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U.S. Public Opinion and Israel/Palestine

Shibley Telhami reviews [1] the contents of a recent survey of American views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He finds that most Americans still don’t want [2] the U.S. to take sides:

Consistent with prior years most Americans (64 percent) want the United States to lean toward neither side in the conflict, while 31 percent want it to lean toward Israel. But there is a huge difference between Democrats and Independents, on the one hand, and Republicans on the other. Among Democrats, 77 percent want the United States to lean toward neither side, 17 percent toward Israel, and 6 percent toward the Palestinians; among Republicans, those who want the U.S. to lean toward Israel outnumber those who want it to lean toward neither side, 51 percent-46 percent.

The partisan gap on this question is not all that surprising, but the size of the gap is nonetheless remarkable. Three quarters of Democrats say they don’t want the U.S. to take sides in the conflict, while just over half of Republicans want the U.S. to favor Israel. One would scarcely know that from the way their representatives vote and how their party leaders talk about the U.S. role in the conflict. Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of Americans have consistently wanted the U.S. to be neutral or even-handed in the conflict for as long as the question has been asked, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly supportive of one side in practice.

Telhami points to another result about Palestinian statehood at the U.N.:

What do Americans recommend if the Palestinians take the issue of statehood to the United Nations? A plurality, 45 percent, advocate abstaining; 27 percent support voting against the resolution; and 25 percent support voting for it. Party differences are large with more Republicans supporting opposing the resolution, but still less than half (46 percent).

In other words, almost half of Americans don’t want the U.S. to take a position, and there are almost as many supporters of such a resolution as there are opponents, but it is virtually guaranteed that the U.S. will vote no. On both of these questions, a large majority doesn’t support backing Israel to the hilt, and yet that is what the U.S. will continue to do. This isn’t news. Polls have [3] been [4] finding [5] the same things [6] for decades. Even so, it is useful to be reminded every so often that U.S. policy on Israel and Palestine is wildly at odds with what most Americans claim to want. When Congress and the administration endorse conventionally “pro-Israel” positions, they are doing the opposite of what most Americans prefer.

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10 Comments To "U.S. Public Opinion and Israel/Palestine"

#1 Comment By Labropotes On December 8, 2014 @ 8:53 am

And those are the numbers in a media environment that is rather pro Israel. Our press consistently spins our goals in the middle east and obscures the economic and social costs here at home.

#2 Comment By Johann On December 8, 2014 @ 10:28 am

With an electorate fairly closely divided between the two major parties, elections are often won or lost by the non-political type electorate. These people tend to call themselves independents, but a more accurate term would be the clueless. By non-political electorate I mean people who vote, but don’t really follow politics. These are the people who may start following politics just prior to an election. Its these people who are targeted by negative ads. People wonder why ridiculously childish over-the-top negative ads work. Well, just keep in mind who they are targeting. For this reason, money is even more important in an election than one would expect. AIPAC can pile on the negative ads against candidates if they don’t vote the AIPAC approved line for Israel related votes. And the negative ads will have nothing to do with Israel policy. The negative ads can be used in primaries or general elections of course. In my view, this explains the disparity in how both parties vote vs the population’s views.

What’s spooky is a 99%-100% agreement on any vote. One tends to get those kind of results only in places like the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. The Israel related votes are always an embarrassment to our so-called democracy.

#3 Comment By Tom On December 8, 2014 @ 10:37 am

This is just another example of the power of special interest money, and not just over our politicians, but our media. While our politicians are bought and paid for, the idea that some of our media favors one side over the other is a total fabrication of reality. On Israel and illegal immigration you get one side of the issue. How many times have you seen the power of AIPAC reported, how they extort politicians…yet that does not explain the absolute monopoly the pro-Israel side has in the media. The same with illegal immigration, how many times do you hear about the costs to US workers all this illegal immigration causes, or the cost of healthcare or food banks…NOPE, you get one side of either of these issues, even though many, if not most of their patrols feel otherwise, in-spite of their lying. One could only imagine public opinion if the media was honest, no wonder they lie.

#4 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On December 8, 2014 @ 10:53 am

The rub is that the Israel Palestine issue is not very salient among voters. Only a relatively small number of voters, mostly Zionist Jews or Arabs vote on the basis of the session. This allows the Israel lobby to dominate the issue in Congress by lobbying methods.

#5 Comment By collin On December 8, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

For my part, I have given up on a two state solution as there is no way if Palestine separates, that their economy does not take a hit. (Which is not good since poor economies tend to fall in the wrong leader’s hands and we end with Gaza strip Part II.) The territory is too integrated on both sides to separate and I rather everyone accept this as fact. Instead of developing long term peace, Israel is going make everyone read “I accept Israel is ‘Jewish Faith” and the Palestine is going to fall in the hands of terrorist governments.

#6 Comment By Reflectionephemeral On December 8, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

Grumpy Old Man is right that few voters go the the mat on Israel-Palestine. The same is true for foreign policy generally.

Lobbying is indeed what matters. Engaging question on the interplay/competing level of influence of groups motivated by pecuniary vs ideological concerns.

#7 Comment By Captain P On December 8, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

The problem is that a large chunk of the GOP (I’d guesstimate a third) is EXTREMELY pro-Zionist, mostly due to dispensationalist evangelical beliefs. Then there’s a number of American Jews who are strongly Zionist. Many of them are located in Florida, a swing state, making them politically significant, and, since they’re older retirees, generally wealthy and incline to vote, giving them additional importance.

On the other side, virtually no one except for American Muslims cares strongly about the fate of Palestinians. The rest of the people who are either pro-Palestine or neutral don’t care that strongly, and politicians are more influenced by ten people shouting than one hundred remaining silent.

#8 Comment By Michael N Moore On December 8, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

This reminds me of the the British Member of Parliament who expressed her constituents concerns about the IP issue and was told it was a national security issue and not subject to popular politics.

Israel is a “national security” outpost for the West that has outlived it’s usefulness and become a showroom for the US military industrial complex. It simply does not matter what the public thinks.

#9 Comment By RP_McMurphy On December 9, 2014 @ 12:30 am

@ Captain P

“There‚Äôs a number of American Jews who are strongly Zionist. Many of them are located in Florida, a swing state, making them politically significant”

Assuming that this is the most relevant consideration, it’ll be interesting to see if the position of the Democratic Party shifts as Florida moves out of swing-state status and Democratic victories are increasingly secured with the Hispanic vote.

#10 Comment By johnallen919 On December 9, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

Instead of only badmouthing do nothing, free-loading NATO allies, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea (which is absolutely justified), conservatives should also take into account what has Israel EVER done for the US other than take billions of dollars of money? Instead of being a “taker”, have they ever been any help?

Help in Iraq? Help in Afghanistan? – Not even airfield or logistical support. Help against EXISTENTIAL THREAT(!!)) ISIS? Nada.