What do Americans think of Israel now?
January 15, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Is American support for Israel waning because of the Gaza crisis?

I have been trying to find recent polls or articles that reflect what Americans are thinking about the Israeli strikes on Gaza and the US's relationship with Israel in general. It seems to me that given the civilian toll, more people should be questioning whether Israel is justified in using such force to stop Hamas. In discussion threads on Change.gov such as this one people seem to be opposed to Israel's recent actions and think we should re-evaluate our aid to the country, but I haven't heard any news about radical shifts in American attitudes towards Israel.

full disclosure: I am an American Jew (though secular) and I am not supportive of Israel's behavior in this recent bout of fighting. I don't want this thread to turn into an argument or a debate on the issue of whether Israel is right or wrong here, I only want to know about what Americans in general are thinking.
posted by minicloud to Law & Government (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

My own gut feeling: American lefties are pro-Palestinian in this war; conservatives pro-Israel.
Most secular Jews feel no sense of connection to Israel, I have read. Many anti-Israel comments note the huge amount of money the US gives to Israel but those making such comments do not know that the second biggest recipient of American aid is...Egypt.

I suspect that the anti-Israel folks got a bit miffed when they discovered that Ossama Ben Ladin also (like Hamas) calls for the destruction of Israel.
posted by Postroad at 2:15 PM on January 15, 2009

Best answer: All the polls I've seen have shown little or no movement in US public opinion regarding Israel as a result of this combat. For instance.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:18 PM on January 15, 2009

Most Americans feel we shouldn't take sides in the conflict, according to a recent poll. But I think, in reality, most Americans aren't particularly invested in the issue one way or the other. I remember when I arrived in America as a refugee from Bosnia and very few people even had any idea where Bosnia was or what the conflict was about. Most Americans don't know or care much about issues that would seem (at least to me) to be pretty relevant / important / interesting.

This is probably good news for Israel, considering the gigantic amount of foreign aid they receive from the USA compared to other nations; I think if Americans saw the big picture on this, they'd be even less supportive of Israel.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:26 PM on January 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the links to those polls (I should have thought of hitting those sites!) and Dee, I agree with you completely.

If I may piggyback on my own question a little (sorry if thats an AskMefi faux-pas) can anyone suggest recent online articles/commentary by leading thinkers on this issue? There is simply so much written on this that it's hard to sift through it all.
posted by minicloud at 2:32 PM on January 15, 2009

To your follow-on question, I liked Max Boot's piece in the WSJ which described the tragic dilemma that faces Israel viz. Gaza.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:36 PM on January 15, 2009

I'm also a secular jew, liberal orientation. I spent 6 months in Israel in 1981-2 and was there when Sadat was assassinated. My feeling is that both sides are treating the population as pawns in a political game. It seems to me that there is no morality on either side, only maneuvering to get the best possible political position before the Obama administration comes in. On the Israeli side I think they're motivated by the upcoming election and the growing strength of Netanyahu (who has adopted Obama's campaign tactics) and Likud. I can't say I'm disappointed because after this long I don't have very high expectations anymore.

Just FYI, Israel and Egypt have been the first and second largest recipients, respectively, of US Foreign aid for decades. Pakistan recently became the third largest. Israel receives about 3 billion a year these days, but it has been higher in the past, much higher proportionally because the dollar used to be worth more and was relatively stronger. About 3/4 of that aid is targeted as military, some of which comes back as purchases from defense contractors (from all three countries). Egypt currently receives $2.1b, about 2/3 of which is military. Recall that Egypt has 10X the population of Israel.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is some magical lull in the fighting (which may be occuring as I write this ...) to give Obama one or two weeks' respite before dragging him into this swamp.
posted by Araucaria at 2:51 PM on January 15, 2009

It seems to me that given the civilian toll, more people should be questioning whether Israel is justified in using such force to stop Hamas.

I agree with you on the merits, and the civilian toll has affected my own opinion. But if we're just objectively trying to gauge the general public's opinion, I don't see much reason to think public support for a war going on in a foreign country is affected by the number of civilian deaths. Americans are even willing to tolerate large numbers of American troops dying in a war if they feel that the war is justified and we're winning.

Someone whose main talking point on the Israeli/Palestinian situation is "Israel has the right to defend itself, using military force if necessary" is unlikely to suddenly drop that argument once the Palestinian death toll crosses some threshold. Most people (on all sides) think about issues like this in qualitative, not quantitative, terms.

Also, there's a huge difference between what people's reaction would be if they were directly confronted with the specific increasing numbers of civilian deaths vs. what people's actual opinion is given their imperfect-to-nonexistent knowledge of the situation. To be blunt, how many people do you think go around with even a rough figure in their heads for how many Palestinians have died since the Israeli operation started? Probably not many. The very fact that you've posted this question suggests that you're more aware of the figures than the average person.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:59 PM on January 15, 2009

Anecdotal response: In my circle of SF people, mostly lawyers and nonprofit people, most people are sympathetic to the need to create a Palestinian state, and to the situation for Palestinians generally. The recent fighting, however, has not prompted more criticism of Israel or more sympathy for the Palestinian cause (I think because of Hamas's conduct).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 3:15 PM on January 15, 2009

For your follow-up question, one interesting European voice is that of Melanie Philips, a Brit and a Jewish supporter of Israel. Her blog, in The (British) Spectator provides a conservative/Jewish view of happenings in the Israel/Hamas conflict of late as well as displaying lively reader comments from multiple points of view.
posted by mumstheword at 3:24 PM on January 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for those links!

