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U.S. Jews Favor Palestinian State, but Polls Show Shift Right in Israel

August 6, 2002
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Two years into the intifada, most American Jews still support the creation of a Palestinian state, but feel closer to Israel than ever, according to a new poll.

Israeli Jews, on the other hand, increasingly are turning away from the idea of a Palestinian state, hardening their attitudes toward the Palestinians and worrying about their own safety, according to a new Israeli study by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The U.S. survey, conducted by pollster Stanley Greenberg for the American Jewish Committee, also shows that an overwhelming majority of American Jews feel that peace talks can’t resume until the Palestinians end terrorism and the Palestinian Authority institutes real reforms.

The poll of 392 Jews across the denominational spectrum was taken July 11-21. It is part of a major public opinion research project the AJCommittee is undertaking to gauge and build American support for Israel, AJCommittee spokesman Kenneth Bandler said.

According to the survey, 86 percent of American Jews expressed strong ties to Israel, with 48 percent feeling “very close” and 38 percent “fairly close.”

In annual public opinion polls that the committee conducts separately, American Jews have not voiced as strong a kinship to the Jewish state.

For example, the AJCommittee’s 2001 Survey of American Jewish Opinion, which questioned 1,000 American Jews, found that 29 percent of American Jews felt “very close” to Israel and 43 percent “fairly close.”

A similar survey in 2000 showed that 28 percent of American Jews felt “very close” to Israel, while 46 percent felt “fairly close.”

The new poll also found that a huge majority of American Jews — 85 percent — support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Of those, 64 percent strongly back Israel.

“Jewish support for Israel is rock-solid,” Greenberg said of the latest survey. “This is a unified community, and the seriousness of the current conflict has only intensified their commitment.”

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who is managing the AJCommittee polling project, called it noteworthy that so many U.S. Jews back Israel.

Typically, “you put two Jews in a room, you get three opinions,” she said. “That kind of support of Israel is extremely significant.”

While U.S. Jews feel closer than ever to Israel, their support for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state has not waned, despite two years of violence that have killed more than 600 Israelis.

Some 63 percent of U.S. Jews said they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state; 38 percent of them said they “somewhat favor” a Palestinian state while 25 percent “strongly favor” one.

Meanwhile, 33 percent of U.S. Jews oppose a Palestinian state, with 25 percent of them strongly opposed.

The AJCommittee’s Bandler said the two positions — feeling closer to Israel, while supporting a Palestinian state — are hardly at odds.

“One of the few people in the world who doesn’t realize that the end game is a two-state solution is” Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Bandler said. “The majority of American Jews recognize it, and even” Israeli Prime Minister “Ariel Sharon has mentioned it.”

Most American Jews echo President Bush’s stance on Mideast peace, Bandler said. This latest survey took place in the weeks after Bush’s June 24 Mideast speech, in which he called both for Arafat’s ouster and a two-state solution.

The survey did not ask U.S. Jews exactly what shape or form a Palestinian state should take.

Previous surveys taken before the intifada have shown that many American Jews, if not a majority, feel Israel and the Palestinians should live side-by-side.

An AJCommittee survey from May 1999 showed 42 percent of American Jews supporting Palestinian statehood.

In Israel, meanwhile, Palestinian violence continues to push public opinion rightward.

The Jaffee Center’s annual National Security and Public Opinion Project, which surveyed 1,264 Israelis between Jan. 29 and Feb. 27, showed that 92 percent of those polled were afraid they or a family member could fall victim to a terrorist attack.

Such fears for personal safety have grown markedly during the intifada, which has brought almost daily suicide bombings, shooting ambushes or other terror attacks against Israelis.

In 2001, with the uprising only several months old, 85 percent of Israelis voiced concern for their own safety, up from 79 percent in 2000. Such worries had reached what the Jaffee center ironically calls a low of “only” 58 percent in 1999.

Israelis’ fears for their well-being coincided with a weakening of support for territorial concessions to the Palestinians or for a Palestinian state at all.

In the latest survey, only 37 percent of Israelis said they were willing to trade land for peace. That percentage fell from 42 percent in 2001, 49 percent in 2000 and 47 percent in 1999, down from a high of 53 percent in 1997.

At the same time, just less than half of Israelis, 49 percent, still approve of the concept of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Such support has dwindled, however, from 57 percent in 2001 and even from 53 percent in 1993, when the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accords were signed.

However, 58 percent of Israelis, a new high, feel that reinforcing the country’s military strength, rather than focusing on peace talks, is the way to ensure peace with the Arabs.

While most U.S. Jews still support a Palestinian state, that support is tempered by a reluctance for Israeli concessions until the Palestinians stop terrorist attacks.

The AJCommittee survey posed the following question, to which 81 percent of respondents agreed:

“Now is not the right time to discuss creating a Palestinian state. First, the violence must stop, then the Palestinian Authority must begin real reforms. Then, and only then, can the future be discussed.”

However, eight of 10 Jews surveyed said they expect the United States to pressure Israel to make concessions so as not to jeopardize America’s relations with Arab allies.

At the same time, 85 percent of U.S. Jews surveyed agreed that “the final goal, at the end of any negotiations, must be two states — Israel and Palestine — which accept each other’s right to exist and live in peace.”

American Jewish attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians stem partly from Jewish communal solidarity, but also must be seen in the context of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

Since Sept. 11, the White House has helped steer public opinion by taking a tough stance against terrorism, remaining loyal to Israel and emphasizing that the two nations are fighting the same war on terror, Tobin said.

Jewish support for Bush has skyrocketed since the 2000 elections, when only 19 percent backed him for president, Laszlo Mizrahi said. When the survey asked Jews their feelings about various public figures, 51 percent said they felt “warm” toward Bush and only 34 percent were “cool” about him.

This poll shows that American Jews “are rallying as Jews,” Tobin said, “but they’re also rallying just as much as Americans.”

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