Poll: American Jews Want Peace, But Are Divided on How To Get There

By Anthony Weiss

Published July 17, 2008, issue of July 25, 2008.
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The majority of American Jews support Israel trading land in the West Bank and the Golan Heights for peace, but a similar majority opposes ceding land in East Jerusalem, according to a new poll.

The poll, which was commissioned by the J Street Project, a new left-leaning Israel lobbying organization, indicates that American Jews are broadly supportive of active engagement in the peace process. But the poll suggests that American Jews make some distinctions. Though 58% and 59% supported returning the Golan Heights and much of the West Bank, respectively, in return for peace, 56% opposed doing the same with Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem. In addition, 48% supported a hawkish stance on Iranian and Palestinian aggression, compared with the 41% that oppose such a stance.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have stumped heavily on Israel-related issues in the presidential campaign, and Obama is traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories July 22 and 23 to bolster his credentials. The J Street poll showed that if the election were held today, he would get a lower proportion of Jewish votes — 62% — than any Democratic presidential candidate in 20 years.

J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami argued that despite the ambiguity over peace issues, American Jews ultimately favor a more diplomatic approach.

“I think that there’s a complexity here, and I think you find it in Israel, too, where you can muster a 70% majority for a peace agreement and a 70% majority for a more militaristic approach,” Ben-Ami told reporters on a conference call. But, he said in a follow-up interview, the poll showed that when faced with “either/or” choices, the majority of American Jews favor making choices that lead to peace.

Other more hawkish Israel advocates said that the poll didn’t delve into the types of difficult, concrete issues that would cause American Jews to reconsider the wisdom of American pressure on Israel.

“It’s completely vague. If they had asked, for example, ‘Do you think America should force Israelis to divide Jerusalem?’ you would have gotten a different answer,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of the right-leaning advocacy group The Israel Project.

The poll also provided a snapshot of Jewish attitudes toward a number of prominent figures. Joseph Lieberman, who has been McCain’s featured Jewish surrogate, won a favorable opinion from only 37% of the respondents, while 48% had an unfavorable opinion. Far less popular was a pair of well-known clergy: evangelical minister John Hagee and Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Hagee had only a 7% favorable rating, compared with 57% who have an unfavorable view of him. Wright polled even worse, with ratings that were 5% favorable and 68% unfavorable.

The poll was conducted by Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications and had a margin of error of 3.5%.

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