Lobby leaders are once again bemoaning the fact that support for Israel is eroding rapidly among key constituencies in the United States, this time young American Jews.
In fact, the Trump presidency may be accelerating the trend as support for Israel becomes increasingly associated with the kind of right-wing and Christian Zionist fanaticism Vice President Mike Pence brought to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Monday.
Alan Hoffman, CEO of the Israeli-government backed settler-colonization organization the Jewish Agency, bemoaned the “extremely worrisome” finding that support for Israel among American Jewish college students has plunged 32 percent between 2010 and 2016.
This is according to a new survey by the Brand Israel Group, and it confirms trends that the consortium of pro-Israel lobbyists has found in earlier polls.
“In the year since Trump was elected, the situation has only been exacerbated,” Hoffman told a gathering of Israel lobby leaders in New York on Monday, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “Jewish college students in the United States, not including those who are Orthodox, see Israel, justifiably or not, as something opposed to their basic liberal and progressive values.”
The numbers, Hoffman said, are “like nothing we have ever seen before.”
Israel loves Trump
Hoffman is right to be worried. Trump’s tight embrace of Israeli leaders is undoubtedly further alienating young, predominantly progressive American Jews from Israel.
But it’s important to understand that Israel is also galloping away from them.
In another new survey measuring the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on global perceptions of the US, Gallup finds that “US leadership approval ratings declined substantially.”
One year into the new administration, the report finds that “the median global approval rating of the job performance of US leadership across 134 countries stands at a new low of 30 percent.”
This is down nearly 20 points from the last year of the Obama administration and four points lower than the last year of the George W. Bush administration.
There were only four countries where US leadership approval increased by 10 points or more: Belarus, Macedonia, Liberia and Israel.
Moreover, according to Gallup, “Israel was the only country in Asia in which US approval increased substantially” – with Israeli approval of US global “leadership” surging to 67 percent – a 14 point jump from 2016.
Gallup points out that interviews with Israeli respondents were done before Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, suggesting that approval of the Trump-led US might be even higher if the poll were taken today.
The poll does not give a breakdown of the opinions of Israeli Jews versus Palestinian citizens of Israel, but it’s a safe bet that support for Trump among the former is considerably higher.
For comparison, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Gallup found just 12 percent of Palestinians approving, and 72 percent disapproving, of US leadership – scarcely changed from 2016 undoubtedly because Palestinian opinions of Israel’s biggest backer were already near rock bottom.
American Jews strongly oppose Trump
The Israeli love affair with Trump contrasts sharply with the opinions of an overwhelming 77 percent of American Jews who disapproved of his performance, according to an American Jewish Committee survey in September.
“Those are considerably worse numbers for the president than in the general population,” the JTA news agency observed.
Undoubtedly many have been turned off by the Trump administration’s open embrace of white supremacists, anti-Semites and even neo-Nazis.
And while many American Jews have been on the frontlines of the struggle against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies, they can certainly see that Israel, the self-declared “Jewish state,” is intensifying its war on refugees from African states.
Protest of Pence
Pence’s visit provided dramatic visuals highlighting the growing gulf.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smiled broadly and applauded as lawmakers from the Joint List, parties largely representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, were hustled out of the Knesset chamber by security guards for having the temerity to protest the American vice president.
Even a big-name mainstream journalist, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, had difficulty suppressing a comparison that would trouble many American viewers.
“The 13 Israeli-Arab members of Israel’s parliament held up signs saying ‘Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine’ and were forcibly removed by security as Pence started to speak,” she tweeted. “Can you imagine Capitol Police dragging members of the Congressional Black Caucus off the House floor?”
Pence, meanwhile, took the opportunity to announce that the Trump administration is bringing forward plans to open the US embassy in Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
Support for Israel in the US remains strong overall, but a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found a surge of sympathy for Palestinians among liberals.
Sympathy with Palestinians tripled among millennials from nine percent in 2006 to 27 percent a decade later.
There are even indications in the US that young evangelical Christians are cooling toward Israel.
Israel is also increasingly a partisan issue, with strong support concentrated among Republicans, while more than half of Democrats say they are ready to back sanctions or tougher measures against Israel because of its settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
A new poll released by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday confirms many of these trends, including that the partisan divide is wider than ever: 79 percent of Republicans now say they sympathize more with Israel than with Palestinians, compared with just 27 percent of Democrats.
According to Pew, the sharp erosion in support for Israel is taking place not only among “liberal” Democrats, but also “moderates” and “conservatives” within the party. And, almost half of Democrats say that Trump favors Israel too much.
It’s the product, not the marketing
In response to the latest survey results among young American Jews, Jewish Agency CEO Alan Hoffman reportedly recommended new strategies to engage the alienated youth.
This is typical of Israel lobby leaders, who tend to view Israel’s toxic “brand” as a PR problem, not as an inherent flaw in the product.
Despite the massive sums spent on trying to rebrand Israel as a progressive and environmentally friendly haven of LGBTQ rights, feminism and hi-tech innovation, Israel and its lobby leaders keep rediscovering to their dismay that you can’t hide occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid with slick marketing.
And Trumpism is simply helping bring the ugly truth about Israel to the surface.
This article has been updated.