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J Street poll: for some American Jews, “evenhandedness” doesn’t go far enough

There has been much ado about the latest J Street poll of American Jews. The most important finding, as noted in the survey analysis, is that “Jews want America to be much more aggressive in its Middle East peace efforts than it is today.”

87% of respondents said they supported the United States playing an active role in helping the parties resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. 75% supported this role even if it meant the U.S. publicly disagreeing with both sides, and 70% supported it even if meant applying pressure to both sides.

That is good news for those of us who think toughminded American diplomacy is the only feasible way to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians. But it isn’t surprising to anyone who’s tracked American Jewish opinion. In 1998, when the Clinton Administration was squabbling with Prime Minister Netanyahu, a poll sponsored by Israel Policy Forum found that, by a 9-1 margin, American Jews wanted the administration to take an “evenhanded” approach to the Israel-Palestinian dispute and 84 percent agreed that the United States should “pressure” both Arafat and Netanyahu. In my book, I cite a number of other polls to show that, during the past decade, most American Jews have endorsed leaning on both sides, rather than just one side, when necessary.

But the new J Street survey shows something new, something different, something that has gotten no attention: there is a solid bloc of Jews in the U.S. who would support their government if it pressured only Israel.

When revealing this little nugget in their analysis, the pollsters, Gerstein Agne, look at the glass as half-full for supporters of Israel:

“We introduced an additional component to this exercise in this latest survey, and provided half the sample with the language cited above [about U.S. engagement] and provided the other half of the sample with language that focused exclusively on publicly disagreeing with or pressuring just Israel instead of both Israelis and Arabs. [emphasis added by DF].

“Not surprisingly, support for America playing an active role drops off considerably if it means disagreeing only with Israel (support drops 88 to 58 percent) or pressuring only Israel (support drops from 88 to 57 percent). These findings underscore how strongly Jews want the U.S. to assert itself to achieve peace, but also how much more effective it is when America is even-handed and addresses both sides instead of just one side.”

True, but the findings also show that large numbers of American Jews, perhaps even a majority, have moved beyond favoring evenhandedness or honest brokerage. These people are simply in no mood to put up with an Israeli government that takes more steps that will preclude the possibility of a 2-state solution, although the pollsters don’t spell out specific examples of Israeli recalcitrance or military adventurism when testing that proposition.

It doesn’t matter if this represents the sentiments of a majority of Jews in the U.S. It obviously reflects the views of a good many of them. While no doubt some of them have always felt this way, it is likely that these numbers offer more evidence of radicalization and growing alienation from Israel, especially among younger Jewish voters. Will Congress and the Obama team hear from them, and from the larger group that is comfortable with pressure on both sides if and when it is necessary? That remains to be seen.

But the results ought to be troubling to Benjamin Netanyahu. So should another nugget from the poll, which has also gone unnoticed: 72% of American Jews who give money to political campaigns oppose Israeli settlement expension. The pollsters note: “In fact, political donors stand out from the overall population on a variety of areas, including their more Democratic and progressive self-identification, greater support for peace initiatives and more negative attitudes toward Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu.”

This is further proof of what I’ve been pointing out for quite some time: although political donations from hawkish American Jews get all the attention from the cabal watchers, most “Jewish money” in politics comes from those who support Israel’s peace camp (whatever is left of it, that is). The problem is that this support is passive. Too few of them identify their concerns about the occupation or their endorsement of tough American diplomacy when they write their checks or call their Congressperson. That is one of the habits that J Street–working in tandem with allied groups like Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom and Americans for Peace Now–is trying to change. Hope it’s not too late…

30 thoughts on “J Street poll: for some American Jews, “evenhandedness” doesn’t go far enough

  1. Rather than attempting to get the U.S. to magically become even handed and balanced, it would be much easier to simply introduce another actor into the process that has a bias in the opposite direction, namely Europe. This way European anti-Semitism and postcolonial guilt can balance American preference for democracies and former Cold War allies.

  2. Thomas—lol! That cracked me up. However, hasn’t that been going on already? At least hasn’t Europe been feeding the PLO/Hamas/Hezbollah beast?

  3. When I was growing up in Queens Dan the worst thing you can do, the very worst, was to turn on your own people, your guys. That’s the way it is when you didn’t grow up rich. Obviously for you, and your buddy Phil Weiss. Not to mention the ever popular Rich ( samir kuntar is my hero ) Silverstein things were different in the suburbs. Does it feel good.

