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More American Jews Support Striking Iran

A new survey shows that a majority of American Jews would support a U.S. military strike on Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons — a significant increase from a year ago.

Fifty-six percent of American Jews would support the “United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons,” according to the American Jewish Committee’s 2009 Annual Survey of Jewish Opinion. That’s an increase of 14 percentage points from the AJC survey taken in the fall of 2008. In addition, 66 percent of those surveyed said they would back an Israeli strike on Iran.

The support for military confrontation arrives at a moment

Two-thirds said they would back an Israeli strike.

of increased tension, with revelations of a secret nuclear enrichment plant that might bring Iran closer to a nuclear bomb.

The survey of 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents, interviewed between Aug. 30 and Sept. 17, comes as a wide swath of Jewish organizations are rallying support in the Jewish community and elsewhere for increased economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran — in particular tough sanctions targeting Iran’s importation and production of refined petroleum. With a margin of error of three percent, the poll would appear to undercut the claims of some who charge that Jewish organizations are out of step with the Jewish public in pushing for pressure on Iran.

The AJC’s executive director, David Harris, speculated that there were two possible reasons for the shift in opinion on Iran. More American Jews may now be “aware of the seriousness and growing nature of the threat,” he said, or they might have “more confidence” in the Obama administration to handle a confrontation with Iran than they did with the Bush administration — which many believed had not properly handled the Iraq war.

The 21-question survey did not specifically ask respondents about their opinion on Iranian sanctions; Harris said time and budgetary constraints prevented the organization from using all the questions it would have liked to ask.

In addition to the Iran results, Harris said the other interesting part of the poll was that, “despite the attempts by some ideologically motivated groups” to place all Jews solidly in liberal or conservative camps, “this survey reinforces what we have found — American Jews are very close to the center.”

Hadar Susskind, the director of policy and strategy at J Street — a Jewish lobbying group that is one of the few Jewish organizations that does not support sanctions on Iran right now and has backed the Obama administration’s call for a halt to new settlement construction — argued that the numbers demonstrate J Street’s argument that there is a “diversity” of opinion in the Jewish community.

With a significant minority supporting a settlement freeze and opposing a military strike on Iran, the poll shows there is no “mythical one opinion” on controversial matters, Susskind said.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, countered that the results bolster the argument that the establishment groups with a more centrist line on foreign affairs represent the “more constant view” of the Jewish community. American Jews feel similarly to Israelis on the prospects of peace, he said — that while “the Arabs haven’t really changed their attitudes,” it’s still worthwhile to try for peace.

But the CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, said it was notable that Obama was still above 50 percent approval on the issue, despite the continuous carping from many that the president is treating Israel badly. The numbers demonstrate that the argument of Obama being unfriendly to Israel “is not convincing,” he said, also noting that 81 percent said that relations between Israel and the United States are very or somewhat positive.

There was one question on which there was almost complete unanimity in the poll. Asked whether the Palestinians should be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement, 94 percent said yes.

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