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Monday, April 12, 2010

American Jewish identification with Israel has not wavered in ten years

The recently released results of the AJC annual survey of Jewish opinion may upset a number of political apple carts in the American Jewish community. That is not because they announce a revolution in the thinking of American Jews about Israel or Barack Obama, but because, on the contrary, they indicate that there has been virtually no change in Jewish attitudes toward Israel, and only a moderate, but growing disaffection with the Obama administration, that is not specifically related to Israel policy.

The J-Street lobby has insisted repeatedly that American Jews support a policy of deep compromises in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are dissatisfied with the representation given them by AIPAC and the "traditional" Jewish community leaders.


Other, more "liberal" (anti-Israel) Jewish groups and commentators have gone even further. They contend that American Jews are becoming disaffected with Israel because of Israeli policy. In an article in The Nation, in 2009, Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss proclaimed, "This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews' attitudes toward Israel." Horowitz and Weiss cited the Gaza war and the election of the right-leaning Netanyahu government as reasons for Jewish disaffection. More recently, Alan Brownfeld declared, "The evidence that American Jews are seriously rethinking their relationship with Israel is growing." Brownfeld didn't cite any real evidence, except for opinions of other anti-Israel Jews and of critics of Israel, including Weiss and Horowitz.

On the other hand, some Jewish pundits have insisted that American Jews have become disaffected with the Obama administration. because of its handling of Israeli-American relations and the pressure it has placed on Israel.

The AJC Survey data reported below do not support any of these contentions. The survey results support a paradoxical conclusion: American Jews approve of Obama and his handling of Israeli issues, but they support Israeli policies that are diametrically opposed to those of the Obama administration.

Are American Jews supportive of deep compromises with the Palestinian Arabs and adoption of the policy stands of J Street? - 75% of the respondents believe that the goal of the Arabs is still to destroy Israel, 61% insist that Israel must retain United Jerusalem in a peace settlement, and 94% insist that the Arabs must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. 62% would support Israeli military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while 53% would support such action by the United States.

These positions are diametrically opposed to the known positions of "liberal" groups such as J Street, which clearly cannot claim to represent majority Jewish opinion in the United States or even a growing segment of American Jewish opinion. Only a plurality (48%) support creation of a Palestinian state at present, a stand which is compatible with the position of all major Jewish organizations, the US government and the Israeli government, while 45% are opposed.

Are American Jews becoming disaffected with Israel?

Here are the results for the question, "How close do you feel to Israel?" asked every year since 2000, with the links to the respective survey results for previous years.

2010 Very close 30 Fairly close 44 Fairly distant 20 Very distant 5 Not sure 0
2009 Very close 28 Fairly close 41 Fairly distant 22 Very distant 8 Not sure 1
2008 Very close 29 Fairly close 38 Fairly distant 23 Very distant 8 Not sure 2
2007 Very close 30 Fairly close 44 Fairly distant 20 Very distant 5 Not sure 0
2006 Very close 37 Fairly close 39 Fairly distant 16 Very distant 6 Not sure 2
2005 Very close 36 Fairly close 41 Fairly distant 18 Very distant 5 Not sure 1
2004 Very close 31 Fairly close 44 Fairly distant 19 Very distant 6 Not sure 0
2003 Very close 31 Fairly close 43 Fairly distant 18 Very distant 8 Not sure 1
2002: Very close 29 Fairly close 44 Fairly distant 20 Very distant 6 Not sure 1
2001 Very close 29 Fairly close 43 Fairly distant 21 Very distant 6 Not sure 1
2000 Very close 28 Fairly close 46 Fairly distant 18 Very distant 7 Not sure 1

The data give no support to the claim that American Jews are becoming disaffected with Israel. There simply was no shift, dramatic or otherwise in Jewish attitudes to Israel between 2008 and 2009, and the survey indicates no evidence of such a shift. Overall attitudes have apparently not changed since 2000 at least. About 75% of American Jews consistently answer that they are very close or fairly close to Israel, while about 25% are fairly or very distant. The 2008-9 Gaza invasion and the rise of the Netanyahu government did not produce any change in 2009 as opposed to 2008. Support for Israel peaked in 2005, when 76% in total responded that they are close or fairly close to Israel. It was lowest in 2008, before the operation against the Hamas terrorists, when only 67% responded that they were close or very close to Israel. 5% of the respondents said they were "very distant" from Israel in 2010, as opposed to 8% in 2008 and 2009, differences that are probably have no real significance.

We can anticipate that skeptics will claim that the survey is biased because it was conducted on behalf of a pro-Israel group or because the sampling methodology is biased. But the questions do not lead the respondents in any way, and the same question was asked each year and the respondents were selected in the same way, from the same sample base. There is no evidence that the survey for 2010 is more biased than the survey of 2000, which found, if anything, somewhat less support for Israel.

Obama and Israel - Fully 55% approve of Obama's handling of relations with Israel, and only 37% disapprove. Overall, Obama got a 57% approval rating. According to Ron Kampeas, "The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama's approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That's down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. "

But Kampeas seems to be comparing two different polls. There was no AJC poll in May of 2009, and the AJC 2009 annual survey, which was released in September of 2009, does not seem to have had a question about overall approval rating for Obama.

In the 2010 survey 50% approve and 48% disapprove of Obama's handling of health care, and 55% approve and 42% disapprove of his handing of the economy. These are very low approval ratings, considering that Obama got 79% of the Jewish vote. However, the reason for this disaffection evidently is not the Israel policies of the Obama government.

