NEW YORK, March 13 (JTA) – American support for Israel is remaining strong during the current conflict with the Palestinians, according to a new poll commissioned by a coalition of Jewish organizations.
The findings contradict the perception among many American Jews that the Palestinians are crushing Israel in the battle for public opinion.
The poll, said to be the broadest of its kind, strengthens Jewish activists when they seek to rally Congressional support for Israel and pinpoints the precise areas where the activists must focus their P.R. efforts, Jewish leaders say.
The pollsters surveyed 450 “elites” and opinion-makers – defined as those with high income and education levels or those working as journalists, legislators or businessmen – 400 American Jews and 600 members of the general public. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.
More than two-thirds of the general public and three-quarters of the elites view Israel favorably, according to the survey.
Two-thirds of the general public and elites also said the United States should help defend Israel militarily, if need be.
Only 18 percent of the general public has a favorable attitude toward the Palestinian Authority, and 28 percent are favorably inclined toward the group’s president, Yasser Arafat.
A majority of all respondents believe Palestinian leaders are inciting the current Mideast violence to get what they failed to achieve through negotiations.
“This poll tells me that across the board, Israel has a bedrock of support,” said Zev Furst, president and CEO of First International Resources, one of the firms that conducted the poll.
“Any politician would be happy with these numbers,” said Furst, whose firm has polled for Republican and Democratic politicians.
The positive results should “calm the angst” of many American Jews, said Shula Bahat, acting executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
The results surprised some Jewish leaders. While editorial pages of U.S. newspapers generally have been supportive of Israel, Jewish leaders feared television coverage had made a more negative – and lasting – impression.
“The American people get it to a greater degree than we’d assumed,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the results.
A large majority of those interviewed said they follow the Middle East situation closely and consider it a major issue. Yet there is concern among Jewish leaders that when the questionnaire scratched the surface, it found that Americans don’t have a profound grasp of details of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Only 22 percent of all respondents and 36 percent of the elites are aware that Israel already has turned over some 40 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control.
Nearly half of the respondents thought the West Bank and Gaza remain “almost completely under Israeli control.”
Only 58 percent of American Jews know about Israel’s land concessions.
“There’s always a need to explain more,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Of some concern to Jewish leaders, who are considered more hard-line than the general Jewish community, is that one-third of respondents believe Jerusalem should be divided.
Division of the Holy City is among the most explosive issues in negotiations between Israeli and the Palestinians.
Even a third of American Jews support a division of Jerusalem.
Speakers at the press conference attributed the level of Jewish support for division to the fact that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak backed such a proposal.
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