Doves Outnumber Hawks in Jewish Community

A new poll suggests that US Jews hold views about the Middle East that are considerably more dovish than frequently acknowledged, with large majorities favoring diplomacy with Iran, supporting a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, and advocating US withdrawal from Iraq.

US Jews also favor Barack Obama over John McCain by a wide margin in the upcoming November presidential elections, according to the poll, which was released Wednesday by the Jewish advocacy group J Street.

And as Washington prepares for a major summit next week hosted by Pastor John Hagee’s hawkish Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the poll finds US Jews highly skeptical of political alliances with right-wing evangelical groups such as CUFI.

"There is a major gap between the attitudes of American Jews and the conventional wisdom about how they view America’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict," said Jim Gerstein of Gerstein/Agne, the firm that conducted the poll.

The 800 US Jews surveyed overwhelmingly disapproved of the Middle East policies of the George W. Bush administration. Eighty-three percent disapproved of Bush’s overall job performance, versus 16 percent who approved; the participants also disapproved of his handling of the Iraq war by a 79-21 margin, and felt that Israel was less secure as a result of his policies by a 61-25 margin.

The poll found widespread support for an active US role in the Arab-Israeli peace process, with 87 percent supporting such a role and 70 percent feeling that the US should push both sides to make compromises in order to achieve peace.

Seventy-five percent of respondents saw a two state solution as necessary to strengthen Israeli security, and 72 percent saw a two state solution as an important US security interest as well.

Further, 50 percent agreed more strongly with the statement that "Israel can only achieve real security through peace agreements", versus 34 percent who agreed more strongly with the statement that "Israel can only achieve real security by maintaining its military superiority."

With regard to Iran, 69 percent said that they were more likely to vote for a candidate who rejected Bush’s equation of diplomacy with appeasement and pursued "strong but tough diplomacy" with Iran, while 21 percent said that they were less likely.

But attitudes about military action against Iran were somewhat ambiguous. A plurality of 48 percent of respondents said that they were more likely to vote for a candidate whose positions included attacking Iran if they pursued a nuclear program or supporting an Israeli preemptive strike; 41 percent said that they were less likely.

Respondents also favored beginning to withdraw US troops from Iraq by a 64-28 margin.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given these positions and their historical voting record, US Jews were heavily leaning towards Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections. Sixty-two percent described themselves as likely to vote for Obama, versus 32 percent for his opponent, Senator John McCain.

However, support for Israel was not particularly high on the priority list of respondents. Only 8 percent described Israel as one of the two most important issues for them in the upcoming election, placing it seventh on the list of issues; far more important were the economy (55 percent) and the war in Iraq (33 percent).

The survey comes at a critical moment with regard to the 2008 elections. While Jews make up only about two percent of the US population, their exceptionally high rate of voter participation gives them almost twice the voting power.

Their numbers are also concentrated in several "swing" states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois, that could very likely decide a close election next year.

Moreover, funding by Jewish donors of Democratic party candidates is traditionally highly significant, accounting, for example, for as much as one half of all campaign contributions received by Democratic candidates to the Senate in the last election cycle.

The opinions revealed by the survey could therefore prove influential in shaping the positions of candidates during the election season, challenging the widespread perception that US Jews hold hard-line views about Middle East policy.

This perception, critics charge, has been in part a product of the dominance of the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in shaping Israel policy.

J Street, the group that released today’s poll, was founded in April 2008 in large part out of the belief that the more dovish views of most US Jews were being neglected in Washington.

"The poll only confirms the impression that we had that America’s elected officials have really misread the Jewish community because they have not moved beyond the loudest and most influential members of the community," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street.

The survey also comes at a highly charged moment in Washington, as the city prepares for next week’s summit hosted by CUFI, the right-wing evangelical group headed by Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s views have attracted a great deal of controversy, causing John McCain to renounce the minister’s endorsement earlier this year.

Among other things, Hagee has claimed that Christians should seek an undivided Israel and confrontation with Iran as necessary preconditions for precipitating the Armageddon, and that Hitler was a biblically ordained "hunter" who was necessary in order to force Jews to settle in Israel.

Yet Hagee has maintained his ties with AIPAC — he told the Jerusalem Post in 2006 that he envisioned CUFI as "a Christian version of AIPAC" — and with leading Israel hawks such as Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is slated to deliver the keynote address at the CUFI summit on Jul. 22.

The J Street poll found little sympathy for Hagee and his organization among the broader US Jewish community.

51 percent of participants in the survey had a negative impression of CUFI prior to being told any information about the group, compared to 19 percent who had a positive impression.

After hearing descriptions of CUFI’s Israel policies, 78 percent of respondents felt that Jewish leaders and institutions should not form alliances with the group.

Read more by Daniel Luban

Author: Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban writes for Inter Press Service.