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Troubling Signs for Israel in New Poll of Americans

Despite overall strong backing from Americans for Israel’s war in Gaza, a new poll includes troubling signs for supporters of the Jewish state.

Democrats, liberals, young people and urban dwellers are all split more or less evenly on the war in the new poll by CNN and ORC International, even though 57% of the public backs Israel.

“Under the surface, we see that the feelings among Democrats and liberals are divided down the middle about whether Israel’s actions are justified,”said Steven M. Cohen, a Jewish sociologist at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Democrats’ mixed feelings have important ramifications, according to Cohen, and “may bode ill” for Americans’ future support of the Jewish state.

“Democrats and liberals are critical here, because frankly, they’re the people who are running our government,” Cohen said.

But not everyone sees cause for concern — or evidence of a changing support base for Israel.

“I don’t think there’s any fracturing of the [pro-Israel] coalition,” said Mark Mellman, CEO of the Mellman Group, a Democratic-leaning polling firm. He noted that Israel has enjoyed overwhelming backing in both houses of Congress, which have unanimously passed resolutions supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

The fact that some Democratic voters don’t support the war strikes Mellman as unsurprising, given party loyalists’ strong anti-war bent

“Look, it’s nothing new that Democrats are more questioning of any kind of conflict,” he said. “[They] have a much higher bar for military action.”

The poll shows strong – though not overwhelming – general support for Israel’s military campaign against Hamas. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say the Israel’s operation is justified, while just over a third of Americans (34%) disagree.

Previous wars in Gaza in 2011 and 2008-2009 earned similar levels of support from Americans, with 57% and 63% support respectively.

Less welcome news for Israel can be found in its changing favorability ratings, which have fallen 12 percentage points since February, from 72% to 60% – though only 20% of Americans view the Palestinian Authority favorably. Additionally, nearly four in ten Americans say Israel is using “too much force” in Gaza.

Israel’s general favorability is also lower among Democrats, with 39% of Democrats viewing Israel mostly or very favorably versus 67% of Republicans.

The CNN poll did not present data on Jewish Americans’ opinion of the current conflict, though Cohen suggested that Democrat’s mixed feelings could have ramifications for Jewish opinion, since Democrats are “the people who tend to shape the views of American Jews.”

Mellman disagreed, saying there’s no evidence Jews plan to desert Israel anytime soon.

“There’s really just no way of knowing from these polls,” Mellman said. “[But] I think we can say based on past evidence that the Jewish community lines up pretty solidly behind Israel’s actions.”

A recent study by the Pew Research Center argued that the partisan gap is growing over time.

“[D]ating back to the late 1970s, the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies has never been wider,” the authors wrote.

The widening gap, however, is mostly a product of Republicans’ increasing support, not a loss of Democrats’. Although Republican support for Israel has long been higher than Democrats, it was only in the mid-2000s that the Republican numbers began to really take off.

Some see this widening gap as simply a symptom of the broader polarization of numerous political issues that occurred in America over the last decade or more. “Starting in the early 2000s is where we see an intensification of political polarization on other questions,” said Alec Tyson, a senior researcher for the Pew Research Center.

Evangelicals’ increasing love for Israel may also play a role in the divide. In the Pew survey, 70% of white Evangelical Protestants said they sympathized more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared to 46% of Catholics, and just 36% of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

Contact Hody Nemes at [email protected] or on Twitter @hodifly


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