Jewish, Arab Americans Disapprove of Bush Mideast Policy

If U.S. President George W. Bush believed that aligning US policies more closely to those of the right-wing Likud government headed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would win him more votes from Jewish Americans, he should think again.

That is the message of a new survey of 500 Jewish Americans polled by Zogby International earlier this month, which found that more than three-quarters of Jewish voters rated Bush’s handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict negatively.

In a companion poll, a similar percentage of Arab Americans also viewed Bush’s performance in the Middle East negatively. Both surveys, which were commissioned by the predominantly Jewish Americans for Peace Now (APN) and the Arab American Institute, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

The two polls, which were aimed mainly at assessing support in both US communities for the unofficial Geneva Initiative that was signed Dec. 1 by prominent Israeli and Palestinian personalities, found the two groups are not as far apart as one might expect.

About 43 percent of both communities strongly or somewhat supported the Initiative, while 4.9 percent of Arab citizens and 8.9 percent of Jewish respondents said they opposed it. But about one-half of the Arab group and 44.4 percent of the Jewish group said they did not know enough about the plan to make a judgment.

When they were offered key details, however, 50.2 percent of the Jewish group said they were more likely to back the Initiative; 22.4 percent said they were more likely to oppose it, while the rest said their position had not changed or that they were uncertain.

On the Arab side, 73.5 percent said they were more likely to support the Initiative, 7.9 percent said less likely and the rest said the details made no difference or they were unsure.

“Our latest survey shows firm support from Jewish Americans and Arab Americans for the Geneva Initiative, support that grows even stronger when people in both communities learn more about the specifics of the document,” said APN President Debra DeLee.

“It also indicates that, in the eyes of the two communities that have the deepest interest in seeing a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, President Bush’s performance has been lackluster at best,” she added in a statement.

Asked, “Generally speaking, how would you rate President George W Bush’s handling of the conflict in the Middle East?,” 4.2 percent of Jewish respondents chose “excellent,” 17.7 said “good,” 37.9 percent “fair,” 38.1 percent “poor,” while 2.2 percent were “not sure.”

Among Arab Americans polled, 8.9 percent said “excellent,” 13.5 percent chose “good,” 20.7 percent answered “fair,” 54.6 percent “poor” and 2.3 percent chose “not sure.”

Arab-Americans have traditionally voted Democratic, although about one-half voted for Bush in 2000 after he publicly denounced ethnic profiling.

Most analysts believe that the community, angered at how Bush’s “war on terror” has targeted Muslims both overseas and at home since 9/11 – as well as his strong tilt toward Israel – will return en masse to the Democratic fold in 2004.

Their return could affect the outcome in three key states with large Arab and Muslim populations: Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey.

US Jews have traditionally voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Although former president Ronald Reagan received a Republican high of 39 percent in 1980, Republican presidential candidates normally attract about one in five Jewish voters. Bush received 19 percent of the Jewish-American vote in 2000.

But Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, and Jewish Republican activists have made little secret of their hopes of at least doubling that percentage in 2004, largely on the strength of the president’s support for Sharon, his efforts at marginalizing Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, and his tendency to include among the enemy in his “war on terror” Palestinian and other Arab groups that use violence against Israeli targets.

“Within the Jewish community, we look at the opportunity in 2004 as probably the greatest opportunity” since the Reagan era, Bruce Prince, a prominent Jewish Republican funder, told the Congressional Quarterly recently.

“Politically speaking, this president has put his money where his mouth is when it comes to Israel.”

While Bush appears poised to pick up some key Jewish endorsements – former New York Mayor Ed Koch came out in support of him earlier this month – most Jewish Democratic activists express confidence they can hold down Bush’s gains.

A recent survey by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) showed Bush getting 31 percent of the Jewish vote in a contest with Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who has been perceived as the most critical of Israel among major Democratic candidates.

Jewish voters make up only about four percent of the electorate, but their numbers can make a major difference in key battleground states, such as Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois, where the Jewish population is disproportionately larger.

Their campaign contributions are also considered very important; by some estimates, donations from Jewish donors account for as much as one-half of all of contributions received by the Democratic National Committee, and the Bush campaign hopes the president’s staunch support of Sharon will reduce that funding.

But the Zogby poll suggests that position might not be impressing many Jewish voters. “If he’s counting on his performance and positions on the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict to bring him Jewish votes, then he’s mistaken,” Lewis Roth, APN’s communications specialist, told IPS.

He said the latest survey on Jewish attitudes towards Bush’s pro-Sharon stance and his hands-off attitude vis-à-vis the conflict was a loser in both the Jewish and Arab communities here.

Asked whether they would be more or less inclined to support a presidential candidate who flavors “active” U.S. engagement in trying to bring peace, 71.6 percent of Jewish respondents and 72.9 percent of Arab respondents said they would be more inclined..

Key elements of the Geneva Initiative, on which the Bush administration has been silent, apart from some favorable words by Secretary of State Colin Powell, also received strong support from both communities.

Negotiated by delegations headed by former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Initiative calls, among other things, for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that includes predominantly Arab parts of East Jerusalem as its capital.

It recommends the absorption by Israel of a number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank close to the “Green Line” that defined Israel’s pre-1967 border, in exchange for a comparable amount of Israeli territory contiguous with the West Bank and Gaza.

More than 85 percent of Jewish respondents said they supported a Palestinian state, and nearly two-thirds said they supported a freeze on all Israeli settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories. A similar percentage said they believed that no settlement is possible without “significant” US involvement.

Jewish respondents also showed strong majority support for other Geneva provisions, including the rights of Palestinian refugees to settle in the new Palestinian state or third countries with compensation; the requirement that the two states cooperate fully on security matters; and the use of outside international monitors to oversee implementation of the 50-page accord.

A plurality of 46.9 percent of Jewish respondents said they supported sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians as the capital of both countries, while 39.4 percent opposed the idea.

Majorities of greater than 60 percent of both communities said they also supported the deployment of US peacekeepers to monitor any peace accord.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.