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U.S. Jews Back Strike on Iraq, Says Survey, but Remain Democratic

February 3, 2003
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Despite holding hawkish views on Iraq and the Palestinians, American Jews remain as Democratic as ever.

That’s according to the 2002 version of American Jewish Committee’s Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, released this month.

But another new study found that younger Jews are less likely to be Democrats than their older counterparts.

The AJCommittee survey, which the group has conducted since 1997, not only reaffirms the traditional liberalism of American Jewry but also echoes the organization’s earlier polls in showing that Jews perceive anti-Semitism as their greatest threat — even greater than intermarriage.

According to the AJCommittee’s survey of 1,008 Jews nationwide, 59 percent both approved of launching a military strike against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power and supported President Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism — though that satisfaction with Bush has waned from a post-Sept. 11 high of 85 percent.

The AJCommittee poll was conducted by phone between Dec. 16 and Jan. 5 and carried a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Despite support for Bush’s war on terror, 48 percent of Jews said they’re Democrats, 18 percent Republicans and 32 percent independent. Asked about their political views, 37 percent ranged from extremely to slightly liberal; 34 percent were moderate; and 29 percent ranged from extremely to slightly conservative.

These political positions differ somewhat from the other Jewish opinion survey, conducted by Steven Cohen, a professor of sociology at Hebrew University’s Melton Center. Cohen found younger American Jews are turning to the right.

That survey, which Cohen detailed in the weekly Forward, probed deeper into where Jews stand politically. Cohen maintains that while 71 percent of Jews older than age 65 identify themselves as Democrats, only 52 percent of those 35 and younger do.

Cohen’s mail-in survey of 1,386 Jews nationwide in November and December, with a margin of error of less than 3 percent, also found a tilt to the right among wealthier Jews.

Of those earning under $150,000, Cohen showed a 67 percent to 17 percent Democratic-Republican split; the gap narrowed to 53 percent to 25 percent among those earning $150,000 or more.

While Cohen’s survey may signal a political shift, the longtime social and political liberalism of American Jewry isn’t fading fast, said the AJCommittee’s director of research, David Singer.

“There may be a revolution in the making, but the revolution is a long way off,” Singer said.

Both Bush and Lieberman are hawks when it comes to Iraq and terrorism.

The AJCommittee found:

Seventy-eight percent believed Americans will have to surrender some personal freedoms to make America safe from terrorism.

Eighty-six percent supported expanding spying on groups under suspicion.

Sixty-five percent favored greater camera surveillance on streets and public places.

Sixty-seven percent favored a national I.D. system for U.S. citizens.

Still, 62 percent rejected racial or religious profiling. Only 35 percent favored such law enforcement methods.

In the survey, more than half of Jews favor war with Iraq, although 62 percent fear it would increase the risk of terrorism against the United States and 56 percent said it would likely blow up into a wider Mideast war.

People feel “the threat of terror is real, yet that you can’t turn the other cheek to terror and to Saddam,” said Steven Bayme, the AJCommittee’s national director of contemporary Jewish life.

Jewish hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace have continued to erode, reflecting a downward slide AJCommittee polls have tracked since the second Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000.

Asked about their hopes for peace, 49 percent said they were less optimistic than one year ago — up from 42 percent in 2001.

Distrust of Arab intentions is also growing. When asked if the “Arabs” want Israel’s destruction rather than the return of the West Bank and Gaza, 82 percent agreed and only 15 percent disagreed.

One year earlier, 73 percent agreed with that statement and 23 percent disagreed.

Despite those rising concerns, 49 percent of U.S. Jews favored the creation of a Palestinian state. Approximately 47 percent opposed one, though 98 percent felt Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is not doing enough to stop terrorism.

The Cohen survey, meanwhile, found 53 percent favored a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement, while 14 percent opposed one. Some 33 percent remained unsure.

As earlier AJCommittee polls have shown, American Jews remain wary of anti-Semitism, with 66 percent in this year’s poll calling anti-Semitism “somewhat” of a problem in America, and 29 percent saying it was “very serious.”

Anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses and in Europe is also a growing concern.

Eighty percent of respondents in the AJCommittee survey said they see anti-Semitism on college campuses as a “very serious problem” or “somewhat of a problem.”

In the Cohen survey, 41 percent of Jews aged 65 and older saw a “great deal” of anti-Semitism, while only 29 percent of those 35 and younger felt that way.

In the AJCommittee poll, 66 percent maintained anti-Semitism is a “greater threat” to U.S. Jewish life today than intermarriage, and 31 percent saw Jews marrying outside the faith as more threatening.

While some Jews reacted strongly when the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed that 52 percent of Jews who had married in the previous five years married non-Jews, Bayme said “anti-Semitism trumps everything.”

Regarding other American subgroups, 57 percent of Jews say most or many Muslims are anti-Semitic, and 33 percent said some are. Some 39 percent said most or many in the religious right are anti-Semites, and 37 percent said some are.

Such wariness comes even though anti-Semitism is said to be socially marginal in the United States and Jews have achieved unparalleled acceptance.

Singer cited Jewish columnist Earl Raab’s description of this seeming incongruity as a kind of “anticipatory anxiety” marking U.S. Jewry.

Jewish notions of identity have not changed much since the AJCommittee polls began five years ago:

Half of the survey respondents said being Jewish is “very important” to them, while 41 percent said “being part of the Jewish people” defined their identity.

Twenty-one percent said a commitment to social justice shaped their identity, while for 13 percent it was religious observance.

Thirty-one percent affiliated themselves with the Conservative movement and 30 percent with Reform;

Thirty percent said they were an undefined “other” type of Jew;

Two percent called themselves Reconstructionist and 7 percent Orthodox.

Fifty-one percent said they belonged to a synagogue; 49 percent did not.

Although 73 percent of Jews said caring about Israel was important, 63 percent have never been to the Jewish state; 20 percent have gone once; and 17 percent more than once.

That means about the same number of American Jews have visited Italy as have visited Israel, Singer added, an equation he called “a scandal.”

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