Forward Thinking

New Poll: Israel Is Not the Deciding Factor

By Nathan Guttman

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It is polling season in the Jewish world and after Gallup’s poll and the controversial Dick Morris and the just as controversial McLaughlin and Caddell surveys it is now J Street’s turn to weigh in.

The group released yesterday its own national survey of American Jews which reinforces the main findings of the Gallup poll — that Barack Obama still enjoys significant support among American Jews.

According to J Street’s poll, conducted by pollster Jim Gerstein, Obama has a 60% approval rating among Jews, a number consistent with previous polling done by the group. When faced off against potential Republican candidates Mitt Romney or Michelle Bachmann, Obama easily wins a large majority of Jewish votes.

The survey also dispelled claims that Jewish donors are turning away from Obama and the Democrats because of the president’s rocky relations with the Israeli government. A huge majority of those who made political contributions to Obama’s campaign in 2008 intend to do so again, just as a similar majority of Jews who gave money to John McCain in ’08 will contribute to the Republican candidate in this election cycle.

But not all is rosy for Obama with Jewish voters. The poll found that a majority of American Jews (56%) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Arab–Israeli conflict. But despite this number, still a large majority of the American Jewish community, based on this poll, will vote Obama in 2012. According to Gerstein, this finding proves what Jewish Democrats have been saying all along — Israel is not a deciding factor for American Jewish voters.

The survey attempted to gauge Jewish public opinion on the issue of an Israeli–Palestinian final status solution and found a majority still supports the idea of a settlement based on Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders with land swaps, a division of Jerusalem in which the Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall remain Israeli, and a solution for the refugee problem based on financial compensation and a limited number of Palestinians allowed to return to Israel on a family reunification basis.

When asked if they’d like to see the U.S. playing an active role in the peace process including stating publicly differences with Israelis and Palestinians, most American Jews replied favorably, but when faced with the possibility that playing an active role could lead to the U.S. voicing only its differences with Israel, the mood changed and most participants opposed the idea. “The message is that you need to communicate you are holding both sides accountable, not only one,” said Gerstein.

J Street can be pleased with the poll it commissioned. The results reaffirm the group’s working assumption that American Jews are liberal, democratic and that they want an active U.S. role in Middle East peacemaking. It could also help the dovish lobby convince Democrats in Congress that speaking out in favor of territorial compromise, as Obama did in his May 19 speech, does not come with a political price.

Reality on Capitol Hill, however, is different and as the July 7 vote in the House of Representatives on the resolution threatening to cut aid to Palestinians if they seek U.N. recognition as an independent state indicates, most politicians still prefer to take no chances when it comes to issues relating to Israel. The resolution was approved with a 407 to 6 majority.


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