Before we bid a final farewell to the year that was, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at the American Jewish Committee’s recently unveiled 2007 survey of American Jewish opinion.
Among other things, the survey indicated that the American Jewish community remains firmly ensconced on the liberal/progressive side of the political spectrum. Take a look at this sample of the results on the topic of International Affairs, for instance:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way the United States government is handling the campaign against terrorism?
Not Sure: 10
Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?
Right thing: 27
Stayed out: 67
Not Sure: 6
Would you support or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons?
Not Sure: 8
Similar views were reflected in the results on National Affairs: 58% described themselves as affliated Democratic to 15% Republican; 61% felt the Democrats would be more likely to make the right decision on the war in Iraq; and 62% felt the Democrats would be more likely to ensure a strong economy.
I’m not surprised by the findings, though a casual media watcher might well be. Though too often it is a staunchly neoconservative voice that emanates from Jewish institutions and self-appointed Jewish “commentators,” I’ve long believed that this voice is utterly divorced from the reality of the American Jewish community. Eric Alterman recently wrote as much in an article for The Nation:
An examination of past AJC surveys as well as a number of other polls of American Jews demonstrates that Jews have remained remarkably faithful to the values of liberal humanism. These views, however, have been obscured in our political discourse by an unholy alliance between conservative-dominated professional Jewish organizations and neoconservative Jewish pundits, aided by pliant and frequently clueless mainstream media that empower these right-wingers to speak for a people with values diametrically opposed to theirs.
Glenn Greenwald made a similar argument in Slate, stating that surveys such as this demonstrate “that right-wing neoconservatives are a fringe segment of American Jewish public opinion.” It seems clear that rumors of a neoconservative makeover of the Jewish community – predictions that are well over two decades old now – continue to be greatly exaggerated.
The only exception to this rule seems to be American Jewish attitudes toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, which appear to be trending in an increasingly hawkish direction. Again, here is a sample from the AJC survey:
In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?
Not sure: 12
In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?
Not Sure: 7
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”
Not Sure: 6
Although Alterman found American Jewish attitudes on this topic to be “impressively sensible,” I find them to be troubling. I’m not sure what to make of them, actually. According to most surveys over the past decade or so, the American Jewish community has been firmly supportive of the concept of a Palestinian state. Even though that this current survey technically indicates a plurality is still in favor, the percentage is actually down ten points or so from last year’s study. I’m also intrigued by the strong numbers on the status of Jerusalem – especially as Israeli Prime Minister Olmert himself has been indicating that a shared Jerusalem might be inevitable.
For me, more than anything, this survey is a powerful reminder of the deeply pessimistic times in which the Mideast currently lives. In the end, I suspect that as always, these numbers are radically dependent upon progress (or lack thereof) in the peace process. Yet another indication of just how much is at stake in this current round of talks…