NEW YORK (Dec. 18)
An annual survey of American Jewish opinion finds that a majority of American Jews support the creation of a Palestinian state, though they are increasingly distrustful of the Palestinian leadership.
In addition, while they strongly support President Bush’s handling of the war against terrorism, they fear he will soon resume pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in pursuit of peace.
David Singer, director of research for the American Jewish Committee, said the organization’s findings show that Jews have overcome the psychological obstacles necessary to reach a peace agreement — after all, even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he supports a Palestinian state — but months of violence have reinforced the idea that the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat are not the correct partners for peace.
According to the poll, 73 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of the occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.” Perhaps because of that, 80 percent said they are concerned the American government will continue to pressure Israel for concessions.
Ninety-three percent said the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to control terrorist activity, and 65 percent support the Israeli government’s handling of relations with the Palestinians.
While 62 percent of respondents said Israel should dismantle some or all West Bank settlements to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, almost an equal number — 63 percent — said Israel should give up only a small part or even none of the Golan Heights for peace with Syria.
The survey also recorded the views of American Jews on a host of other issues. Among the findings:
A large majority — 85 percent — approves of the way President Bush is handling the U.S. campaign against terror. Even more, 91 percent, favor U.S. military action in Afghanistan.
More than 50 percent have a favorable perception of the U.N., despite its repeated and harsh criticism of Israel.
Seventy-eight percent oppose government aid to religious schools — such as tuition vouchers — a moderate increase from recent years.
Anti-Semitism is considered a very serious problem in the United States by 27 percent of American Jews, and 67 percent call it somewhat of a problem. In fact, 69 percent of those interviewed said anti-Semitism outranks intermarriage as the greatest threat to Jewish life in America today. Additionally, 47 percent of respondents believe anti-Semitism will increase around the world in coming years.
Despite the image of American Jews as political liberals, Singer said one of the survey’s most important revelations is the willingness to accept increased law enforcement measures against terrorism, even if they risk infringing upon civil liberties.
However, the level of support depends on the action in question. While 92 percent support expanding undercover activities to monitor suspicious groups, 66 percent oppose ethnic profiling.
Also noteworthy, Singer said, is the high approval rating given to President Bush, who did not receive a majority of the Jewish vote in the November 2000 election.
According to Gary Tobin, President of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, the results of this poll echo the voice of the general American population.
Polls show that “all Americans believe that the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world in general do not want to make peace with Israel,” Tobin said.
What Tobin found “shocking” about the survey was the fact that only 20 percent of American Jews have an unfavorable reaction to the U.N., “given how consistently anti-Israel the U.N. is.”
He also found it “very odd” that only 15 percent of American Jews characterize the U.S.-Israel relationship as very positive, when the U.S. provides Israel with massive military and economic aid, and has been its greatest diplomatic ally for the past 50 years.
The AJCommittee’s findings corroborate survey results released last month by the Forward and the New York Jewish Week.
The Jewish Week reported that Jews considered anti-Semitism the most important issue the community faces in the United States. It also reported high approval ratings for President Bush.
Like the AJCommittee, the Forward also found apparent contradictions with regard to Israel, as American Jews said they increasingly identified with Israeli hawks — yet still supported conciliatory positions toward the Palestinians.
In The Jewish Week, 60 percent of American Jews had a favorable view of Sharon, and 57 percent also favored creating a Palestinian state.
Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said the mixed messages are a “reflection of Israeli attitudes as well.”
Simply put, it means Israelis are prepared to make significant compromises for genuine peace, but Arafat has not won their trust, Raffel said.
“When an Arab leader comes forward and is prepared to reach a reasonable accommodation with Israel on outstanding claims, as Anwar Sadat was in the late 1970s, the Israeli people will be there and their government will be there, and I have no doubt that will be widely supported by the American Jewish community,” Raffel said.
In the meantime, opinion polls among both American Jews and Israelis reflect what Singer terms a “countertrend,” with people’s minds working on two different psychological tracks.
Both groups are suspicious of Arab intentions, Singer said.
Still, if “a miracle happened tomorrow and the peace process were back on track,” Israelis would still be ready to make compromises for peace.