Jews’ Views in 2007

american-flag.gifBefore 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?

Approve: 31
Disapprove: 59
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?

Support: 35
Oppose: 57
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?

Favor: 46
Oppose: 43
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?

Yes: 36
No: 58
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.”

Agree: 82
Disagree: 12
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…

5 thoughts on “Jews’ Views in 2007

  1. moonlitetwine

    Interesting numbers. But, aren’t all of the above questions connected?

    It seems that if I believe that Arabs are wanting destruction of Israel I would also believe entering into a war with Iran, for example, would be desired.

    To me, it seems, like the media is beginning to influence opinion right now. One instance is the interpetation of the Iranian President’s 2006 speech to the UN. The US interpreted part of it to say, that Iran wants Israel to fall into the sea or be pushed into the sea. Arab interpretations said, that Iran wants coexistence of Palistinians and Israelis. Thus the conflict centers, at this time, around language, culture and ethnocentricity in my opinion.

    Will there be increasing falling away from progressive humanism here in he US among the Jewish Community at large? I am glad that there is some room for dialog building and hope the same for the Mideast.

  2. DAS

    It seems that if I believe that Arabs are wanting destruction of Israel I would also believe entering into a war with Iran, for example, would be desired. – moonlitetwine

    I don’t see how those two points are connected. (1) Iran is not Arab. And (2) even suppose Iran isn’t all just talk and wants to destroy Israel, is it necessarily the best course of action to enter into a war with them? If your interest is keeping Israel non-destroyed no matter what the cost, then you do things to keep Israel non-destroyed, which may mean going to war with Iran, but it may mean not disturbing the hornets’ nest.

  3. Mark Karlin

    And remember that 80% of American Jews, more or less, consistently vote for the Democratic candidate for president.

    One additional point, with all due respect to the AJC, their questionnaire has at least one what is called “loaded question”: “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.’”

    Perhaps it does tell us something about perception of the polled group, but it is almost what is called a “push-pull” polling question; in fact, it is. In essence, the framing and phrasing of the question influences many of the people questioned.

    In this case, by lumping all Arabs in one category, it implies a unified Hamas/Hezbollah attitude toward Israel is the common outlook of Arabs. That is prima facie disproven by reality. Israel has a peace treaty with Jordan and Egypt, as well as ambassadorial relations, which it didn’t have during the wars of the ’60s and ’70s. Few think the U.A.E. could care less about the destruction of Israel, or Morocco or Tunisia for that matter.

    And you’ve got Arabs in other nations that just want to get by. On top of that, Israel claims that its number one threat right now is Iran, and guess what? Iranians are Persians not Arabs.

    This is a very misleading query, because it is dishonest in its premise; that all Arabs think alike toward Israel. The Palestinians themselves are split in terms of how they view potential peace with Israel.

  4. Sydney

    I have a thought about Jerusalem. What do we do when two children cannot play together with a toy? We remove the toy. So, what if we remove Jerusalem from this controversy? Instead of dividing the city (has this ever worked?) or giving it to one or the other, what if we based U.N. headquarters there (might be a good idea to get it out of NYC so that we can start remembering that the U.N. is an international body rather than a tool of the U.S.) and put it under the control of the U.N.? Sort of like Vatican City in terms of independence, but without any single religious group being able to lay sole claim on the city? I think we need some creative thinking here!

  5. Ohio Mom

    I followed Eric Alterman’s link here. There’s one thing I think is missing from this discussion and that’s the break-out of affiliated and non-affiliated Jews.

    Admittedly, it’s not a scientific sampling, but in my experience (52 years old, born and raised in the Bronx, and living in southwest Ohio for the last 25 years) almost all the Jews I know who are Republicans have very strong Jewish identities and are active, involved members of the organized Jewish community. When I say Republican, I’m not just referring to people who are hawks on Israel; these individuals have also bought all the right-wing lines about the benefits of low-taxe rates, the dangers of “socialized medicine,” etc.

    Of the Jews I know who are Democrats and lean left, some are active in the Jewish community (I guess I’d count myself in this group), but the majority of the Jews I know who are the most liberal, progressive, or whatever you want to call it, usually do not belong to a synagogue or participate very much at all in Jewish life. They may go to a relative’s house for a sedar or drop in on a Jewish book fair, but their time, money and energy is not directed at the Jewish community. If they are parents, they usually join a synagogue just long enough to get their kids bar or bat mitzvahed.

    Anyway, I always wonder if there are any surveys that back up my observation. If I remember correctly, about half of the Jews in the US are considered unaffiliated. If my observation is more or less accurate, a large portion of liberal Jews cannot really be counted as members of the organized Jewish community. So to claim that the Jewish community has remained liberal is to basically free-load on a group of Jews who aren’t identifying very much with the Jewish community.


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