American Jewish support for the Israeli-Arab peace process has increased 11 percentage points in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, according to a new survey released by the American Jewish Committee.
The survey found that 79 percent of the respondents support the “Israeli government’s current handling of the peace negotiations with the Arabs.”
That figure is up from 68 percent from a similar survey released in September, but is still lower than the 84 percent support immediately after the 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
At the same time, an overwhelming number of those surveyed believe that criticism of the peace process is legitimate.
The survey comes as the American Jewish world continues to wrestle with the political and religious chasms that erupted over the peace process after the November assassination.
The survey is the fourth in a series by the AJCommittee begun in September 1993.
Most of the respondents to the newly released survey also endorse U.S. economic aid to the Palestinians, when told such aid is favored by the Israeli government.
But almost half do not think that the Palestinians are interested “in a true and lasting peace with Israel” and more than three-fourths believe that the Palestine Liberation Organization “is not doing enough to control terrorist activity against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian extremist groups.”
Also, a resounding 85 percent said they have a favorable view of Labor Party Prime Minister Shimon Peres, while 37 percent report an unfavorable view of Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud opposition party.
At the same time, confusion about key players in the Israeli political system surfaced as nearly half of the respondents – or 46 percent – said they were not sure whether the two men belonged to the same party.
For David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director, the survey’s overriding finding is that American Jews “support the peace process and have faith and trust in the democratically elected government” of Israel.
It also shows that “it will take time to overcome the lingering suspicions” Jews have of the PLO, which has been “Israel’s implacable enemy for decades,” Harris said.
The survey was undertaken to measure the impact of the assassination on attitudes toward the peace process as well as on levels of attachment to Israel, which, according to the results, have remained unchanged since September.
The survey was conducted by Market Facts, Inc., in telephone interviews with 1,013 self-identified Jews between Jan. 10 and Jan. 16, but not on Saturday. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Those opposed to the current peace process account for 13 percent, slightly down from 15 percent five months ago. The remaining respondents were not sure.
Support for U.S. aid to the Palestinians is up from the last survey, but the questions were phrased significantly differently.
In the current survey, respondents were told: “The government of Israel favors United States economic aid to the Palestinians as a way of re-enforcing the peace process. In light of this fact, do you support or oppose such aid to the Palestinians?”
Fully 59 percent said they support it, 36 percent oppose it and 4 percent were undecided.
In the previous survey, respondents simply were asked: “Should the United States at present provide economic aid to the Palestinians?” Sixty-three percent said no, 30 percent said yes and 7 percent said they were unsure how they felt.
The United States has committed $500 million to the Palestinians over five years.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a vocal critic of the current peace process, said he was disturbed by the “blatantly biased wording” of the aid question as well as some of the other survey questions.
“When the question was asked in an unbiased manner five months ago, 63 percent of American Jews opposed aid to the PLO,” Klein said.
The current survey suggests that support for the peace process is much higher than the confidence in Israel’s negotiating partners.
When asked whether the Palestinians and Syrians “are interested or are not interested in a true and lasting peace with Israel,” the respondents were about evenly divided.
“American Jews recognize the basis of the peace process goes beyond intentions” of the Arabs to Israel’s concrete interests, said Gary Rubin, executive director of Americans for Peace Now.
For Rubin, the recent rise in support for the peace process goes beyond the Rabin assassination. He said it is also due to the conclusion arrived at since the last survey that the interim accord with the PLO, from the Israeli redeployment to Palestinian elections, “has been successful.”
Meanwhile, the majority of respondents, 59 percent, said they do not agree that U.S. Jewish organizations have not done enough to “show support for the peace process.”
Organizations here have been under fire from some Israeli political leaders and U.S. activists for not doing enough to mobilize support and letting opponents take over the field.
Several survey questions revolved closely around the Rabin assassination. For examples, participants were asked to identify which groups contributed most to the “climate of hate that led to the [Rabin] killing.”
Forty percent said “opponents of the peace process in Israel and the United States” contributed “heavily” to the climate of hate, while 85 percent said these opponents contributed “heavily” or “somewhat.”
Fully 31 percent said “West Bank settlers” contributed “heavily” to this climate, while 24 percent said the same about “Orthodox rabbis in Israel and the United States.”
Fourteen percent leveled the same criticism at “both sides of the political spectrum.”
Nonetheless, a resounding 90 percent of respondents said the killing “should not be used as a reason to stifle debate about the peace process” and 79 percent disagreed with the statement that criticism of the peace process is “no longer legitimate.”
For Harris, the results show that respondents “don’t absolve any group of some responsibility for the climate of polarization and vituperation,” despite heavy finger-pointing at peace process opponents.
Based on the survey, he said, “everyone needs to be engaged in self-examination and stepping back from the brink.”
The tragic event of Nov. 4 in Tel Aviv may have prompted more support for the peace process among American Jews, but it did not alter the level of personal attachment to Israel.
Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said they feel “very close” to Israel, while 45 percent said they feel “fairly close.” Those number in September were 26 percent and 43 percent respectively.
Orthodox Jews, 7 percent of the sample, reported the highest level of attachment to Israel and the lowest level of support for the peace process at 40 percent. Among Conservative Jews surveyed, 80 percent support the peace process, as do 85 percent of Reform Jews and 80 percent of those who called themselves “just Jewish.”
The ZOA’s Klein said he was disappointed not only by the “biased” language in the poll, but its omission of questions about “the PLO’s failure to change its covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel; the PLO’s refusal to honor Israel’s 17 requests for the extraditions of terrorists”; and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s speeches called for “jihad,” or holy war, and praising terrorists “as heroes and martyrs.”