  4. LOL, Bill, there is a good movie about it, it’s called “On the Waterfront”. Watch it when you’re are ready to grow up.

  5. Just saying that i don’t turn on my own people to curry favor with people that hate me anyway. And if anything is similar to the mafia it is Hamas. They run all the rackets in Gaza.. BTW find my the Palestinian equivalent of Phil Weiss or Dan Fleshler. You can’t.

  6. You know Peter when it comes down to is this. If their is a fight between the IDF and Hamas, Hezbollah, or any one of the other psychotic Arab groups I want the IDF to WIN. Without wrestling with jewish angst. Dan, Phil, and little Richy out os seattle want the IDF to lose. And don’t care how many Jews get knocked off. And if you read their respective blogs you can’t argue that.

  7. J-Street is a dishonest, deceitful organization. Shmuel Rosner in the Jerusalem Post has shown that this poll, like the previous one has the question written in an almost incomprehensive, convoluted manner in order to get the results they want (yes, my side has done the same).

    Even if the results were correct, which they aren’t, it wouldn’t matter because the large majority of staunch supporters of Israel are non-Jews. Most Americans support Israel because it is a democracy with shared values with the US. The Palestinians are strongly identified with terrorism in most Americans’ minds, and the biggest supporters of the Palestinians, particularly HAMAS are countries like Syria and Iran which most Americans view as hostile countries. A Congressman, when faced with J-Street’s demands to “smack down Israel-for its own good, of course” won’t even understand what they are talking about for the reasons I gave above. All they will do is divide the Jewish community, which I assume was the goal of at least some of J-Streets founders.

    In any event MOST American Jews will follow the lead of any Israeli gov’t in power and oppose demands for unilateral concessions that damage Israel’s security and interests and it is exactly these things that J-Street wants.

    It is really comical to quote a statistic that “most American Jews who contribute to Democratic campaigns oppose settlement expansion”. Most of these people don’t know anything about Israel or settlements, have never visited Israel or any settlements. Give me a few minutes with them and I will change their mind.
    This poll shows how pathetic J-Street really is.

  8. To clarify, if you were to change the language of the question regarding the results that claim a majority of Jews want the US to apply one-sided on pressure, to something like this: “Do you suppport one sided pressure on Israel to make concessions WHICH COULD MAKE IT EASIER FOR PALESTINIAN TERROR ORGANIZATIONS INCREASE IN TERRORIST ATTACKS ON ISRAEL” you would get a VERY different results. That is why I view the results from this poll as being essentially meaningless.

  9. Yakov,
    Dozens of biased polls that adopt the language that you presented, are published regularly.

    The J Street polls, indicate that some change in attitude is occurring, which you should hear, so as not to be blind-sided by it.

    When you use language like “how pathetic J Street is”, you indicate that you are unwilling to listen.

    The IMPORTANT efforts are of imagination and negotiation to incorporate a balance that results in the least harm, even if you weigh Israeli’s lives as more in that.

    Palestinian lives and welfare are not zero, and we neglect our humanity, by failing to make peace possible, even if there are conditions that must exist before making dangerous compromises.

    But, those are inevitably a ways off. There are compromises that can be made unilaterally without endangering anyone. There are compromises that require a bi-lateral agreement and commitment, to get to any success. There are compromises that require multi-lateral agreement and realized commitment to get to peace.

    A thinking person will construct it, in broad goal, and in details getting there.

  10. Anonymous-(Is that you Richard?)

    I have no doubt a significant number of Jews in the US would accept an ideal peace agreement along the lines J-Street is advocating. I have no doubt that many American Jews would be happy to see unilateral pressure being applied to Israel for concessions IF IT LEAD TO TRUE PEACE. The questions J-Street asked in the polls were designed to get these results. That’s why they load the questions with clauses like “we support a strong, secure Israel….which is why we want unilateral pressure on Israel to bring it to this ultimate perfect peace agreement”. BUT THIS ILLUSTRATES THE DECEIT OF J-STREET BECAUSE THERE IS NO SUCH OPTION! They are positing a non-existent, Garden-of-Eden goal as being what they are working for, when there is no such thing. That’s why I am sure you would get 80% AGAINST such a proposal if you added a clause warning that such pressure will lead to the Arabs increasing their demands and possibly leading to yet another war. Its just like the phony polls the Israeli Left conducted before the destruction of Gush Katif. When they asked “Are you in favor of getting rid of Gush Katif?” they got something like 40% in favor (polls then consistently showed something like 40% in favor, 30% against and 30% didn’t know-hardly a majority, which is the reason why Sharon refused to hold a national referendum or call new elections, he knew he’d lose). If you were to ask “are you in favor of destroying Gush Katif knowing there is a significant risk of bringing HAMAS to power and having an ongoing war of attrition with HAMAS firing rockets across the border”, support would have dropped to 10%.

