Jews and Other Americans Support Sharon, Moves for Peace, Polls Find

Ariel Sharon’s popularity has reached a new high among Americans, and most American Jews support the Israeli prime minister’s Gaza withdrawal plan, according to new polls. It’s a “very, very good moment for the Sharon government,” said John Marttila, president of the Marttila Communications Group, which conducted the Anti-Defamation League’s 2005 Survey of American Attitudes Toward Israel and the Middle East, which was released Monday.

Forty-two percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Sharon, up from 36 percent two years ago.

And a record 71 percent of Americans say Israel can be counted on as a loyal U.S. ally. That number had bounced between 60 percent and 64 percent in the four earlier national surveys Marttila conducted for the ADL since 1992.

Israel’s Gaza withdrawal plan is seen as a bold step for peace by 67 percent of Americans, according to the ADL poll, which was conducted last month among 1,600 people and had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

The ADL survey corroborates the findings of other recent polls. A survey of American Jewry by the Ameinu organization, also released Monday, found that 62 percent of American Jews support the disengagement plan.

In the context of a peace agreement, 42 percent thought Israel should be willing to withdraw from most Jewish settlements in the West Bank — even though only 24 percent believe most Palestinians are willing to live in peace next to the Jewish state, and 70 percent believe the Palestinians will continue terrorist attacks even if a peace agreement is reached, the Ameinu survey found.

“Like Israelis today, American Jews strongly support the disengagement plan out of the hope that it might produce a lasting peace,” said Hebrew University pollster Steven M. Cohen, who conducted the poll for Ameinu, formerly known as the Labor Zionist Alliance. “At the same time, they harbor no illusions about a portion of the Palestinians, believing that they are committed to pursuing terrorism, even with the disengagement and even with a signed peace agreement.”

The survey was conducted among 501 American Jews and had a margin of error of 5 percent.

Taken together, the polls fuel the Anti-Defamation League’s longstanding initiative to galvanize support for Gaza withdrawal. One of the reasons for the ADL’s survey was to reveal the broad consensus for Israel’s withdrawal, National Director Abraham Foxman said.

“I think it’s important that the Israeli public, in these difficult times ahead, understands and knows that the overwhelming majority of Americans support what they’re engaged in,” Foxman said.

Last month, The Israel Project, a group that aims to polish Israel’s image in the media, released a survey showing that four times as many Americans support Israel as the Palestinians. But the poll found that Americans think Israel should compromise to advance the peace process.

The group plans to work to promote Israel’s withdrawal plan among media outlets, such as CNN, that attract liberal viewers.

Foxman argues that the organized Jewish community hasn’t done enough to reflect American Jewry’s support for the Gaza withdrawal, Foxman said. The group had balked when the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a response on the matter that fell short of an outright endorsement last fall.

Foxman recommended convening “leadership assemblies,” conferences of hundreds of American Jewish officials, to show solidarity with Israel as it prepares for withdrawal.

The ADL is placing ads in Jewish and general-interest newspapers and on cable television noting that many Americans see Israel’s withdrawal as a bold step for peace.

“Prime Minister Sharon, we support you and so do the American people,” the ad says. “We salute your vision and your courage as you work to build a safer Israel and a more peaceful and democratic Middle East.”

The group also will send its findings to members of Congress to show American support for Sharon and President Bush.

Foxman noted the poll’s reflection of Sharon’s rising popularity.

“Diplomatically, he became a persona grata,” Foxman said.

In recent years Americans had said, “We love Israel; we don’t like Sharon,” Foxman said. Today, in light of the Gaza withdrawal plan, Americans say, “We’re comfortable: We like Israel; we like Sharon.”

That change provides more leeway for the Sharon government and has boosted his credibility in Israel, Foxman said.

Goodwill toward Israel has grown in part because of Israel’s loyalty to the United States, which has felt criticized by many countries in the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Marttila said.

“The heart and the guts of Americans are with Israelis,” Marttila said.

However, they also feel the United States should reach out to Arab countries, he said. Some 40 percent said it was important for the United States to work with such countries as Egypt and Jordan, even if it means weakening ties with Israel, while 36 percent said the U.S.-Israel relationship must remain strong even at the cost of weakening ties with the Arab world.

Americans also believe the parties feel optimistic about peace in the region, with 39 percent saying the prospects for peace have improved.

Seventy-five percent think Sharon is serious about seeking peace, and 64 percent think Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is too.

The survey also came a week after the ADL released a poll showing that American attitudes toward Jews have improved. However, that poll also showed that one in three Americans believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.

“That loyalty question haunts me,” Foxman said.

But even though 68 percent of Americans think the U.S.-Israel alliance puts America at greater risk of terrorist attack, 61 percent say the United States should continue supporting the Jewish state, the new ADL poll found.

That helps offset the concerns about dual loyalty raised in the previous survey, Foxman said.

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