American foreign policy American Jews Dan Fleshler Israel Israeli occupation Middle East peace process

Poll: Many Israelis want American Jews to be “critical friends”

Do Israelis think American Jews should support Israel by sticking to the Israeli government’s positions? The answer is “a decisive `No,”’ writes pollster Dahlia Scheindlin in the Jerusalem Report (June 8, 2009), describing a May 12th survey. This question is still a controversial one within (parts of) the American Jewish community, which has not yet discarded the old Israel-right-or-wrong paradigm.

A representative sample of 500 Israelis was asked

to take a side regarding the question of how it is appropriate for American Jews to express their support for Israel and what role they should play vis-à-vis American foreign policy. Does supporting Israel mean sticking to the official line, or are critical voices, going against that official line, legitimate too (To make this clearer, we used the term `government’ to represent the official line)?

…Nearly half of the respondents supported the statement, “American Jews can express their attitudes toward Israel even if it means going against the Israeli government policy.” Only 35 percent preferred instead the statement that “American Jews should support the Israeli government’s policies.”

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. Even Israelis don’t believe in their government {Note from DF: this was written before Bibi’s speech at Bar-Ilan U, which boosted his popularity somewhat}…This column has tracked the public’s deep frustration with their leaders. We’ve seen the crash of voter turnout in the last four elections…Only 34 percent of Israelis trust the current government, while 60 percent do not, according to the April War and Peace Index of the Tami Steinmetz Center at Tel Aviv University. Two thirds of Israelis say the state of Israel has failed to advance peace with the Arab countries…Hopelessness reigns: 69% support peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but only 32% believe it will achieve peace with them, according to the War and Peace Index…

Israelis seem fed up with their own apathy, cynicism and hopelessness. They know where the process must go, but seem paralyzed about how to get there. If American Jews can help push a process forward, this could provide momentum. At Camp David in 2000, we learned that momentum itself can work wonders on the kind of agreement the public is prepared to support.

Scheindlin has been doing some of the most interesting opinion research in Israel but it is inexcuseably unavailable on-line. Her column frequently appears in the Jerusalem Report, one of my must-read publications, but their web site hasn’t been updated in months!

I’ve posted a scanned version of her column, “Critical Friends,” on this blog. Go here for Part 1 and go here for Part 2. In both cases, you will need to click on the second link (not the title) to find the article. There might be a better way to display it but I’m afraid I’ve reached the limits of my Word Press skills…

Oh yeah, one more note. Before you start quibbling over the phrasing of the question about American Jewish support for the official line, please read the full column for her methodological caveats.

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