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.

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

  1. I went to a chabad event tonight in which a great deal of worry was expressed over their sense that Obama was appeasing terror.

    It was consistently expressed that people respected many individual Arabs, but greatly feared the incited angers.

    Many sought to hold the Palestinians entirely responsible. I said that a great deal of the tension originates in Israel’s adopting unnatural and often unnecessary suppressions, that there were other options that Israel could take that would improve much.

  2. I don’t understand what this poll is saying because the “Israeli goverment line” changes election to election. If a “Right-wing” government is is power, then Israeli supporters of this government want American Jews who also support it to speak out while telling the supporters of the Left to keep quiet, while the Left is telling those American Jews who oppose it to raise their voices in opposition, and vice-versa when the Left is in power. When Olmert was in power pushing his unilateral withdrawal plan, his Consul-General in New York said American Jews who opposed this plan were obligated to keep silence because of the need for “unity”.

    Regarding the results of the Steinmetz Center poll, I see that it is being presented in the usual light of how “progressives” see things…”that Israel has failed to advance peace with the Arab countries” – i.e. Israel can have peace if it wants, and so if there isn’t peace it is Israel’s fault and that Israeli voters are supposedly “frustrated” with this. This is, of course, nonsense, the vast majority of Israelis know the Arabs are responsible for the failure to reach a peace agreement. Having 69% say they want negotiations with the Arabs is like saying you support motherhood….of course, everyone would like peace, but they also realize that it is not Israel’s fault. That is why the right wins most elections, and why in 1992 and 1999 when the Left did, they pretended to support a “right-wing” position on security and settlements which they then betrayed after entering office.

  3. Can one be considered a friend to suggest (or rather urge) that the financial relationship between the U.S. and Israel should come to a complete halt? This means the foreign aid packages; trade and keeping financial charge d’affairs should of course be promoted.

    This would undoubtedly in the long run be great for Israel and good for the U.S. (of course) in both the short and long term.

    The question, is would it work well if Israel’s oft-adversaries continued to receive such aid?

  4. Ya’akov,
    The Israeli vision of the homeland-diaspora relationship is that the Israelis make the decisions and take the risks and the diaspora Jews, particularly the Americans, use their political clout to deliver the necessary foreign and economic aid while protecting Israel’s diplomatic interests. That was accepted up until the First Lebanon War without too much objection. Then first liberal American Jews dissented, as a result of the war, and then conservatives dissented as a result of the Oslo process. So now both camps in Israel believe that American Jewry should support their camp exclusively both in power and out of power.

  5. This poll is in no way based on a representative sample of Israelis, as it is entirely restricted to Jews. Unfortunately, this kind of sloppiness is rampant in discussions of “Israeli” public opinion, but that’s not an excuse.

  6. William,
    You’re right. It was a careless oversight in the original article and I should not have repeated it.

  7. Zach-
    You are right, the US would be doing Israel a favor (and itself) if it ended the aid. It is given for political reasons, and for that reason they won’t end it. The large majority of military aid is spent in the US, so if Obama wants to cut it in order to punish Israel for not freezing the settlements, for instance, it would lead to thousands of job losses in the US and those jobs would be transferred back to Israel (for example, the IDF’s battle rations and the soldiers’ boots are all made in the US-not to mention all the jobs in high-tech industries such as the aircraft companies). Hard to believe with the US economy in such a weak state that Obama would want to do that. Israeli leaders like getting the aid because it gives them a crutch to explain why we can’t go against American orders. Sharon used this as his excuse why he wouldn’t move against the Palestinians suicide bombers in 2001 and 2002, saying “the Americans won’t like it” even though hundreds of Israelis were being killed at the time. Similarly, when over 100 Knesset Members signed a petition asking that Bush pardon Jonathan Pollard, Sharon refused to present it saying saying “beggers” can’t make demands. See how he views his own country?

  8. Ya’akov,
    Pollard was an American citizen, a native-born American. See how he viewed his own country–taking a salary for years while his main activity was collecting secrets that he was selling to Israel. He also made it much harder for American Jews to work in jobs requiring top secret clearances. He may be a hero in Israel but he is a traitor in the U.S. And moves by Israel to give him pay for his time in prison merely ensures that he will remain in prison.

  9. Thomas Mitchell-
    You are raising the question of whether he should have done what he did or not, or whether Israel was right in operating him as a spy or not. That is not the issue. The issue is that he has served FAR more time in jail than other people who committed similar crimes. He is being scapegoated because he worked for Israel and because he is a Jew. Justice demands he be released after sitting in jail 23 years.

    It was the same with Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg. I think what they did was terrible and they deserved punishment for it BUT NOT THE DEATH PENALTY and making their two young sons orphans. They were given it because they were Jews and the fact that other Jews like Roy Cohn, the Judge (IIRC his name was Saypol) wanted to show how “patriotic” they were by putting them in “the chair”. The Rosenbergs spied for a country that was an ally of the US. The US was never officilly at war with the USSR. Klaus Fuchs gave much more valuable information from the Manhattan Project to the Soviets than did the Rosenbergs and he was given only a 14 year prison term by the British (at the same time as the Rosenberg’s were caught) for espionage for a friendly country and he was released after 8, after which he went to East Germany where he spent the rest of his life.

