NEW YORK (Sep. 14)
American Jews are overwhelmingly committed to the security of Israel although they are deeply divided in their opinions of the policies of the current Israeli government, headed since 1977 by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, according to a survey released today.
The survey, titled “Attitudes of American Jews Toward Israel and Israelis,” was commissionned by the American Jewish Committee’s Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations, and was introduced at a news conference at AJC national headquarters here. It was designed and executed by Dr. Steven M. Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University, and Associate Professor of Sociology, Queens College, City University of New York.
Conducted this past June and July, the survey investigated such issues as the depth of emotional attachment to Israel; the extent of involvement in pro-Israel activities; attitudes toward Israeli public figures and foreign policy; and anxieties about general American attitudes toward Jews and toward Israel.
The survey obtained and compared responses from two distinct groups — a random nationwide sample of 640 American Jews, and 272 Jewish communal leaders. The leaders were board members of five national organizations — the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, International B’nai B’rith, and United Jewish Appeal.
“Although American Jews are substantially united in their concern for Israel’s security, they hold diverse views as to how Israel should pursue its search for peace and security,” Cohen declared at the news conference. A plurality of the public — 42 percent to 29 percent, with 30 percent undecided — believe that “Israel should maintain permanent control over the West Bank,” he reported.
By roughly similar margins, the sample endorsed the idea that “Israel should offer the Arabs territorial compromise in the West Bank and Gaza in return for credible guarantees of peace.” On the other hand, only 21 percent of the leaders favored permanent control of the West Bank, and 74 percent of them — almost twice as many as the public sample — were for offering territorial compromises in return for credible guarantees of peace.
Previous AJC studies have shown that American Jews overwhelmingly support Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Palestinian leaders committed to Israel’s destruction, Cohen stated. In the current survey, however, the vast majority –70 percent of the public, and 73 percent of the leaders — agreed that “Israel should talk with the PLO if the PLO recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism.”
About half of each group — 48 percent of the public, and 51 percent of the leaders — also endorsed the right of Palestinians to a “homeland on the West Bank and Gaza, so long as it does not threaten Israel.”
FEARS ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM
Although 91 percent of the general Jewish public believe that “U.S. support for Israel is in American’s interest,” about half of them were worried about whether that support will continue, the survey showed. Fifty-four percent believed that “when it comes to the crunch, few non-Jews will come to Israel’s side in its struggle to survive,” and 55 percent said they were “worried the U.S. may stop being a firm ally of Israel.”
“Despite notable advances in politics, the media, business, academe, and other prestigious or powerful spheres of American society, Jews still feel potentially threatened by American anti-Semitism,” Cohen noted. More than two-thirds of his national sample agreed that “anti-Semitism in America may, in the future, become a serious problem for American Jews”; only a third agreed that “anti-Semitism is currently not a serious problem for American Jews”; and only 27 percent agreed with the statement that “virtually all positions of influence in America are open to Jews.”
ISSUE OF TERRITORIAL COMPROMISE
Tuming to the matter of territorial compromise, Cohen suggested that American Jewish attitudes were colored by perceptions of “threat and vulnerability.” As evidence, he cited responses to the territorial compromise question in the three AJC surveys conducted before, during and after the Lebanon war.
“In December 1981, the sample was split evenly — 41 percent for compromise, and 41 percent against. During the war, in August, 1982, when Israel was engaged in military operations, the sample rejected territorial compromise by a wide margin — 31 percent for, 52 percent against. Now, when hostilities have diminished, a slight majority favors compromise.”
In response to all questions having to do with territorial compromise or relations with Palestinians, the leaders’ replies ranged from somewhat more conciliatory to much more conciliatory than those of the sample group. Cohen attributed this to the fact that the top leaders of major Jewish organizations have direct contact with a large number of Israeli influentials, many of whom strongly oppose the present government position and support conciliatory views. “As Jewish communal leaders learn to appreciate distinctions between Israeli leaders and policies,” Cohen stated, “they also come to recognize the expression of their more conciliatory foreign policy instincts is not necessarily heretical or disloyal.”
Despite their own criticisms of some of Israel’s current policies, American Jews displayed a keen sensitivity toward criticisms of Israel from other quarters. The sample overwhelmingly supported the right of Israelis to criticize their own government, and were slightly less enthusiastic, although largely supportive, about criticisms from American Jewish organizations and individual American Jews.
IMPRESSIONS OF ISRAELI LEADERS
Respondents in Cohen’s survey were asked to rate their impressions of six well-known contemporary Israeli political leaders. Abba Eban emerged as the most popular figure among Americans, and Ariel Sharon as the least popular. The other four — Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Navon, Shimon Peres, and Menachem Begin — had fairly similar, intermediate scores.
The leaders also favored Eban. They were more likely to think favorably of Navon, and they rated Rabin and Peres just slightly higher than did the public sample. However, their views of Begin and Sharon were decidedly less favorable than those of the public. They were split down the middle on Begin, and clearly unfavorable to Sharon.
The survey indicates that “many American Jews are uncomfortable with some aspects of current Israeli foreign policy,” Cohen asserted. Forty-eight percent maintained that they were “often troubled by the policies of the current Israeli government”; 51 percent agreed that “Israeli leaders have sometimes been unnecessarily tactless in their dealings with American officials”; and 50 percent said they believed that “the policies of Prime Minister Begin and his government have hurt Israel in the U.S.” Among the leaders, many more were critical of the current Israeli government’s critical of the current Israeli government’s policies.
Overall, on the basis of this evidence, Cohen concluded that about 45 percent of American Jews might be classified as “doves,” 30 percent as “hawks,” and 25 percent ombivalent. Among leaders, the comparable figures are 60 percent “doves,” 25 percent “hawks,” and 15 percent in the middle.
The AJC’s Institute on American-Israeli Relations is chaired by Stuart Eizenstat, President Carter’s domestic affairs advisor, and directed by Bertram Gold, AJC’s executive vice president emeritus.