First, the good news. Recent polling conducted in February by Gallup suggests that Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and by wide margins. Seventy percent of Americans rate Israel very or mostly favorably. By contrast, only 17% of Americans rate Palestinians favorably. When asked if they sympathize more with Israel or the Palestinians, 62% of the respondents said they sympathize with Israel while only 16% said they sympathized with the Palestinians. The remainder sympathized with neither side or had no opinion on the matter
When broken down along party allegiance however, the disparity between Republican and Democratic Party members becomes more pronounced. An astounding 83% of those who sympathized more with Israel were Republicans, 59% were Independents and only 48% were Democrats.
Now, the bad news.
A new survey conducted by US political consultant Frank Luntz of U.S. "opinion elites" (highly educated, high-income, politically active individuals), suggests that the disparity in how Republicans and Democrats view Israel is even greater than suggested by Gallup. Multiple questions regarding the Arab-Israeli dispute were posed but here are the more salient points;
- Forty-seven percent of the Democrats polled believed that Israel was a racist state while only 13% of Republicans subscribed to this fallacy.
- Asked if Israel was sincere in seeking peace with its neighbors, 88% of Republicans answered in the affirmative while only 48% of Democrats concurred. Thirty-one percent of Democrats believed that Israel was not interested in peace while only 5% of Republicans held such absurd views.
- Seventy-five percent of Republicans said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who was critical of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and treatment of Palestinians as compared to just 23% of Democrats.
- Eighty-six percent of Republicans identified themselves as “pro-Israel” while the number of Democrats who identified themselves as “pro-Israel” stood at just over half that amount at 46%. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they were “pro-Palestinian” but only 4% of Republicans identified with the Palestinians.
- Lastly, 90% of Republicans believed that the US should support Israel compared to 51% of Democrats. Eighteen percent of Democrats believed that the US should support the Palestinians as compared to just 2% of Republicans.
Overall, when the numbers are combined, support for Israel still remains high with 68% of Americans subscribing to the view that the US should support Israel while just 10% believed that the US should support the Palestinians.
Luntz concludes that the results of the poll suggest that the Arab-Israeli dispute has become a partisan issue with Israel enjoying enormous support among Republicans while less so for Democrats. He believes that such partisanship is disastrous for Israel and that Israel’s message is not resonating with a significant percentage of Democratic voters.
Luntz noted that “messaging is critical,” and that Israel needed to emphasize its stellar human rights record with respect to women’s rights, minorities and religious freedoms over its mammoth technological achievements. Democrats care little about Israel as the “Start-Up Nation,” he stated.
For 30 years, anti-Israel activists have kept their message simple, falsely claiming that Israel violated human rights and acted like an Apartheid state. Their demonstrations were often accompanied by heated rhetoric, polemics and photos of maimed and injured woman and children – claimed as victims of unprovoked Israeli attacks. It did not matter that Israel had acted in self-defense and that her enemies cynically exploited the civilian population as human shields. Nor did it matter that more often than not, these images were proven fakes, with some photo-shopped while others lifted from entirely different theaters having nothing to do with Israel. It did not even matter that these activists supported regimes whose human rights records were far more egregious. The only thing that mattered was the simplicity of the message and the gullibility of the ignorant and ill-informed for whom the message was directed.
Luntz is correct when he states that messaging is critical and indeed, Israel needs to up its game to counter the myriad of anti-Israel calumnies, a daunting task considering that Israel has long ignored the importance of countering pernicious propaganda. But Luntz’s analysis is also flawed because he omits one very crucial cause of the disparity between Republicans and Democrats with respect to how they view Israel.
Eight years of Barack Obama has taken its toll. For eight years, the Democratic Party’s ranking member has relentlessly attacked the Jewish State and its democratically elected prime minister. Obama began his term by visiting Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – countries with abysmal human rights records – while deliberately skipping Israel. While in Egypt – a country whose population harbors deeply anti-Semitic views – he gave a speech which was highly critical of Israel and which failed to note the historic nexus between the Jewish people and Israel. It was all downhill from there.
Democrats watched as Obama treated Netanyahu like a petty Third World dictator and subjected him to numerous slights and public humiliation during his first visit to the White House. They watched as Obama’s shills referred to the Israeli leader as “Chickensh*t” and “aspergy” among other pejoratives. They watched as Obama publicly expressed gratitude to a multitude of countries for their contributions to the Haiti relief effort following a devastating earthquake but deliberately omitted thanking Israel despite the fact that the Israelis provided one of the largest and most effective relief and rescue contingents. They watched as Obama and his secretary of state repeatedly blamed Israel for lack of progress in talks with the Palestinians while ignoring blatant and infinitely more egregious Palestinian transgressions. They watched and listened as Obama’s top Mideast security advisor blamed Israel as the source of regional instability while 70% of Israel’s citizens were dodging Hamas rockets. And they watched as Obama ramped up the anti-Israel rhetoric and made a mountain out of a molehill in connection with Netanyahu’s March 3rd address to congress.
The list, too lengthy to enumerate in this article, goes on and on. In fact, not a week went by during the course of the administration’s tenure that Obama or his minions did not in one way or another, attack or otherwise insult Israel and its leader.
In some ways, Obama’s deleterious impact on the way some Democrats now view Israel mirrors the effect that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had on Turkey’s constituency since assuming power. In 2003, relations between Israel and Turkey were excellent. The two nations enjoyed close military and intelligence cooperation, performed joint military exercises and otherwise maintained close political, economic and cultural ties. Turkey was a favorite destination spot for vacationing Israelis while Turks expressed wide-eyed admiration for the Jewish State. In fact, so enamored were the Turks with Israel that some named their children “Israel” and “Ziona” in recognition of Israeli relief efforts following a devastating earthquake in 1999.
But 12 years after Erdogan took power, Turkey can arguably be considered one of Israel’s most implacable foes. Its population now harbors deeply anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views, a direct product of heated anti-Semitic rhetoric and relentless attacks against Israel and Jews by Erdogan and members of his Islamist party, the AKP. Twelve years of venom and vitriol have taken their collective toll and have completely reversed a once mutually beneficial, burgeoning alliance.
Aykan Erdemir, an anthropologist and lawmaker from Turkey’s largest opposition party, the CHP, noted that the damage that Erdogan has done and the toxic effect he’s had on Turkey’s constituency in fomenting xenophobic and anti-Semitic views will be difficult but not impossible to reverse. The first step however, must require change in leadership. Without such change, the situation will continue to spiral for the worse.
Similarly, a change in the Democratic Party’s mindset will only be brought about by a change in leadership. For eight years, Obama deliberately fomented the notion that Israel was a burden rather than an asset, an enemy rather than a strong, democratic ally with mutual interests and shared core values. For eight years, Obama’s unremitting vituperative conduct and unyielding attacks have eroded the Democratic Party’s support for Israel, transforming what was once a bipartisan issue into a partisan one. Like the situation in Turkey, the damage is not irreversible but will require a dramatic change in leadership. Then and only then can we begin to reverse the devastating impact this administration has had on the US-Israel alliance.