In 1st, US Democrats Side More With Palestinians Than Israelis, Poll Finds Israel still garnered more sympathy from Americans overall than the Palestinians, 54% to 31%, in the latest Gallup poll By Keren Setton/The Media Line For the first time, Democrats in the United States are siding more with the Palestinians than Israelis, a recent […]
The Media Line: In 1st, US Democrats Side More With Palestinians Than Israelis, Poll Finds
In 1st, US Democrats Side More With Palestinians Than Israelis, Poll Finds
Israel still garnered more sympathy from Americans overall than the Palestinians, 54% to 31%, in the latest Gallup poll
By Keren Setton/The Media Line
For the first time, Democrats in the United States are siding more with the Palestinians than Israelis, a recent survey by Gallup found.
The poll, published on Thursday, showed a dramatic shift in the opinions of US Democrats, who have historically voiced strong support for Israel.
For Israel, which relies heavily on American support, such findings are troubling.
In answering the survey question: “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians,” 49% of Democrats sympathized more with the Palestinians. According to Gallup, this number increased by 11% over last year. Just 38% of Democrats surveyed sympathized more with the Israelis.
“While we have been aware of this trend, still it should constitute another wake-up call for American supporters of Israel as well as Israeli policy-makers and diplomats,” said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, senior rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City.
Republican support for Israel remained steadfast at 78% in the poll which asked Americans which side they sympathize with more in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after asking for their overall opinions of Israel and Palestine in a list of close to 20 countries. It interviewed 1,008 adults, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
The poll also measured overall American sympathy for Israelis and Palestinians. It indicated that this is “the first time Israel has not enjoyed … an advantage over the Palestinians in Americans’ sympathies.” However, Israel still garnered more sympathy than the Palestinians, 54% to 31%.
Support for Israel among Democrats has eroded in recent years and now the balance has tipped toward the Palestinians. This comes as no surprise to many, as recent undercurrents among Democratic voters have pointed in this direction for some time now.
“Historically, Democrats have been supportive of Israel,” according to Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, a Canadian-American who is the rabbi emeritus of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto. “The leadership of the party shows strong support but, on the grassroots level, the party has moved a little more toward the left, showing more progressive politics, and as a consequence there is sympathy toward the Palestinians because there is more attention given to their status as a whole.”
“There is a long process of a weakening affinity toward Israel in the Democratic Party, especially among the younger Democrats,” according to Professor Moshe Hellinger, from the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, who said he expects this process to continue and intensify.
The poll did demonstrate that there is a generational difference in support, with the younger population leaning more toward support of the Palestinians. This is increasingly visible as progressive elements become more vociferous, encouraging the party to abandon its previous, almost unconditional, support for Israel.
“The progressives have become cheerleaders for the Palestinian perspective and very critical of Israel,” said Frydman-Kohl. “This appears more on the radar of young Americans, affecting their orientation toward Israel. There is a generational shift and it is important for Israel to find a way to recapture the vision for young Americans.”
Israel has been battling its image as an occupier and as bordering on a theocracy for years, with little success. Recent developments that include the formation of a far-right government with ultra-nationalist elements make for an even greater challenge.
“Israel is identified with occupation and as a more religious society with religious coercion,” Hellinger said. The younger generation of Americans, especially in the Democratic Party, is increasingly less religious. To them, Israel seems to be growing in the opposite direction.
“There is a connection between the growing disconnect of Democrats from Israel to the growing rift between Republicans and Democrats in the US,” Hellinger pointed out.
In recent years, Israel has become an increasingly contentious issue in the US. Israel used to enjoy almost blanket bipartisan support in the US. The changes in this support are a result of political processes in both countries.
Israel has been led almost continuously by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since 2009, with the exception of the 18 months between June 2021 and late December 2022. Disagreements between Netanyahu and the administration of Democratic US President Barack Obama climaxed in 2015 when Netanyahu addressed Congress on the subject of the Iranian nuclear deal after receiving an invitation from Republican lawmakers. It was a departure from protocol and a major poke in the eye of the American president.
