Answering J Street’s questions about asking questions

The Israel Project has replied to the broadside delivered in this space a few days ago by Jeremy Ben Ami, the director of J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby. Ben Ami wondered why TIP was asking Americans whether they took sides; why not ask them if they backed peace?

(TIP tells me the reply was ready a day or two ago, but got lost in some sort of electronic shuffle. My partial bad: I should have bugged TIP more to get it to me faster.)

Anyway, it’s a good reply, and it boils down to this: No open-ended question is "wrong." As a journalist who has witnessed (and has even asked) what I thought were boner questions eliciting stunning, revealing replies from newsmakers, I would have to agree. The more we know, the better. Anyhow, here it is:

Had Jeremy Ben-Ami taken even a cursory look at The Israel Project’s Web site he would have realized that he entirely missed the scope of our extensive public opinion research. 

TIP publicly supports a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that provides both sides with security and peace, and we are confident that view is shared by the vast majority of Americans as well. Questioning whether Americans align with Israel or the Palestinians is legitimate, and we have been tracking the answer ever since we began asking this question many years ago.

Additionally, because there are so many ways of examining Israel’s standing in the world and the Middle East, we ask not one – but many – questions about it. Perhaps Ben-Ami is asking the wrong question in his poll of whether the American public would like its government engaged in achieving peace for both sides.  While the answer would be affirmative, given the lack of context in the question, there are more probing and in-depth methods to understand the American mindset.

Our latest poll revealed that Americans are far less concerned with foreign policy in these tough economic times. When probed about what the new administration’s foreign policy priorities should be, making peace between Israel and the Palestinians got only 19 percent when compared to other foreign policy issues such as ending the war in Iraq or stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Even as Americans turn inward to deal with pressing economic hardships at home, it is extremely telling that  the majority of Americans still think we should stand with Israel.

Ben-Ami argues that TIP’s questions are constructed to build the case for confrontation between the United States and Iran and that TIP avoids revealing that Americans are willing to engage with Iran diplomatically to address the threat. Again, one look at our Web site would show anything but. In fact, we have explored in-depth and publicly reported American desire for a diplomatic approach for dealing with Iran.

TIP ran a tremendous TV ad campaign at both the Democratic and Republican conventions targeting the 15,000 journalists who attended as well as delegates and politicians. Our ads focused on the importance of acting now to implement tough sanctions and use diplomacy to AVOID A WAR. The ads can be viewed at www.theisraelproject.org/tvads. We have found in recent surveys and have highlighted publicly, including in press conferences at this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions: 

  • 72 percent of Americans approve of opening a diplomatic presence in Iran.

  • About 4 out of 5 Americans approve of direct talks with Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program. 

  • 62 percent of Americans believe that an opportunity still exists to pursue a diplomatic solution with Iran to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.

As we noted at the time we released these results, Americans worry about the direct threat to Israel from Iran and fear Iran’s potential to share nuclear technology with terrorist groups. But, while the American public prefers diplomacy over military action to address this threat, it considers the danger serious enough to merit military action.

That is a view that seems to be shared across party lines in America, including by our new president-elect.
 

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