    In any event, the situation will be determined by the Jews in Israel, not the US. The Jews in Israel finally have come to realize what I am saying and Ehud Barak and the Labor Party joined Netanyahu’s coalition on that basis-that a peace agreement is not in the cards. That is what will determine the situation on the ground-not J-Street’s arrogant posturing.

  11. I think the oppossite about Barak’s joining the coalition. I think he did it for two reasons.

    One so that he is not voiceless, worse than voiceless as a secondary party in opposition. Definitely HIM not voiceless, not necessarily labor perspective (if there is one remaining).

    The second is to stop Netanyahu from proceeding too far down the annexation path, so that the two-state solution becomes impossible.

    It is true that Israelis decide Israeli elections, and that actions in the US have sometimes unintended consequences on Israeli attitudes.

    Again, I think that you abuse Torah and abuse the prospect of Zionism by failing to use the skills that you have to realize a just peace.

    It is inhumane to oppress another people (your neighbors). It is irrational to assume that they will forget that.

    The most effective use their skills to make good happen, rather than passively wait (only using their active intention to defend). As such, there is an element of cowardice to the failure to pursue real peace.

    J Street is not arrogant in the slightest. It is attempting to make something good and practical a reality.

    Even if you disagree as to means, it would be helpful for the world if you (as representative) clarified your committed intent to realize a just peace between the peoples, based on optimal sovereignty (two-state) and law (clarification of pending title questions).

    Both of those questions are of the middle, the practical and well-meaning.

    If invested in, the middle will predominate. If divested, only the fanatics (on both sides) will have room to lead.

  12. Rosner spoke about two questions.

    NOONE regards a poll as the last word. But, to dismiss it entirely, is to miss important information.

  13. And your thinking on a just peace?

    Are Palestinians human beings that deserve actual civil self-governance?

  14. Bill, do you mean that Dan and Phil are the “Uncle Tom’s” or the diverse voices of Zionism (although Phil is still undefined as to what ideology he really finds himself in) and which equivalent do you want from the Palestinian side?

    The problems really lie in the fact that there are millions of them and most do not even get a voice, let alone a blog or a book to talk about it. If it’s one that “turns on their own kind”, then you would have a plethora of examples, Abu Toameh comes to mind and Walid Shoebat.

    Does anyone else find it troubling how Y.Ben-David posited that poll question? Now I definitely am not a fan of “reading” polls but there has been a dwindling in support for one-sided policy.

  15. “Just saying that i don’t turn on my own people to curry favor with people that hate me anyway.”

    Are you an Israeli first, an American first, or a humanist first? Whose “people” are you currying “favour” with?

  16. I’m an American Jew. If there is a conflict between the one Jewish state has opposed to the 22 Moslem states plus the plethora of terrorist organizations. I want the jewish state to survive. Dan, Phil, and little Richy out in Seattle feel differently. It is not that complicated. What bothers me are jews whose only expression of judaism is to revel in the deaths of other Jews. I don’t think that’s Fleshler but it is certainly Weiss and Silverstein.

  17. Well, Bill, thanks for that small gesture of differentiation at the end. I want the Jewish state to survive, too. If you haven’t been able to figure that out by reading this blog over time, I don’t know what else could help you understand. I don’t think it will survive unless, somehow, the occupation ends. Olmert understands that, although he came to the conclusion belatedly. So does Livni. Too bad you don’t.

    Now, perhaps you’ve thrown me into the same category as Richard Silverstein and Philip Weiss because all of us were very angry at Israel’s decisions during the war in Gaza. I think we have very different relationships with Israel and Zionism. It is true that I was increasingly furious with a war that I thought made little sense, because it was not going to accomplish the goals Israel set for itself. Turns out I was right. And I also thought the ends did not justify the means, and that it was ethically indefensible.

