Most American Jews disapprove of the war in Iraq and the way the United States is handling the campaign against terrorism, according to a new study. The American Jewish Committee’s annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, released Wednesday, found that 70 percent of U.S. Jews disapprove of the Iraq war, with 28 percent backing it. Sixty percent of respondents said they did not support America’s handling of the war on terror, while 36 percent approve.
That’s just a slight change in U.S. Jewish views. In last year’s AJCommittee study, 30 percent of respondents approved of the Iraq war and 66 percent disapproved. In that survey, 42 percent approved of the handling of the war on terror and 52 percent disapproved.
“Even on the eve of the war, fewer American Jews than other Americans were supportive of the prospect of going to war with Iraq,” said David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director. “As American public support has declined since 2003, Jewish support has been declining in step, but because it began at a lower level, it continues to remain at a lower level of support than other Americans.”
This year’s survey — in which 1,000 Jews were interviewed by telephone between Nov. 14-27 — asked questions in six categories: the war on terror and Iraq; Israel; world affairs; national affairs; Jewish identity; and anti-Semitism.
The polling was done before the first of a series of speeches President Bush since has delivered in support of his Iraq effort. It also was carried out prior to the mid-December elections in Iraq.
The poll found that despite Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip this summer, 59 percent of respondents do not believe the chances for peace between Israel and the Arabs have changed since a year ago.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said the results make sense.
“I’m not surprised that people don’t think anything has improved,” he said. After the Gaza withdrawal “all they’ve seen is more missiles shot into Israel, more weapons entering Gaza, more terrorists entering Gaza, a dozen U.N. resolutions condemning Israel by wide margins and, to top it off, Palestinian leaders dismissing this major concession by Israel as meaningless and Iran calling for Israel’s destruction.
“How can anyone be anything but pessimistic?” he asked.
Indeed, 78 percent of American Jews believe the Arabs’ goal is not securing the return of territories lost in war, but rather the destruction of Israel. Yet 56 percent of respondents said they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state, while 38 percent oppose it.
“American Jews are schizophrenic,” Harris said. “Our polls year after year after year show the very same thing: On the one hand, on the peace process options, a majority of American Jews support — let’s call it the liberal option. At the very same time, a clear majority of American Jews in the next breath say the real goal of the Arabs is to destroy Israel.”
In other words, most American Jews believe Israel should try for peace with the Palestinians, but don’t necessarily believe the Palestinians are serious.
Most of those surveyed — 60 percent — said Israel should not compromise on its sole control of Jerusalem, with 36 percent saying Israel should compromise on its capital.
As Israel gears up for national elections in March, questions about how much West Bank territory Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is willing to cede to the Palestinians have become a major campaign issue. Sharon is expected to win re-election easily.
The AJCommittee survey asked whether Israel should be willing to dismantle all, some or none of its West Bank settlements. Fifteen percent said Israel should dismantle all settlements, 46 percent said some, 36 percent said none and 3 percent were unsure.
After a year in which Israel made notable strides at the United Nations — including the election of its U.N. ambassador as a General Assembly vice president and the establishment of a Holocaust remembrance day at the world body — 32 percent of respondents held somewhat favorable views of the United Nations. Seven percent espoused very favorable views, 21 percent were neutral, 23 percent were somewhat unfavorable and 18 percent were very unfavorable. Last year’s survey did not ask respondents’ views of the United Nations.
Asked to rate their feelings toward several countries, respondents said they held the warmest feelings for the United States, followed by Japan, Mexico, India and South Africa. Rounding out the list were the Vatican, Turkey, Germany and China. France finished last.
Respondents also were asked about religious affiliation. Thirty-two percent said they were Conservative, 29 percent said they were Reform, 26 percent identified as “just Jewish,” 10 percent said they were Orthodox, 2 percent were Reconstructionist and 1 percent said they weren’t sure.
According to the latest National Jewish Population Survey, 33 percent of 4.3 million affiliated U.S. Jews identified as Conservative. That represented a drop of 10 percentage points over the previous decade, a time when the other major streams saw their ranks swell.
The NJPS showed the Reform movement supplanting the Conservatives as the largest denomination in America, but with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, the stronger showing of the Conservative movement in the AJCommittee survey was not necessarily statistically significant, Harris said.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents belonged to a synagogue; 43 percent did not.
As for political affiliation, 54 percent of those surveyed said they were Democrats, 16 percent Republicans, 29 percent independents, and 1 percent were not sure. Those numbers have not changed since last year’s survey.
Two Supreme Court seats opened up over the past year with the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Concern has mounted among Jews in the pro-choice camp over the abortion views of those President Bush nominated to fill the seats.
The survey asked respondents if support for overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion should disqualify a candidate from serving on the court. Fifty percent said it should; 49 percent said it should not.
Sixty-five percent of those participating in the survey said anti-Semitism was “somewhat of a problem” in the United States, 27 percent said it was a “very serious problem” and 8 percent said it was “not a problem at all.”
Harris said the “single greatest indicator” of how a person will come down on issues of policy such as the Iraq war and abortion is whether he or she identifies as Orthodox or non-Orthodox. That split, he said, is “extremely telling and affects the Jewish community profoundly.”
The AJCommittee has been conducting its annual Jewish opinion survey since 1997.
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.