The BDS movement in the United States seeks, as it does in other nations, to make Israel into a pariah state. How is it doing? The most recent Gallup report, which includes its 2016 results as well as some numbers from prior years, is one indication that BDS is failing here.
In 2005, when the most recent wave of boycott activity commenced, Gallup asked survey respondents: “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or with the Palestinians? 52 percent sympathized more with Israel, 18 percent more with the Palestinians. More than ten years of relentless campaigning against Israel later, and 62 percent sympathize more with Israel, 15 percent more with the Palestinians.
What about Democratic support for Israel? As is well known, there has been a growing gap between Republicans and Democrats on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, Democrats are not only an audience for BDS but also an audience for the Obama administration’s complaints about the present administration in Israel. Yet the gap was greater in 2005 than it is today and at 53 percent, the percentage of Democrats who sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians is much better than the 41 percent recorded in 2005.
But the young have been special targets of the BDS movement, treated every year to Israel apartheid week, struggles against Zionist hummus, and divestment campaigns. Indeed, young people have been less sympathetic than older people to Israel in the recent past. Nonetheless, this year, 54 percent reported sympathizing more with Israel; 23 percent sympathized more with the Palestinians. In 2005, 51 percent reported sympathizing more with Israel. It’s true that sympathy with the Palestinians was considerably lower in that age group in 2005, in the neighborhood of 17 percent. But it had been at 29 percent just a year before. In short, the BDSers have not been able to budge opinion among the young so far.
What if we ask the question a different way? Gallup also asks whether respondents view Israel favorably or unfavorably. This year, 71 percent of American surveyed viewed Israel favorably or very favorably. In 2005 that number was 69 percent. Although Israel’s favorability ratings are off of their 25 year high — 79 percent viewed Israel favorably during the first Persian Gulf War — they are otherwise about the highest they have been during the past 25 years.
That does not mean one need not be concerned about the boycott movement, both because there may be subtle effects that the polls are missing and because it seems likely that the failure of BDS to take hold has something to do with determined opposition to it. It does mean, however, that there is no reason to despair about reports of BDS “momentum” which, at least so far, seems to be a myth.