    But I am sorry to disappoint you. I don’t think I have turned “on my own people.” (although my people include the American people as well as the Jewish people and the human race, I still take exception to what you think I think about the Jews). Quite the contrary…I think you and Y-Ben David are helping Israel to commit suicide. That is my definition of turning against own people, habibi.

  18. Hmmmm…I can understand both points of view in this argument.

    I am really not comfortable with the whole dynamic of the occupation…it’s cruel, it’s suspended the Palestinians in limbo, it’s ruined lives (for several generations)–and it’s an albatross around both people’s neck. It is a very sick relationship.

    On the other hand, my gut instinct tells me that the Palestinians are not 100% trustworthy.

    I don’t see them as 100% untrustworthy…but I do believe Israel’s paranoia is based on something real. And I don’t fully trust that there would be peace if Israel abandoned settlements.

  19. Off topic…but what do people think of Syria’s willingness to forge peace with Israel?

    I saw it as a positive. I’m not fully cognizant of all the political nuances over there–so I don’t have any cynical view of it. Although I’m sure Iran is somehow a motivator.

  20. It comes down to a clarification of the components of one’s goal.

    If one’s goal is self-governance AND peace, then one respects the genuine needs of the other, and facilitates them meeting those needs, in a manner that also meets your own.

    To ALL tangible problems, including those that involve some risk, there are efforts that one can do alone, with a partner, and/or with confident multi-lateral partners, that accomplish that.

    If the goal is more cynical, to actually annex say, then removing the obstacles to that annexation is the name of the game.

    Settlements are that problem. The placement and extent create the facts on the ground that indicate the intent of the state.

    The bi-furcation (the term that describes shizophrenia in different stages) between a neo-orthodox utopianism and a democratic limited Jewish state, is playing out in the discussion above within the military.

    The phenemena of rabbis giving orders rather than a coherent and accountable chain of command, originating in a responsible executive, is the devolution of Israel from a state (state with the monopoly of power) to a bi-national state (state as a coalition of militias, Lebanon).

    In this regard, Israel is ALREADY Lebanon.

  21. Richard-
    I suggest you read Benny Morris book about the War of Independence, “1948”. He points out that many Arab civilians were killed by Israeli forces. There were practically no religious officers and not so many religious soldiers. The officers were mostly Marxist socialists, some were Communists….all self-proclaimed “humanists” and “progressives”, “internationalists”, “multi-culturalists”, etc, etc. They were more likely to quote Marx or Lenin than the Bible as an authority. So please don’t give me this line that “Rabbis are a threat”. There are chaplains in all armies and they encourage the men by saying their fight is G-d’s fight. There is a scene in “The Longest Day” (a film based on true stories of D-Day) in which a British paratrooper encounters a Catholic chaplain dunking himself in a river. It turned out he lost his communion set and the soldier helped him find it. After they did, the chaplain said to the soldier “now, let’s go do G-d’s work”. He didn’t say “you know the Germans also have legitimate grievances so maybe we should consider that before we open fire on them”.
    I am CERTAIN that religious soldiers would be less likely to kill civilians wantonly than non-religious soldiers. If anyone is creating a militia in the IDF it is that extremist Zamir who is hyperpoliticized and trying to create divisions in the IDF and is actively trying to purge religious officers, if I understand the press reports correctly.

  22. YBD, I agree with you about the fact that number of religious soldiers and officers has no correlation with the level of moral combat in the army (anecdotally, most religious soldiers I served with were actually more mature on average than their secular counterparts). But your comment of Zamir is kind of ridiculous. Zamir is “actively trying to purge religious officers”? How would he do it, even if he wanted (evidence?). A major in reserves who is the head of one of the mekhinot? Come on, some common sense…

  23. I don’t know what Zamir specifically is doing.

    I’ve seen from multiple sources (Israeli) that there are explicitly neo-orthodox Jewish divisions, and that they respond differently to orders (say to discipline law-breaking settlers).

    If the state determined that it were to disband some of the settlements in the West Bank, are you saying that the neo-religious would enthusiastically obey those orders, or do they maintain the threat to disobey orders in the field?

