WASHINGTON (JTA) – American Jewish opposition to the Iraq war, concern over anti-Semitism and support for the Democrats has remained steady – but support for a Palestinian state has dropped.
Those were among the findings of this year’s annual survey of Jewish opinion released by the American Jewish Committee.
The AJC poll found that 46 percent of American Jews answered affirmatively when asked, “In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?” Forty-three percent said they were opposed and 12 percent were not sure. Last year, the findings were 54 percent in favor, 38 percent against and 9 percent not sure.
What makes the drop more striking is the telephone survey of 1,000 Jewish Americans took place Nov. 6-25, in the lead-up to the U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis, Md.
The issue was receiving more attention in the news, though reporting at the time predicted a much less substantive outcome than the agreement to renew negotiations that emerged from the talks.
“There is this current of pessimism” on Arab-Israel peace, said David Singer, the AJC’s director of research.
The decline in support reported in the annual AJC poll is considerably at odds with an earlier survey that asked the same question – in a strikingly different context.
A survey in May conducted jointly by the Arab American Institute and Americans for Peace Now found that 87 percent of U.S. Jews supported the following formulation: “a negotiated peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that included the establishment of an independent, secure Palestinian state alongside an independent, secure Israeli state, and resolved final status issues of Jerusalem, refugees, and borders.”
The difference was context, said James Zogby, the Arab American Institute president. His group’s poll emphasized the security of both entities, while the AJC poll simply posited a Palestinian state. Zogby also asserted that the sequence of questions can frame results.
The question preceding the Palestinian state query in the AJC poll read: “Do you think that Israel can or cannot achieve peace with a Hamas-led Palestinian government?”
“The point is not whether you ‘can or cannot’ achieve a peace with a Hamas-led government,’ that’s not on the cards with the Palestinians,” Zogby said.
“The party that has sought to negotiate peace has been the Fatah-led presidency,” he added, referring to the relatively moderate party headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president.
“If you ask the question in a way to get defeated, you’re going to get defeated,” Zogby said.
According to Zogby, the correct way to phrase the question would be: “Is it possible to achieve a two-state solution with U.S. leadership?”
Singer said Zogby was comparing apples and oranges.
“If you had the same question asked to two different samples, I think that would be significant,” Singer said. “But just to day ‘we did it this way and got better results’ is not professional.”
Singer said the context of the question was less important than the fact that the decline in the same question over the years has been consistent.
“We have trend-line data going back over the years, so it’s not a fluke,” he said, adding that the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and the rise of the intifada informed American Jewish views more than the sequencing of questions.
“What we find, people want peace, hope for peace, but given the situation on the ground, they tend to be fearful about what the future is likely to bring,” Singer said.
An Americans for Peace Now official said the difference was between whether the question was posed as a hope or a reality.
“There’s a great deal of concern over whether it can be done,” said Noam Shelef, the director of strategic communications for Americans for Peace Now. “That concern is not mutually exclusive with support for the process. The real challenge is how do we not make skepticism into self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The AJC survey had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. The Arab American Institute-Americans for Peace Now poll canvassed 501 Jewish Americans and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.