An even higher percentage, 57%, approve of the policies of the Netanyahu government. This is not a logical result, since it is not logical for people to approve both of a given policy and the opposing policy at the same time. It is probable that the results are colored by the tendency of respondents in surveys to "agree" and be positive, and by possible ignorance of the specific issues. Perhaps a more important finding was that disapproval of both Netanyahu and Obama's handling of the relationship rose by about 3% compared to 2009, but the difference is within the margin of error. A higher percentage also answered "not sure" regarding policies of the Obama administration toward Israel than answered "not sure" for other Obama administration policy issues.

The various proclamations and "evidence" of Brownfeld, Weiss, M.J. Rosenberg and other self-appointed experts on what American Jews are thinking are all attempts to encourage "bandwagonning" - getting people to support a position or politician because they are led to believe that that position or politician is supported by "everyone" else. Bandwagonning works, because group opinion is a significant factor in opinion formation, though it should not be, but there is simply no support in the data for the contention that American Jews are increasingly disaffected with Israel. There is also little indication of a massive Jewish shift away from the Obama administration due to its policies regarding Israel.
Ami Isseroff

2010 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion

The data reported here are taken from the 2010 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, sponsored by AJC. Among the topics covered in this survey are U.S.-Israeli relations, the Arab-Israel conflict, and the Iranian nuclear threat. Some of the questions appearing in the survey are new; others are drawn from previous AJC surveys, including the various Annual Surveys of American Jewish Opinion carried out between 1979 and 2009.The 2010 survey was conducted for AJC by Synovate (formerly Market Facts), a leading research organization. Respondents were interviewed by telephone between March 2 - March 23, 2010; no interviews took place on the Sabbath. The sample consisted of 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from the Synovate consumer mail panel. The respondents are representative of the United States adult Jewish population on a variety of measures. The margin of error for the sample as a whole is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A. Obama Administration
1. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President?
Approve 57% Disaprove 38% Not sure 6%

2. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling each of the following?

A. The economy
Approve 55
Disapprove 42
Not sure 3

B. Health care
Approve 50
Disapprove 48
Not sure 3

C. Homeland security
Approve 62
Disapprove 33
Not sure 5

B. U.S.-Israel Relations

3. How would you characterize relations between Israel and the United States today? Are they very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, or very
Very positive 10
Somewhat positive 63
Somewhat negative 22
Very negative 4
Not sure 1

4. Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration's handling of U.S.-Israel relations?
Approve 55% Disaprove 37% Not sure 8%

5. Do you approve or disapprove of the Netanyahu government's handling of Israel-U.S. relations?
Approve 57% Disaprove 30% Not sure 12%

C. Arab-Israel Conflict
6. As compared with one year ago, are you more optimistic about the chance for a lasting peace between Israel and the Arabs, less optimistic, or do you think the chance for a lasting peace is about the same as it was one year
More optimistic 6
Less optimistic 22
Same as one year ago 72
Not sure 1

7. In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?
Favor 48% Oppose 45% Not sure 7%

8. In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?
Yes 35 No 61 Not Sure 4

9. As part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the
West Bank?
All 8 Some 56 None 34 Not sure 2

10. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? "The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel."
Agree 75 Disagree 20 Not Sure 5

11. Do you think that Israel can or cannot achieve peace with a Hamas-led Palestinian government?
Can 16 Cannot 80 Not Sure 4

12. Should the Palestinians be required or not be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement?
Required 94 Not required 3 Not sure 1

D. International Issues
13. Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration's handling of the Iran nuclear issue?
Approve 47% Disaprove 42% Not sure 11%

14. How much of a chance do you think there is that a combination of diplomacy and sanctions can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons? Is there a good chance, some chance, little chance, or no chance?
Good chance 5
Some chance 27
Little chance 45
No chance 23
Not sure 1

15. Would you support or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons?
Support 53
Oppose 42
Not sure 4

16. Would you support or oppose Israel taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons?
Support 62
Oppose 33
Not sure 5

17. Barack Obama has approved the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Do you agree or disagree with this decision?
Agree 62
Disagree 35
Not Sure 4

18. I would like you to rate your feelings towards some countries, with one hundred meaning a very warm, favorable feeling, zero meaning a very cold, unfavorable feeling, and fifty meaning not particularly warm or cold. You can use any number from zero to one hundred. How would you rate your feelings toward . . .
Mean Score
a. Russia 54
b. India 64
c. Venezuela 42
d. Jordan 47
e. Turkey 52
f. China 49
g. Egypt 49
h. United States 88
i. Saudi Arabia 34
j. Germany 57

E. Anti-Semitism
19. Do you think anti-Semitism in the United States is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?
Very serious problem 25
Somewhat of a problem 66
Not a problem at all 9
Not sure 0

20. Do you think anti-Semitism in Europe is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?
Very serious problem 51
Somewhat of a problem 44
Not a problem at all 3
Not sure 2

21. Do you think anti-Semitism in the Muslim world is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?
Very serious problem 87
Somewhat of a problem 11
Not a problem at all 1
Not Sure 1

22. Looking ahead over the next several years, do you think that anti-Semitism around the world will increase greatly, increase somewhat,
remain the same, decrease somewhat, or decrease greatly?
Increase greatly 14
Increase somewhat 36
Remain the same 41
Decrease somewhat 7
Decrease greatly 1

F. Background Factors
23. In politics as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?
Republican 15
Democrat 50
Independent 32
Not sure 2

24. Do you think of yourself as . . .
Orthodox 10
Conservative 24
Reconstructionist 2
Reform 26
Just Jewish 37
Not sure 1

25. How important would you say being Jewish is in your own life?
Very important 51
Fairly important 34
Not very important 15
Not sure 0

26. How close do you feel to Israel?
Very close 30
Fairly close 44
Fairly distant 20
Very distant 5
Not sure 0

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