Campaign season is here, and it’s important for candidates to remember that the loudest voices in communities don’t always reflect the thinking of the people they claim to represent. Such is currently the case with the American Jewish community. Contrary to what some may think, American Jews strongly favor political candidates who back active U.S. engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, agree that America needs to be evenhanded if it wants to broker a peace treaty, and give low marks to President Bush for his handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to a recent telephone survey conducted on behalf of Americans for Peace Now.
At the same time, the American Jewish community supports the Geneva Understandings, the unofficial peace agreement reached between leading Israeli and Palestinian moderates that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both countries.
Five hundred American Jews were included in the random sample surveyed by Zogby International between January 12 and January 15. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5%.
The poll found that 71.6% of American Jews would be more likely to support a political candidate who says that the United States must actively be engaged in trying to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Furthermore, while parts of the organized American Jewish community reacted viscerally when Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean suggested that the United States needed to be evenhanded in trying to broker an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 67.8% of American Jews believe that this is the right way for America to approach negotiations.
Given President Bush’s disengagement from a peace process that American Jews support, it was not surprising to find that 76% of American Jews gave a negative evaluation of his handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 37.9% calling it fair and 38.1% saying it was poor.
The survey also posed a series of questions about the Geneva Understandings.
First, respondents were asked about their views on Geneva, with 43.2% of American Jews saying they strongly or somewhat support the agreement, while 8.9% do not support it. However, a significant segment of the community (44.4%) said that they were not familiar enough with it to have an opinion.
Second, respondents were asked if they were more or less likely to support the Geneva Understandings after they were read a description of the agreement. People were told that Geneva includes: an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, a joint commitment to security and fighting terrorism, the evacuation of most Israeli settlements, the creation of a border roughly along the 1967 Green Line, a resolution to the Palestinian refugee issue consistent with Israel retaining its sovereignty over its immigration policy, split sovereignty over Jerusalem holy sites and Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states.
After learning more about the document, a majority of American Jews (50.2%) said they were more likely to back Geneva, 22.4% said they were less likely, 16.7% said the additional information did not affect their views and 10.7% were not sure. This level of support for Geneva is even more impressive when compared to approval ratings found among Israelis and Palestinians, which tend to be in the 40% range.
Respondents were then asked about specific components of the Geneva Understandings.
The agreement calls for international funding and peacekeeping forces to help with its implementation. American Jews were supportive of American contributions in both areas, but financial aid had more support (83.9%) than the use of U.S. peacekeepers (61.8%).
The opening language of Geneva calls for recognition of the right of the Jewish people to statehood and recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, a sentiment shared by 85.4% of American Jews.
According to Geneva, Palestinian refugees would be entitled to compensation for their refugee status and loss of property, as well as guaranteed a right to settle in the new Palestinian state or third countries. In addition, Geneva would allow Israel to make a sovereign decision about how many refugees, if any, would be allowed inside its borders. A full 60.3% of American Jews said they support this formula, compared with 25.9% who oppose it.
For American Jews, the most controversial Geneva provision is the one calling for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of both a future Palestinian state and the State of Israel. Still, a plurality of American Jews (46.9%) said that they support the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem being recognized as the Palestinian capital and the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem being recognized as the Israeli capital, with 39.4% saying they oppose this arrangement.
The latest survey of American Jews found our community to be much more supportive of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — and American political leaders who back it — than many people believe to be the case. It’s an important lesson for politicians to keep in mind on the campaign trail.
Debra DeLee is president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now.