nation.

Of course, Rabbis for Obama is free to offer membership to anyone it wants. But if it is going to be used by the president and his party as a prop in their effort to persuade wavering Jewish voters that they can rely on Obama to stick by Israel, then its roster ought to consist of rabbis who actually do support the Jewish state. If a notorious anti-Zionist like Gottlieb is a member in good standing of Rabbis for Obama, it raises the question of what exactly the group stands for? How can it put itself forward as proof of the American Jewish community’s trust in President Obama as a faithful friend of the Jewish state when it is willing to embrace a leader of the movement to vilify Israel?

The point here is that even those who call for inclusion of left-wing groups that often protest Israeli policies like J Street in community councils, understand that Jewish Voices for Peace is beyond the pale. Any group that includes it or its leaders can’t be considered pro-Israel. Is that the message Democrats want to be putting out about its rabbinical front group?

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What Alienation? Donations to Israel Rise

More proof, as if any was needed after Sol Stern’s merciless evaluation in April’s COMMENTARY, that the alleged crisis in American Zionism is a psychodrama playing out inside Peter Beinart’s head and few other places:

Donations by U.S. Jews to Israeli nonprofits have doubled during the past 12 years, according to a first-of-its-kind study conducted by professors at Brandeis University. The study, scheduled to be completed in late April, disproves the widely held view by many Israelis that philanthropic donations from the United States have dropped over time due to economic and political reasons… [it] suggests quite the opposite.

The numbers are overstated a little bit – Ben Smith quickly noticed that the “doubled” claim doesn’t account for inflation — but otherwise conclusive.

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More proof, as if any was needed after Sol Stern’s merciless evaluation in April’s COMMENTARY, that the alleged crisis in American Zionism is a psychodrama playing out inside Peter Beinart’s head and few other places:

Donations by U.S. Jews to Israeli nonprofits have doubled during the past 12 years, according to a first-of-its-kind study conducted by professors at Brandeis University. The study, scheduled to be completed in late April, disproves the widely held view by many Israelis that philanthropic donations from the United States have dropped over time due to economic and political reasons… [it] suggests quite the opposite.

The numbers are overstated a little bit – Ben Smith quickly noticed that the “doubled” claim doesn’t account for inflation — but otherwise conclusive.

They’re also in line with overwhelming polling demonstrating that American Jews are as sympathetic or more sympathetic to Israel than they’ve ever been. Their identification with the Jewish State has remained inside a ten-point range, roughly between the upper 60′s and upper 70′s, for more than 10 years. There hasn’t been much work done on why the number fluctuates inside that range, e.g. if the changes are random noise or if they track with military and diplomatic conflict or if they follow the rest of America in dropping when Israel offers dangerous concessions. But overall American Jewish support for Israel simply hasn’t changed very much.

These findings should put an end to the pretenses of the anti-Israel American Jewish left. If American Jews were increasingly alienated from Israel, then J Street and Beinart and similarly minded partisans would be justified in trying to provide them with a “route into the pro-Israel world.” If the premise is false, then those partisans are bombarding broadly pro-Israel Americans with anti-Israel propaganda, with the only risk being that they decrease rather than increase sympathy for the Jewish State.

It can’t be emphasized enough how this part of the debate is no longer theoretical. It’s not a matter of two sides having different assumptions, each of which is backed by plausible arguments. Empirical evidence converges on the conclusion that American Jewish support for Israel is stable. Eventually, pretending otherwise goes from being understandable denial – after all, left-wing American Jews have invested a lot in the Alienation Thesis, literally and metaphorically – and slips into being willful dishonesty. We’re fast approaching that point.

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