Last week Pew released a bombshell survey showing that the progressive base of the Democratic Party is now far more sympathetic to Palestine than Israel. “[N]early twice as many liberal Democrats say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel (35% vs. 19%).”
That finding is now getting pushback from Democrats who support the strong Israel-U.S. relationship. They worry that the issue is becoming politicized: that the Republican Party is becoming the address for Israel support, so before long Democratic candidates for office will distance themselves from Israel. And Israel will be under real pressure to change its Jim Crow foundations.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America said the poll is faulty.
Finally, a poll released by Pew did a faulty job of measuring American support for Israel, especially within the Democratic Party. While Democrats and Republicans generally disagree on certain Israeli policies, such as Israel’s settlement movement and the Kotel agreement, overall support for Israel remains strong. Just as Americans can question and criticize the Trump administration while still loving their country and remaining patriots, so too can Americans criticize Israeli policies and its leaders.
This is not very convincing: The Council links a study done 14 months ago by Shibley Telhami showing that 60 percent of Democrats support imposing sanctions on Israel over settlements, and 55 percent of Democrats regard Israel as a burden on U.S. foreign policy. It’s only gotten worse since.
Writing “How Not to Measure Americans’ Support for Israel” at the Atlantic, establishment Israel advocates Tamara Cofman Wittes and Daniel Shapiro can only offer a semantical argument against the poll: Pew misframed the question so that the surveyed conflate “Israel” with the “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” And nobody likes the conflict– so Israel suffers.
The writers’ chief concern is political: that the poll will be used to drive Israel supporters out of the Democratic Party. They quote this tweet from the RJC:
Republicans side with Israel; Democrats, not so much…
— RJC (@RJC) January 23, 2018
Turning Israel into a political football would, of course, do huge damage to the Democratic Party fundraising (which depends to a “gigantic,” “shocking” degree on Jews). And ultimately undermine U.S. support for Israel– which is a “moral” commitment in Wittes and Shapiro’s view.
But their headline is misleading: the writers concede that the poll is true. Israel is turning into a divisive issue, and the Democratic base doesn’t like Israeli policies:
Support for Israel is, in fact, becoming a politicized issue in the United States, and partisan divides on policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are indeed getting wider.
They note something we missed: that Israel is losing ground with 2/3 of Americans:
[T]he independents’ trend tracks the Democratic trend—both moving toward less sympathy with Israel relative to the Palestinians in the conflict between them. That’s the pattern that should worry Israelis, because independents and Democrats together represent more than two-thirds of Americans.
And they say that Democrats care about human rights, especially the “growing proportion” of younger and browner Americans. Here’s the writing on the wall:
In recent years, some Americans have come to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of human rights—and this is especially true for younger Americans, African Americans and Hispanic Americans. This makes them sensitive to the hardships faced by Palestinian civilians, and to certain Israeli practices, like housing demolitions. These groups form a larger proportion of the voting public than they have in the past, and a growing proportion of the Democratic Party’s core constituency. And yes, there is some anti-Israel sentiment on the left end of the progressive political spectrum, just as there is some on the right end of the conservative camp….
As American society becomes “majority-minority,” with no group, including Americans of European origin, constituting a majority of the population, Israelis should consider what policies can best shore up the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and which might erode its foundations…
Wittes and Shapiro (an ardent Zionist) urge Israeli leaders to tack so as to keep the Democratic base. They should do something about “the expansion of West Bank settlements that make a two-state solution more difficult,” but the writers don’t say what.
In fact, they praise AIPAC, the Israel lobby group that supports settlements and never criticizes the Israeli government, as a bipartisan group. Just as Jane Eisner of the Forward praised AIPAC as the only game in town, when she despaired over this same partisan breakup two weeks back.
These liberal Zionists are in a very difficult spot. The problem is that young Democrats are tired of hearing only mild criticisms of Israel from the Democratic Party when they have seen the occupation pass its 50th birthday and only get deeper and deeper, with apartheid treatment of Palestinians. These aren’t just African Americans and Hispanics; they’re the young Jews of Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. I believe many of these liberal Zionists will ultimately move to one side or the other: coming out for some version of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to pressure Israel, or doubling down on the Jewish state, ala crazy Michael Oren. Wittes and Shapiro don’t want to have to make that choice, so they try and wish the news away.