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Poll Finds Most U.S. Jews Support Shultz Plan, Palestinian Autonomy

April 14, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

An overwhelming majority of American Jews support the American proposal for a Middle East peace conference, according to a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times.

The survey indicates that most American Jews also endorse increased autonomy for Palestinians in the Israeli-administered territories and believe that both Israeli and Arab attitudes must change in order to bring about peace.

The survey reports that American Jews favor Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the Labor Party over Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Likud. They also overwhelmingly support Secretary of State George Shultz.

Both Jews and non-Jews surveyed demonstrated continued support of Israel. But the poll also found that most Americans feel there should be “some sort of accommodation with the Palestinians.”

A majority of both Jews and non-Jews said that only a small part of their feelings about Israel were affected by Israeli government treatment of Palestinians recently.

While an overwhelming majority of American Jews favored American support for Israel, half of the non-Jews polled said they “don’t know.”

The nationwide poll was conducted by Los Angeles Times survey director I.A. Lewis and published in Tuesday’s edition of the Times, along with a lengthy analysis piece by reporter Robert Scheer.

It was followed Wednesday by interviews with American Jews, who indicated a division of attitudes on Israel’s current dilemma over the Palestinians. This article reports a prevailing commitment among American Jews to social equality.

The poll was conducted by telephone between March 26 and April 7. No calls were placed on the Jewish Sabbath or on the first two days of Passover, according to the report.

For the survey’s purposes, Jews were classified as “anyone who identified himself as brought up in the Jewish faith or considered himself or herself Jewish.” Jews also were asked to describe their Jewish religious and political affiliations.


The poll is described as “the widest-ranging measure of Jewish and non-Jewish opinion on the Middle East and related issues since the current unrest among Palestinian Arabs began.” It claims to have “sampled a much larger and more representative number of Jews than is generally the case in national opinion surveys.”

Lewis said that 1,018 “representative Jews” were polled. Those surveyed were chosen from over 50,000 names out of more than 200,000 people the Los Angeles Times had surveyed in previous years.

Lewis consulted with political analysts William Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute and Seymour Lipsett of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, who co-authored a book on American public opinion.

Over 60 percent of both Jews and non-Jews polled indicated they favored Shultz’s plan for an international peace conference, with 17 percent opposed.

Two-thirds of American Jews polled believed that Israel should “come to some sort of accommodation with the Arabs in the occupied territories,” rather than transfer the Palestinians to some other Arab country.

But less than a majority of Jews polled on giving up territory for peace, 43 percent, advocated relinquishing the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Although the figures for non-Jews polled on these questions are similar, there is disagreement over how these measures should be undertaken.

Forty-five percent of Jews polled indicated that accommodation with the Arabs should take the form of increased Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the poll seems to indicate that Jews envision a more limited version of autonomy than do non-Jews.


Asked about giving the Palestinians a “homeland of their own” in the Israeli-administered territories, Jews opposed the measure by 45 to 29 percent, while non-Jews replied in the affirmative by 50 percent, with 18 percent opposed.

On the question of whether continued occupation of the territories “will erode Israel’s democratic and humanitarian character,” 35 percent of both Jews and non-Jews replied in the affirmative. Forty-five percent of the Jews polled disagreed with this, as compared to 32 percent of non-Jews.

The survey also indicates that 41 percent of Jews and 65 percent of non-Jews “feel there is an element of racism involved in the attitude of Israelis towards Arabs.”

On this question, there was a slight divergence of opinion between older and younger Jews, with 59 percent of older Jews citing racism in Israeli attitudes compared to two-thirds of younger Jews. Lewis used the age of 41 as the cutoff between the two age groups.

Jews and non-Jews agreed in rejecting the idea that the intransigence of any one party in the Arab-Israeli fray is responsible for the failure of peace in the region.

But asked whether Arabs or Israelis had to change their attitudes, a full 80 percent of non-Jews said both sides had to change, while 86 percent of Jews polled indicated that the Arabs should change. Nevertheless, 65 percent of Jews said Israelis would have to change their stance.

Jews surveyed were evenly divided over whether they “should support Israel in public even when they disagree in private.” Younger Jews disagreed with that statement and approved of public criticism of Israel by a 3-2 margin.


Non-Jews surveyed showed a decline in sympathy for Israel since the unrest began, with 36 percent indicating support for Israel and about one-quarter indicating sympathy for the Palestinians.

Jews showed overwhelming support for Israel. Asked if they had more sympathy for Israel or the Palestinians, most Jews chose Israel.

Both Jews and non-Jews polled said they highly disapproved of the Palestine Liberation Organization. But 52 percent of non-Jews said the United States should negotiate with the PLO, while 61 percent of Jews replied to the contrary.

Respondents were asked, “Should Israel give up the occupied territories, in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel, as part of a settlement of the Middle East conflict?” In response, 43 percent of Jews disapproved of that idea, compared to 31 percent who approved. The remainder said they “haven’t heard enough,” “weren’t sure” or refused to respond.

On the same question, 22 percent of the non-Jews polled said they disapproved and 28 percent approved of the idea. Most said they had not heard enough.

Scheer said the poll revealed “a profound dismay” by both Jews and non-Jews over the prolonged violence in the administered territories, producing “views that are far more nuanced by a sense of contradiction and complexity than most analysts have thought.” Jewish Americans, he wrote, “are neither so preoccupied with the Mideast nor so monolithic in their thinking nor so different from non-Jews as usually is thought.”


A plurality of Jews polled, 43 percent, thought media coverage of events in the administered territories was fair. Forty-six percent of Jews polled rejected the proposal by New York Mayor Edward Koch that Israel ban the press in areas of disturbances, while 40 percent favored that idea. Non-Jews rejected the idea of press bans by a 59-23 percent margin.

Albert Chernin, executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, agreed with the survey’s perception that the Jewish community has had conflicting feelings about the unrest in the administered territories since it began in December.

He noted, though, that the poll found that even with such differences of opinion, support for Israel remains high among Jewish and non-Jewish Americans and has not appreciably declined, despite the fact that both groups are clearly “troubled” by the violence in the territories and by what they see of excessive violence on both sides.

Chernin said that NJCRAC will take a careful look at the survey’s findings on Thursday at a pre-scheduled meeting of its Israel Task Force.

The Jewish leader also observed that while only 3 percent of non-Jews surveyed have been paying more attention to the situation in the territories than any other news story, “56 percent of Jews said they thought the media had offered a distorted view.”

This, he said, “jibes with our own perception that the Jewish community is much more preoccupied with the daily reports (in the media) than the non-Jew in America.

“There is a tendency sometimes (for Jews) to project their own discomforts on the non-Jews,” Chernin said.

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