Jewish and non-Jewish Americans overwhelmingly support the decision of Prime Minister Sharon to remove Israeli settlers from Gaza, according to two recent surveys released Monday by organizations that back the disengagement plan.
Two thirds of all Americans believe executing the withdrawal plan without a peace agreement with the Palestinians is a “bold step toward peace,” according to a nationwide survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL survey, conducted last month by the Marttila Communications Group, polled 1,600 people and had a margin of error of 2.8%.
A similar survey commissioned by the liberal group Ameinu, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance, found that 64% of American Jews favored the plan. The Ameinu survey, conducted by Hebrew University of Jerusalem sociologist Steven M. Cohen, polled 501 people and had a margin of error of 5%.
The release of the surveys coincided with a meeting between Sharon and President Bush in Crawford, Texas, earlier this week. While the president has been a consistent supporter of the disengagement plan, Jewish leaders said clear evidence of Americans’ support could not come at a better time.
“It’s a very good moment,” ADL director Abraham Foxman said at a press conference Monday. “It’s important that the Israeli public, in these difficult months ahead, understand and know that the overwhelming majority appreciate the difficulty of what they’re engaged in.”
Leaders of both organizations said they hoped their research would not only help affirm the Bush administration’s support of the Gaza plan, but also prod influential Jewish organizations to play a more active role in promoting it. “We see support in the [poll] numbers, and we should see it in the organized Jewish community, as well,” said Ameinu’s executive director, Jamie Levin.
Foxman said he would like Jewish communal leaders to come together for an event in support of the Gaza withdrawal. In the coming weeks, the ADL will spread the word about support for the Gaza plan through advertisements in the national press and Jewish publications, as well as 30-second commercials airing on Fox News and CNN channels in New York and Washington.
Despite finding overwhelming support for disengagement, both reports reflected only a cautious optimism about the longer-range prospects for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Ameinu survey found that while slightly more than half of American Jews believe the withdrawal plan will move the Israelis and Palestinians closer to an agreement, almost a quarter were not sure and 20% did not think the move would help. Only 20% of American Jews thought the plan would make Israel somewhat safer, while 60% were unsure.
Slightly less than one-third of all Americans believe that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will be able to persuade militant organizations such as Hamas to renounce violence against Israel.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which opposes the disengagement plan, questioned the validity of both surveys given the public’s limited knowledge of Middle East history. “American Jews not only don’t have the information needed, but they’ve been fed misinformation by Israeli leaders and the America media,” he said. “Few American Jews understand that we’re talking only about the Jewish section of Gaza — 12% — because 88% was given [to the Palestinians] under Oslo in 1994.”