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U.S. Jews Skeptical of Arabs, Trust Israel on Iran, Survey Shows

American Jews are less supportive of a U.S. military strike on Iran than they were a year ago, but they remain overwhelmingly convinced that the Arabs want to destroy the State of Israel. Those observations emerge from the American Jewish Committee’s annual survey of U.S. Jewish opinion, which was released Monday.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents say they support U.S. military action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, down from 49 percent last year. However, 57 percent support an Israeli strike against the Islamic republic.

David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director, says he was “struck” by that finding.

“What it means is that a majority of people are prepared to support military action, but by one country and not another country,” Harris said. The discrepancy may be explained by an overall lack of Jewish confidence in the Bush administration, he speculated.

The discrepancy on Iran isn’t the only divergence in American Jewish opinion on the Middle East. While 81 percent agreed that the Arabs’ goal remains the destruction of Israel — and only 38 percent said they believed Israel and the Arabs ultimately would be able to live in peace — a majority of American Jews supports the creation of a Palestinian state.

On this summer’s Lebanon conflict, 55 percent approved of Israel’s handling of the war, while less than a quarter believed the Jewish state had emerged the winner. Forty-six percent believed the conflict likely would lead to a wider regional war.

The survey, conducted annually since 1997, also found little change in American Jewish political affiliation, with 54 percent of American Jews identifying themselves as Democrats and 29 percent as independents, unchanged from last year.

Jewish Republicans declined slightly, from 16 percent to 15 percent.

Asked which party is more likely to take appropriate action on the war in Iraq, the economy and the war on terrorism, roughly a quarter chose the Republicans, while more than half said Democrats.

Jewish affinity for the Democrats remained strong despite two polls this summer indicating a significant partisan gap in support for Israel and a slew of Republican advertisements through the fall seeking to capitalize on them.

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that while a majority of Americans preferred alignment with Israel to neutrality on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the proportion supporting Israel was much higher among Republicans at 64 percent than among Democrats at 39 percent.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll around the same time found an even more sizeable gap: Eighty-four percent of Republicans said their sympathies lay more with Israel than with the Arabs, compared to 43 percent of Democrats.

David Goldenberg, deputy executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, says that those polls are misleading and that the AJCommittee survey confirms it.

What the survey “shows is Jewish voters understand that there is little difference, if any, on Israel,” Goldenberg said. “But on every other issue that matters to Jewish voters, they just don’t feel comfortable in the Republican Party.”

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, warns against placing too much stock in the AJCommittee poll, noting that Jewish support for Republicans is on the rise. Bush commanded 19 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000, rising to 22 percent in 2004.

“You can’t use the AJC poll as a predicting model for how people vote,” Brooks said. “The only thing that matters is what happens on election day. That’s the only poll that matters.”

Harris contends that Jewish voters are willing to let other issues determine their vote, provided they believe both parties are “rock solid” in their support for Israel.

“American Jews, as we have learned, are multi-issue voters,” he says.

The survey also reports a slight rise in the percentage of American Jews who said being Jewish is important in their lives, to 61 percent from 55 percent last year, while 74 percent said caring about Israel is a very important part of being a Jew.

Only 26 percent said they think anti-Semitism in the United States is a very serious problem, while 81 percent said achieving energy independence is very important.

The survey of 958 American Jews was conducted Sept. 25-Oct. 16 for the AJCommittee. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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