A privately commissioned Louis Harris poll, just released, shows that Americans favor U.S. military, economic and political support for Israel by a greater majority than four years ago; that they reject the proposition that support of Israel should be reduced to satisfy the demands of the Arab oil-producing states; and that they regard the Egyptian-Israeli peace process, with U.S. participation, “as beacons of hope in the Middle East.”
The poll, which probed attitudes on virtually every aspect of the Middle East situation, was conducted last July among a 1506 cross-section of the American adult public and a separate 1030 cross-section of Jewish adults nationwide. All the respondents were interviewed in person.
The survey was undertaken for Edgar Bronfman, chairman of the Seagram Co. Ltd., who is acting chairman of the World Jewish Congress. The results were made available today to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The 105-page survey, with 46 tables, revealed many ambiguities, with majorities supporting certain propositions but also supporting others that ran counter to them.
Premier Menachem Begin remained a controversial figure. Certain of his policies are criticized but he is given high marks for his contributions to the peace process and, to some extent, benefits in public opinion from the heavily negative attitudes toward such other Middle East figures as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt is the best known and most highly regarded of Arab leaders among all Americans. President Carter is in deep trouble with Americans for his overall performance but is given a slightly better though still negative rating on the job he has done in handling the Middle East crisis. Among Jews, Carter is given on 88-10 percent overall negative job rating and a 59-39 percent negative mark for his work for peace in the region.
POSITIVE SHIFT TOWARDS ISRAEL
According to the survey, the shift in public attitudes toward Israel in a positive direction is due in part to such relatively recent events as the seizure of American hostages by Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1976, a 74-12 percent majority viewed Israel in a positive light. In 1980, an 81-12 percent majority shared that view.
Among non-Jews, a 56-33 percent majority, said they would be “very upset” if Israel were overrun by Arabs in another war compared to a 50-36 percent majority in 1976 and a 44-37 percent majority who felt that way in 1975.
“Underlying the results of this survey, ” the Harris organization said, “is a deep sense of urgency that peace can be found between the Israelis and Arabs in the region. There is a strong sense that outside the gates of the traditional and long standing Arab-Israeli conflict are larger enemies in the region who would be the direct beneficiaries of another Arab-Israeli war.”
MAJORITY FAVORS U.S. AID TO ISRAEL
The poll showed a 75-15 percent majority in favor of the U.S. sending planes, tanks, artillery and other weapons to Israel, up from a 65-23 percent majority in 1976. A substantial 76 percent of the public believes Israel is “very much dependent on the U.S. for military aid today.” But “when put in extreme terms, ‘if the government of Israel should become so unbending that the chance for peace in the Middle East grows much worse, a 44-37 percent plurality feels ‘the U.S. should threaten to withhold economic and military aid to the Israelis.”
According to the survey, however, “When asked if such withholding of economic and military aid ‘meant the Arabs would have military superiority in the case of another war,’ then by 50-25 percent most Americans would oppose such a withholding of aid. “
Polled on another aspect of the support issue a 63-19 percent majority opposed the proposition that the withdrawal of military support for Israel should be a trade off for Arab oil at lower prices. “It is evident throughout the survey that the Arab cause has been done much damage in this country by the believed link between oil price increases and continued U.S. support for Israel, the Harris report said.
The poll showed “areas of reservation and dissatisfaction with Israel and its current leaders.” By 48-38 percent, the public thinks that “Israel seems to feel the U.S. will back them, no matter what they do.” By 44-43 percent, it feels that “Israel is friendly to the U.S. mainly because it wants our military supplies. ” But a much higher, 61-26 percent majority, felt that way four years ago.
A 44-28 percent majority agrees with the charge that “Israel is wrong to think that the Jewish lobby in the U.S. is so powerful that it can keep them from making the compromises necessary to achieve peace.” Harris reported that “it is significant that the cross-section of American Jews rejected this charge only by a very narrow 41-39 percent. Jews with incomes of $35,000-$50,000 agree with the charge by 48-36 percent, and those with incomes of $50,000 and over agree with it by 52-30 percent.”
The poll reported that a 67-17 percent majority of the public rejects the claim that “Israel thinks it can control the U.S. Congress” and a 72-13 percent majority dismisses the proposition that Israel does not belong in the Middle East. A 55-23 percent majority rejected the view that “Israel should give back all the territory it gained from the war of 1967,” up from a 49-25 percent majority who felt that way in 1976.
POSITIVE VIEWS ABOUT ISRAEL
“Vastly outweighing these annoyances with Israel is a whole set of positive views about Israel,” Harris reported. An 86-8 percent majority thinks that “Israel is a small, courageous, democratic nation which is trying to preserve its independence.”
A 68-20 percent majority agrees that “the Arabs are determined to destroy Israel, so Israel is justified in building itself up militarily to defend itself.” By 66-13 percent, Americans also agree that “Israel is trying to keep from having to give up territory and make concessions until it is reasonably sure that the Arabs want to negotiate a peace settlement.”