  24. I think Bill got confused with the 22 nation Arab League and Muslim nations. Secondly, the only real elements that Israel seems to be “defending” itself against is non-state actors and to a very lesser extent Iran. Israel does not view the members of the Arab League, especially their neighbours (with the exception of Syria) as an existential threat. Lebanon? Iraq? Kuwait? Dubai? Yemen? Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Jordan? This isn’t an alliance that Israel views as bent on destruction of its regime. It sees non-state players and the Palestinians are the nuisance to overcome. Not exactly the deck that is totally stacked against Israel you perceive, especially since Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, perhaps the biggest players in the Arab League are U.S. allies. To add to that, Syria is still hellbent on mending good relations with the U.S. So what to make of your fear? Is it realism or is it hyped?

  25. Bill,

    So you would have no object to other peoples solidifying themselves with their own kin when it might not benefit anyone but that one state/nation? Like you said, it’s not that complicated. Then why do so many critics of America who happen to be of a different ethnicity always get calls for deportation while you seem to have no problem with it and yet insist on your bravado for solidarity with Jews in Israel?

  26. Mr. Ben-David,
    Actually Ben-Gurion who was commander in chief as defense minister and prime minister during the 1948 war rarely quoted Marx and regularly quoted the Bible. As prime minister he had regular Bible study sessions with other ministers and academics. You might not approve of the way he studied the Bible, but he considered it worth studying rather than Das Kapital. Moshe Dayan, a front commander in 1948, later wrote a book “Living with the Bible.” I’m quite sure that Yigal Allon was also conversant with the Bible, at least with the historical books. You are just showing your ignorance when you make statements like the one above.

  27. Joshua wrote: “the only real elements that Israel seems to be “defending” itself against is non-state actors and to a very lesser extent Iran. Israel does not view the members of the Arab League, especially their neighbours (with the exception of Syria) as an existential threat. Lebanon? Iraq? Kuwait? Dubai? Yemen? Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Jordan?”

    I think that’s a very good point–and something that Israel needs consider when deciding its next strategy–things have evolved in that respect over the past 3 decades.

    At the same time, the West itself is concerned about non-state actors coming out of those very countries! This is not an indictment of those nations (heck, Europe and the US arguably are breeding grounds for jihad cells too)–but rather a reminder that non-state players wreak havoc.

    We are in Afghanistan (and attacking Pakistani territories) because of it. And we went to Iraq because of it (not for the WMD reasons Bush put forth but to rearrange the chessboard over there–for better or worse).

  28. Thomas-
    I am not “ignorant” as you put it. Someone wrote an academic article some years ago about Ben-Gurion and his attachment to the Bible. It came AFTER the declaration of the state, not before, because he viewed it as a way to create a national ethos.

    Shimon Peres, in his autobiography, wrote how when he was courting his future wife, Sonia, they would sit and read the writings of Trotsky together. Golda Meir wrote in her autobiography of the endless hours of arguments about Marxist theory held in her kibbutz, Merhavia. Senior Hagana official Moshe Sneh, was a devoted follower of Stalin. So was Yitzhak Sadeh, the founder of the Palmach. He was prepared after the state was founded, along with other Palmach members and other MAPAM people, to set up an underground that would welcome Soviet troops who he thought were coming to Israel to liberate it from capitalist bondage. Some people made “slicks” (illegal arms dumps) to prepare for the day , and recently one was uncovered at a MAPAM kibbutz (this occurred in the early 50’s).

    Golda Meir, in the 1950’s, as Labor Minister made a speech to the Histradrut promising that “capitalism would eventually be eradicated in Israel” (fortunately she was wrong). Amnon Lord, the editor of Makor Rishon, grew up on a MAPAM kibbutz and he recalls as late as 1966 the Kibbutz celebrating Russian Revolution Day in November. Some of the Kibbutzim also kept pictures of Stalin around even after Khruschev’s deStalinization speech of 1956.
    Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, who was a MAPAM member of the Knesset and IIRC head of the Histardrut and also a Cabinet Minister wrote, on the death of Stalin in March 1953 the headline article in “Al-HaMishmar”, the MAPAM newpaper, a eulogy for Stalin entitled “Shemesh HaAmim Kavah” (“The Light of the Nations is Extinguished”).

    The fact is that Marxist rhetoric declined rapidly AFTER the creation of the state because most Israelis weren’t interested in it. But in 1948, it was very powerful. Pro-Stalinist MAPAM got 19 seats in the first Knesset. The PALMACH was heavily composed of MAPAM people. Yitzhak Rabin’s mother was an active member of the Communist Party and believe me, in his speeches you could hear echoes from time to time of the Marxist/Communist education he received, although he ended up living like a well-off man, not a hardered socialist.

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