Prior to that, Netanyahu had gradually aligned himself with the Republican Party and increasingly courted Evangelical Christians. The Netanyahu years have seen a deterioration in the relations between American Jewry and Israel.
When Republican President Donald Trump entered the White House, it became the Golden Age for the Israeli leader, but it also created a greater rift with Democrats.
During the relatively short time that Netanyahu was not in power, the government led by former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid tried to make amends with Democrats. But that year was not enough and the numbers in the poll show a trend that has been simmering for a while.
As a resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems further away than ever and violence only increasing, Israel is consistently viewed less favorably by observers. In addition, recent domestic developments in Israel, which is headed by a far-right-wing government, have Democrats looking at Israel differently.
Meanwhile, the controversial judicial reforms promoted by Netanyahu and his government have led to widespread protests in Israel. The US administration, through various officials, has encouraged the Israeli leader to engage in dialogue on the reform legislation. So far, the Israeli government continues to push forward with its plans.
“Israeli society is looking increasingly right-wing and conservative, more ethnocentric and nationalist,” said Hellinger. “For Democrats, Israel looks like Trump, a figure they loathe.”
Conducted in February, the survey could also be a reflection of the effect increased Israeli-Palestinian violence and internal tensions in Israel have on American public opinion.
The situation is very complex; very often the details are too intricate for what is frequently a shallow political debate.
“There is no understanding of these complexities,” said Hellinger. “Israel appears as the forceful, colonial occupier.”
“Listening to the Palestinian narrative without a Jewish and Zionist framework, one has a tremendous amount of sympathy. When one listens to the Palestinian narrative in conjunction with a strong Zionist narrative then one begins to realize the situation is more complex,” said Frydman-Kohl. “In terms of presentation, Israel can play an important role in maintaining or increasing support for itself.”
The changes reflected in the Gallup poll pose a great challenge to Israel, which banks on its alliance with the US in many arenas.
Netanyahu, who re-entered office late last year, has not yet been invited to visit the White House. Downplayed by Jerusalem, it is rare that a newly installed Israeli leader has been to numerous European capitals and has yet to set foot in Washington. A recent visit to Washington by ultra-nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich passed without meetings between Smotrich and US officials, another rare occurrence and a clear hint of American disapproval.
American support for Israel under the current Netanyahu government has yet to be put to a real test. But these tests could come very soon, even sooner than political developments in the US.
American veto power in the United Nations Security Council has prevented Israel from becoming isolated in the international arena and allowed it to operate militarily in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon for longer than the majority of the international community would like. Without such support, Israel could have easily found itself under a crippling sanctions regime.
“It is certain that the positions of elected politicians in the House and the Senate will eventually follow the public opinion of those who they represent, and elect them in the first place,” said Hirsch.
The US is heading to primaries in both parties and then a presidential election. It is unclear who will be the presidential candidates of both parties.
“There is a real risk that increasing numbers of opponents of Israel will be elected in future years to Congress. If this happens, we are likely to see increasing numbers of Democratic congressmen and senators qualify their support for Israel, both in rhetoric and voting patterns. Eventually, this will influence the White House, in particular if the president is a Democrat,” Hirsch added.
Extensive US military aid to Israel could be conditioned on certain policy changes that the White House could demand Israel to make in return.
“Not inviting Netanyahu was a nod to the progressive elements of the Democratic Party, but Biden is also not happy with him. Yet, his basic policy that supports and protects Israel has not changed,” said Hellinger.
The longer Netanyahu remains in power, the more difficult it will become to separate between the policies of his government and support for Israel.
“Biden has two Israels – the one of Netanyahu and the one he supports,” Hellinger said. “However, if the trends in Israel and the progressive trends in the US will not change, the rift between Israel and the Democrats will only grow.”
For now, as the poll demonstrates, American support for Israel is still steadfast. But the change in direction also is clear and could significantly impact the relationship between the two allies.
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Tue, May 23, 2023