Americans May Sympathize With Israel, But They Want a More Even-Handed Policy, Say Walt & Mearsheimer

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt write:

We think that the discussion on your blog about the recent poll commissioned by the Israel Project misses a critical issue.

The fact that 57 percent of the respondents "support" or "strongly support" Israel,
while only 6 percent "support" or "strongly support" the Palestinians
is not surprising and is consistent with past findings. As Jeff
Blankfort correctly points out,
this is due in good part to the fact
that Israel's supporters stifle criticism of Israel in the media, while
working hard to demonize the Palestinians. But even if we had an open
and freewheeling discourse about Israel in this country, we believe
that most Americans would still be sympathetic to Israel and certainly
support its existence.

The critical question which the survey
does not address is, what do most Americans think our policy should be
toward Israel and the Palestinians? Specifically, do most Americans
favor the "special relationship," where we unconditionally give Israel
abundant material aid and firm diplomatic backing? This policy — which
has been our actual policy for many years — means that we back Israel
to the hilt no matter what it does to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. We favor Israel over the Palestinians, and indeed, favor Israel in any conflict in which it is involved, like the Lebanon war in 2006.

The
answer to that critical question is that most Americans do not support
the special relationship. They are much more critical of Israeli policy
than their elected representatives are and they are far more willing to
support a hard-nosed approach to dealing with the Jewish state than
most policymakers would be. For example, a 2003 survey conducted by the
University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes
(PIPA) found that 60 percent of Americans were willing to withhold aid
to Israel if it resisted U.S. pressure to settle its conflict with the
Palestinians. In fact, 73 percent of those surveyed said the United
States should not favor either side in the conflict. Two years later, a
survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League
found that 78 percent of Americans believed that Washington should
favor neither Israel nor the Palestinians. A July 1, 2008 poll ("World
Public Opinion on the
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,")
conducted by (PIPA) found that 71 percent of Americans believe that we
should take neither side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; only 21%
think we should take Israel's side.

The Lebanon war
in 2006 provides further evidence that the American public does not
favor supporting Israel unconditionally. Polls at the time showed that
U.S. opinion was sharply divided about Israel’s actions during that
war. Two separate polls found that 46 percent of Americans held Hezbollah
and Israel equally responsible for starting the conflict and a USA
Today/Gallup poll found that 65 percent thought the that United States
should take neither side in the conflict – which again is contrary to
the idea of a special relationship. Nevertheless, the U.S. government
emphatically took Israel’s side during the Lebanon war, as it has in
every recent conflict involving Israel.

In short, the key issue is not where the sympathies of the American people
lie, but what they think US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians
should be. The survey done for the Israel Project did not address this
issue. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the American people do not
support the special relationship the US has with Israel. Specifically,
they do not believe that the US should favor Israel over the
Palestinians, even if they identify more with Israel than the
Palestinians.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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