Israelis and Americans: Friends in most places
A general pall has fallen over much of the American Jewish community. A combination of Middle Eastern events, Obama policies, and hysteria about anti-Israel activity has raised alarms about the future of American support for Israel. The truth, however, is that poll data show Americans are more sympathetic toward Israel than ever before.
If you listen to many Jews on the right, the view is that Obama’s hostility toward Israel and a well-funded and organized delegitimization campaign have eroded support for Israel. Many Jews on the left believe that Americans don’t support Israeli policies and want the United States to pressure Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands. Media watchdogs argue that bias in the press has damaged Israel’s image.
In fact, public support for Israel has been on the upswing for years. The conventional wisdom is that there was a golden age of American love for Israel right after the Six-Day War, but support for Israel has dissipated as a result of the “occupation,” the intifadas, Israel’s military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, the media obsession with Israel, and criticism by Obama.
In truth, after the 1967 war, Gallup found that 56 percent of Americans sympathized with Israel. After more than 40 years of negative influences on American attitudes, Gallup found in 2011 that 63 percent back Israel. In the latest CNN poll, the figure was 67 percent, the second highest figure reported in any poll on the subject.
Those who often disparage these polls typically point to another question that asks if Americans believe that the United States should side with Israel or the Palestinians. They correctly point out that a significant majority consistently chooses neither side; however, what they usually neglect to mention is that there is virtually no support whatsoever for favoring the Palestinians. In the CNN poll, for example, a record high of 38 percent said the United States should side with Israel and 1 percent advocated backing the Palestinians.
It is true that when you look more closely at some of the data you find that certain groups — Democrats, liberals, minorities, women, young people — are less supportive than others. Yes, we want unconditional, universal love, and may aspire to win the hearts and minds of every American, but having the support of more than two-thirds of the American people is impressive, especially when it is clear how little support Israel’s opponents have among the public.
I recently heard a prominent liberal from Congress speak incredulously of the concern Jews had about the liberal community in the United States. He cautioned against making our enemies seem more powerful than they really are. In Congress, for example, he observed that with only a few exceptions the members were solidly behind Israel. He added that in the liberal circles he travels in he didn’t see any evidence that Israel’s position had eroded.
No doubt many will challenge these notions. The idea of Jewish prosperity is uncomfortable. I see it in particular in discussion of the campuses where, again, the widespread perception is that universities have become hotbeds of anti-Israel activity that often crosses the line into anti-Semitism. It is simply untrue.
To give just one indication, consider the phenomenon of anti-Israel “Apartheid Week.” For the last several years, the community has gotten exercised about the danger such events pose to students. The last two years, however, the anti-Israel sponsors of these weeks have managed to organize them on just 12 campuses — out of about 4,000 in the United States. And students report that on most of those campuses, these were non-events, attracting few students and little attention. By contrast, there has been a burst of pro-Israel student activity, including the proliferation of Israel peace weeks and the rapid development of Israel Studies on campuses across the country.
The situation is different in other parts of the world, where Israel is seen as the biggest threat to peace and stability. In the United States, however, Americans are smarter than they’re sometimes given credit for by the Jewish community. Even with the media biases that exist, they understand which country shares American values and interests; they distinguish between the people who threaten our way of life and those who uphold it; and they know the differences between democracies, theocracies, and thugocracies.