American Opinion and the Case for Israel

by ANDREW E. HARROD February 24, 2016

A recent Brookings Institution survey presented at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. indicated a growing American partisanship toward Israel and the Middle East. But an analysis of an online survey taken in November suggests strategies for Israel's friends to counter growing Democratic Party estrangement with Israel amidst an enduringly pro-Israel and Philo-Semitic American population.

Survey director Shibley Telhami said that Israel is dramatically becoming what fellow panelist and Brookings expert Tamara Cofman Wittes called a wedge issue. As Telhamiwrote in "Politico," the Republicans' pro-Israel base is an indicator that "GOP candidates are principally catering to an evangelical base that has become Israel's biggest support base in American politics." A survey press release noted that while Evangelical Republicans make up only 10 percent of the American population, 23 percent of all Republicans and 77 percent of Evangelical Republicans want the United States to favor Israel. In all, 40 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of self-identified evangelicals "say a candidate's position on Israel matters a lot," compared to 22 percent for Independents and 14 percent for Democrats."

Telhami pointed out that, by contrast, the biggest story of all was the 49 percent of Democrats who said that Israel has too much influence on American politics; 14 percent said too little, and 36 percent said about the right amount. The striking partisan divide of this key finding impressed him, as the corresponding survey results among Republicans for too much, too little, and appropriate Israeli influence were respectively 25 percent, 22 percent and 52 percent. The overall American breakdown is 37, 18 and 44 percent, while 39 percent of evangelicals said that Israel has too little influence (23 percent too much and 38 percent the right amount), and views of too little Israeli influence increase with age.

Other survey findings revealed growing partisan divides between a pro-Israel Republican Party and a Democratic Party that is becoming increasingly more critical of Israel. The survey questionnaire results showed that 45 percent of Republicans wanted the United States to side with Israel in its conflict with Palestinians, while 51 percent wanted America to lean toward neither side. By contrast, only 13 percent of independents and 19 percent of Democrats desired pro-Israel American partiality, while 80 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats wanted impartiality.

Similarly, 49 percent of Democrats were willing to impose economic or more serious sanctions upon Israel for continued settlement of territories won in the 1967 war, while 46 percent would do nothing, or limit the U.S. response to a verbal protest. By contrast, in the survey questionnaire results, 68 percent of Republicans at most would support verbal protests, a position taken by 57 percent of Americans overall. Democratic attitudes reflected the party demographic changes noted by Telhami and the anti-Israel audience questioner Serge Duss, who referenced 2012 Democratic convention controversy regarding the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The survey press release said that "American views of Muslims are strikingly partisan," although any personal knowledge of Muslims improved their favorability ratings across the political spectrum. Among Republicans, 41 percent expressed somewhat or very favorable views toward Muslims, as opposed to 67 percent of Democrats (the general population was in the middle of these results, at 53 percent). The "Muslim religion" distinct from its adherents scored even worse, with 73 percent of Republicans responding unfavorably to Islam in the questionnaire, along with 68 percent of independents. Even 47 percent of Democrats responded unfavorably to Islam.

Telhami contrasted strong bipartisan favorability for Jews and Judaism from survey responders, yet said that conservative support for Israel in a highly partisan America can alienate Democrats from Israel. Jews received a total favorability rating of 88 percent, but Telhami's discussion of possible explanations for evangelical attachment to Israel visibly disturbed some audience members. As the press release pointed out, 66 percent of "Evangelical Republicans say that for the rapture or second coming to occur, it is essential for current-day Israel to include all the land they believe was promised to Biblical Israel in the Old Testament."

While such theology may guarantee Israel a specific American support bloc, the survey data indicated that Israel's friends should seek broader alliances in America with those concerned about Islamic threats to the free world. The survey revealed a public relations disaster for Islamic doctrine, irrespective of whatever good relations Americans have with Muslim individuals; Islam's future image is unlikely to improve, "religion of peace" refrains notwithstanding. While some may worry about Islamic immigration to the United States, Israel faces far greater threats among its Muslim-majority neighbors.

While Hamas jihadists rule the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority - with its Sharia-compliant Basic Law - indoctrinates Palestinian children in Islamic antisemitism and Iran's Islamic Republic manifests wider regional threats to Israel. Contrary to the preferences of many Democrats (but not most Americans), such threats call into question further pressure for "land for peace" Israeli withdrawals from the historic Jewish heartland ofJudea and Samaria. The survey itself indicated that Israeli-Palestinian two-state solutions make decreasing sense to many Americans, contrary to panelist Susan Glasser of "Politico," who described this as a "mainstream consensus" policy position.

On the other hand, supporters of the Jewish national homeland should associate the Jews and Judaism admired in America with Israeli pioneer accomplishments in building a developed democracy unique to its region. Among other things, Judaism's ethical valueshave created the Middle East's one society, where minorities such as Arab Muslims and Christians can live freely without fear. Strategic analysis also shows that this democracy is a strong American ally, particularly against militant Islam, contrary to the views revealed in the survey that Israel draws unmerited advantage from America.

Israel faces increasing challenges from the political left in America and elsewhere, but facts, and not just sectarian faith, favor Israel. Israel can indeed win a battle for the hearts and minds of American voters, and political leaders who take anti-Israel positions may well come to appreciate Genesis 12:3's prophetic warnings.

A version of this piece previously appeared on  https://philosproject.org/

Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School.  He is admitted to the Virginia State Bar.  He has published over 400 articles concerning various political and religious topics at the American Thinker, the Blaze, Breitbart, Capital Research Center, Daily Caller, FrontPage Magazine, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Independent Journal Review, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jihad Watch, Mercatornet, Philos Project, Religious Freedom Coalition, Washington Times, and World, among others. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies.  He can be followed on twitter @AEHarrod.


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