The poll found that a 62-23 percent majority of the public feels that “Israel is right not to agree to sit down with the PLO because the PLO is a terrorist organization and wants to destroy Israel.” Nonetheless, a 66-13 percent majority of the public and a 53-34 percent majority of Jews feel that “if the PLO would recognize the right of Israel to exist instead of pledging to destroy Israel, then they should be able to join the peace talks about the future of the West Bank.”
THE PALESTINIAN PROBLEM
With respect to the Palestinian problem the poll reported that a 39-29 percent majority of the public feels that “Israel has mistreated the Palestinian refugees and that is wrong, ” up from a 35-29 percent plurality in 1976. By 50-26 percent, most Americans feel that “by refusing to come up with a plan to give back parts of the West Bank to let the Palestinians have a homeland, Israel makes peace impossible in the Middle East.” That view had a 32-30 percent plurality in 1976.
On the other hand, a 40-26 percent majority believes that “If the West Bank becomes an independent Palestinian state, other extremist Arab states such as Syria, Libya and Iraq would use it as a launching pad to destroy Israel.” But Americans, by a 71-12 percent majority agree that “The Palestinian people are now homeless and deserve their own independent state, just as much as the Jews deserved their own homeland after World War II.” By 72-11 percent, Americans agree “there must be a way to guarantee Israel’s security and also give the Palestinians an independent state on the West Bank.”
Of the respondents, 56-16 percent felt that Israel ought to agree to a Palestinian state on the West Bank if it can be assured of security from attack. “Jews reject this proposition by only a very close 41-39 percent,” Harris reported.
On the issue of Jerusalem, a 52-26 percent majority of the public and a 72-14 percent majority of Jews oppose “placing Jerusalem under international control.” A 52-22 percent majority of the public and an 82-7 percent majority of Jews oppose “giving East Jerusalem back to Arab control.”
But a 63-17 percent majority of the public and a 66-21 percent majority of Jews favor “establishing a new system of government for Jerusalem, under which Israelis would have control of Jerusalem but with the governing body of the Holy City being made up equally of a Jewish borough which would elect representatives of the Jewish section and an Arab borough which would elect representatives of the Arab section, with citizens of each section and Christians, Arabs and Jews having access to all parts of Jerusalem.
MAJORITY SUPPORTS ISRAELI LEADERSHIP
The survey showed that Israeli leadership enjoys majority support of Americans but Begin’s policies “lag a full 20 points behind when compared with backing for the State of Israel.” By 69-16 percent, the public feels the current Israeli leadership is reasonable about working for peace. Among Jews, 87 percent feel that way.
No more than 38 percent of the public express a great deal of confidence in Begin compared with 54 percent who feel that way about Sadat. Among Jews, 61 percent express high confidence in Begin “although this drops to only 42 percent among those Jews in the highest income brockets,” Harris reported.
However, a 77-7 percent majority of the public credits Begin with showing at Camp David that “he is capable of making concessions that can lead to a peace settlement when he agreed to give back the Sinai to Egypt.” A 90-4 percent majority of Jews concur in that view.
A 42-38 percent majority of the public agreed that Begin “is right to claim that Israel has prior historical right to control the West Bank since Jews lived there in Biblical times.” Baptists agreed by a larger 51-25 percent majority and Jews by a 68-22 percent majority.
Criticism of Begin’s policies centered around his announcement that he would move his office to East Jerusalem. The general public, by a 48-22 percent majority felt he has “made peace more difficult” by that announcement and a 43-42 percent majority of American Jews felt the same way.
A 54-19 percent majority of the public agreed with the charge that “by advocating and allowing more Jewish settlements on the West Bank, he (Begin) is making it almost impossible to get a peace settlement. The Jewish community disagreed with that proposition by a 44-41 percent majority.
RATINGS FOR PRESIDENT CARTER
President Carter received a negative 64-34 percent rating by the general public for handling the Middle East crisis, though this was better than his overall performance rating of 72-27 percent negative. But 46 percent of the public gave him high marks for his efforts to work for peace in the Middle East and 44 percent perceived Carter as being “very sympathetic” to Israel.
An overwhelming 90-6 percent felt that he “has tried to keep good U.S. relations with both Arabs and Israel so that he can persuade both sides to make peace.” A 68-14 percent majority felt that “he has kept his word that the U.S. will stand by Israel.” But a 63-24 percent majority criticized Carter for “allowing Arab oil pressure to influence U.S. Middle East policy too much.”
Only 18 percent of the Jewish community saw Carter as “very sympathetic” to Israel and 59 percent thought he had been highly sympathetic to Egypt. By 55-22 percent Jews gave Carter negative marks for the way he dealt with the PLO. Jews did give Carter credit on two counts. By 83-12 percent they admired his role as a mediator between Israel and Egypt and by 57-26 percent they thought he kept his word that the U.S. would stand by Israel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.