I am also finding this report from Robert O. Freedman on Harvard's Middle East Strategy website very thorough and balanced.
posted by minicloud at 3:50 PM on January 15, 2009

I think Dee Xtrovert has it in that most Americans aren't particularly invested. My own sense is that many Americans don't much even care anymore. Israel and Palestine continue the same old fight. Unless something extraordinary happens it's mostly background chatter in the news, meriting little reaction beyond the occasional "that's too bad."
posted by 6550 at 3:52 PM on January 15, 2009

I was surprised to see Israeli opinion so undivided.
posted by PueExMachina at 3:58 PM on January 15, 2009

One of the most outspoken voices on this issue has been Naomi Klein, who has called for a boycott of Israel. Also important voices Juan Cole, Justin Raimondo, and dday and Digby at Hullaballoo.
posted by Sara Anne at 4:08 PM on January 15, 2009

Those last voices are entirely from the far-left, and are in no way representative of any broad spectrum of American opinion, even on the left.
posted by j1950 at 4:20 PM on January 15, 2009

Response by poster: @j1950: Those links were posted in response to my follow up question which was "what are some articles written by leading thinkers on this issue." Many leading thinkers happen to also be far-left, so those links are greatly appreciated. The question I asked about American opinion in general was pretty much answered with the first three responses.

Of course, I am also very interested to see other opinions, even far-right, although I will disagree. I think its valuable to understand everyone's point of view on this one. Sticking to our own sides certainly hasn't ever helped things move forward.
posted by minicloud at 4:35 PM on January 15, 2009

I would like us to get our money back.
posted by Forrest Greene at 5:08 PM on January 15, 2009

(I do not have a good sense for the answer to your question, but Postroad's comment deserves a brief follow-up.)

Most secular Jews feel no sense of connection to Israel

As a secular Jew whose social circle includes a whole bunch of secular Jews, I would disagree with this. Most of us feel a connection to Israel, and many of us have visited at least once, on (for example) a BBYO or NFTY trip to Israel when we were 16. Many liberal secular Jews are strong supporters of Israel but have fairly serious reservations about Israel's behavior and concerns that their actions do not make the state any safer. Many other liberal secular Jews are doves in nearly every case but raging hawks where Israel is concerned. They see every conflict as being the Yom Kippur war all over again, despite the fact that it beyond conception that, say, Hamas would ever have enough firepower or manpower to actually threaten the existence of the state of Israel.
posted by charlesv at 5:41 PM on January 15, 2009

A simple truth about the Mideast, and one which befuddles Americans because it conflicts with their natural stance: there are no good guys there.
posted by yclipse at 7:43 PM on January 15, 2009

Melanie Phillips is writing in the Spectator, a well known conservative magazine in the UK so her blog is just one European perspective.

To get a better feel for European attitudes it would be worth looking at the Guardian, Independent in the UK and Der Spiegel, that publishes a web news site in English in Germany.
posted by sien at 7:53 PM on January 15, 2009

Here's another interesting poll result:
For example, five times as many [Americans] blame only Palestinian leaders for the violence in Gaza as blame only Israeli leaders (55-11); almost ten times as many people (48-5) think only Israeli leaders want peace and are working towards it as think the same of Palestinian leaders; almost seven times as many people think only Israel has moral leaders who work to limit civilian casualties as think the same about the Palestinians (47-7); and, perhaps most tellingly, despite the images of Israeli bombs exploding in Gaza for the last two weeks, almost four times as many people blame the humanitarian crisis in Gaza on Hamas as blame Israel (66-17).
One reason the Gazan Palestinians aren't getting much sympathy is that the majority of Americans think they brought this on themselves by ending the cease fire and beginning to shoot rockets into Israel again.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:07 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Obviously you're aware of Charles Krauthammer, who doesn't (these days) seem to be a leading thinker in the intellectual sense, but his opinion pieces are so widely published that he leads the thoughts of others.

I haven't been around long enough to know if the following was always the case, but the interesting thing about Krauthammer to me is how much he knowingly misleads to argue his cause. He writes stuff that he knows is sophistry, but which he calculates will be effective in swaying the understanding or views of readers. Unlike many, his sophistry isn't just a result of his zealousness, or any lack of understanding, but is something that he actively and carefully designs. That might seem as common as dirt these days, with people like Rove having made fools of conservative Christian voters, but Krauthammer still stands out to me. Rove's stuff seems aimed at rubes, Krauthammer seems to aim at slightly tougher nuts.

But that aside, I can't think of arguing against US support of Israel who is as influential as Krauthammer arguing for it.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:35 AM on January 16, 2009

I can't think of arguing against = I can't think of anyone who is arguing against
posted by -harlequin- at 12:37 AM on January 16, 2009

The Daily Show stance, once again acting as the American conscience, says something to me about public opinion shifting, if only slightly.

I don't know whether TDS's morality is proscriptive or descriptive, of course. That's a subject for an entire research grant right there.
posted by rokusan at 1:55 AM on January 16, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - askme is for questions and answers, not debating politics. thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:16 AM on January 16, 2009

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