  10. Thomas-
    I should also remind you that Pollard was not charged or convicted with “treason” but giving classified information to another country. Thus, he is not a “traitor”. He never intended to harm the US.

  11. Both articles are “decrees”, assertions NOT proofs, not justifications.

    “No one can tell me where I can live”.

    You can’t live where you don’t have valid title (at least in a modern legal society).

    If you have valid legal title, you should be able to live there.

  12. Richard-
    Do you propose expelling Jews from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, which are also illegal settlements according to you and the other “progressives”?

  13. Mr. Ben-David,
    I haven’t seen any historian who seriously asserts that the Rosenbergs were put to death because they were Jews. They were put to death because they were Communists and Soviet spies. Mrs. Rosenberg may not have been involved in the spying, but she certainly knew that her husband was doing it. Her death sentence was an over reaction–but not because she was Jewish.

    Regarding Pollard, he gave highly classified information to Israel regarding knowledge of Soviet weapons, etc. Some of this may have been traded by Shamir to the Soviet Union for considerations regarding Soviet Jews.

  14. “Do you propose expelling Jews from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, which are also illegal settlements according to you and the other “progressives”?”

    If you’ve read my posts, I suggest that Jews/Israelis that have property with contested title perfect it by compensation, that ALL individual Arab or other property claims get the light of day in a non-biased court of law.

  15. Y-Ben, have to part company with you on the Rosenbergs. My father spent a year in Korea with a million Chinese looking to kill him. I’m convinced that that war might not have happened if the Russian hadn’t had the bomb. The Rosenbergs got what was coming to them.

    Pollard only gave Israel information about the Arab countries that they were supposed to get. But that Caspar Weinberger cut off. The idea that Yitshak Shamir, a tough Polish Jew if there ever was one, would do anything to help the Soviet Union is absurd. You have absolutely no evidence of that because there is none.

  16. Bill-
    If you read carefully what I wrote I never said their were innocent lambs. However, I stand by what I wrote, at the time they (or, really, he) was spying for the USSR, the USSR was not enemies of the US. By the time they were caught, the Korean War and Cold War were in full swing which greatly inflamed public opinion against them. They were the only American spies executed in peace time and if they had not been Jews they were not have gotten such a punishment, regardless of what Thomas Mitchell says.

  17. To William Burns and Dan,
    You are of course right that the poll does not include Arab citizens, but it’s in no way a sloppy oversight; rather a strict (and unfortunate) budget limitation.

    The text of the original article clearly says that my data is a representative sample of Jewish Israelis (bottom paragraph of first column, first page) and never claims to speak for the total population; all further references to the original (J Report) data refer to “the respondents”.

    For the Tami Steinmetz survey, i refer to “Israeli population” and used the data for the combined Jewish and Arab sample, which is publicly available on their website.

    hope that clears things up.

  18. Make the precedent.

    Stop ALL settlement construction for six months, firmly, with no strings attached.

    Support Obama in insisting on that.

    Take the opportunity that exists temporarily to move to a two-state solution that actually functions.

    The alternatives are worse.

  19. Bill,
    Many “tough old Polish Jews” just like Shamir apparently had no problem with attempting to make an alliance with Nazi Germany in 1940 by sending a representative to Beirut to negotiate with the German consul there. The Nazis turned them down. If you don’t believe me read Joseph Heller’s book on the Lehi. Maybe Shamir figured if Stern could make a deal with Hitler against the British he could make one with Brezhnev at American expense.

    My info on Pollard comes from Wolf Blitzer’s book on him written when Blitzer was the JP’s Washington reporter. According to Blitzer Pollard was collecting classified info not just on the Arabs but on all kinds of things.


  20. Thomas Mitchell-
    Do you really think that makes Shamir a “Nazi synpathizer”? Maybe he thought the British were going to lose the war and he would try to make the best deal he could with the winner? After all, this was before the Holocaust and it was believed that Hitler simply wanted to remove the Jews of Europe to another location.
    After all, the Arabs in general were very sympathetic to Nazi Germany and yet “progressives” always explain this away as saying it is the old story of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”….in other words, since the British and French were exercising colonial power in the Middle East, the Arabs would support the Nazis in order to drive them out. Not, perish the thought, that the Arabs found anything attractive about Nazi ideology.
    Interestingly enough, Shamir was considered “pro-Soviet” in the early days, so I don’t think Fascism attracted him as an ideology.

  21. I never claimed he was a Nazi sympathizer. I merely refuted Bill Pearlman’s logic that because Shamir was “an old Polish Jew” he couldn’t collaborate with the Soviets if he thought it served a Jewish interest.

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