Poll on U.S. Attitudes Toward Israel Contains Few Surprises, Mixed Results

Few American Jewish leaders have expressed surprise at the findings of the latest poll to conclude that support for Israel among the American public is declining and that sympathy for the Palestinian cause is on the rise.

They say that a New York Times/CBS News Poll taken last month and released Monday is but the latest of several public opinion surveys to show that American support for Israel, while still solid, is not as deep as it once was.

While Jewish leaders are not surprised by the general findings of the poll, they question its long-term value and significance.

“Polls over the years have shown a good deal of fluidity,” said David Harris, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Government and International Affairs in Washington Harris. “There has always been ebb and flow in American support for Israel.”

“We don’t react from poll to poll,” said Martin Raffel, director of the Israel Task Force at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

“There are periods when support for Israel is higher and periods when it is lower. A lot has to do with how a question is phrased in terms of the answer you get,” he said.

The Times/CBS poll found that more Americans feel sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than they felt two years ago; that Americans are less eager to sustain or increase levels of aid to Israel than they were last year; and that more Americans than last year are in favor of giving the Palestinians a homeland.

‘NOT UNIFORMLY NEGATIVE’

“I think this poll is another indication of a continued slow decline in support for Israel,” said Harris. But he also pointed out that the results “were not uniformly negative.”

He noted that even in a climate of intense pressure to reduce the federal deficit, 61 percent of the respondents said aid to Israel should remain at the same level.

A close look at the Times/CBS poll shows that the results are a “mixed bag,” said Harris.

For instance, when respondents were asked if they were more sympathetic to Israel or to the Arab states, 40 percent sided with Israel, a 4 percent increase from a poll conducted in 1989.

Support for the Arab states also grew, from 13 percent in 1989 to 19 percent this year. What declined was the number of people showing sympathy for both Israel and the Arabs, as well as the number of people who supported neither side.

Jewish leaders also emphasized that the poll follows three years of tough media coverage of the intifada and new strains in U.S.-Israeli ties.

“If relations between the U.S. and Israel officials were to improve and Israel were to get its act together, including some progress in the peace process, then we believe the fundamentals that have led the American people to support Israel overwhelmingly will reassert themselves,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

“We feel there is a resiliency in American support for Israel,” he said. “It can bounce back to its highest levels, and we believe, in the right circumstances, it will.”

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