A third of young US Jews see Israel as genocidal, poll finds

Marchers with banner that reads The Jewish future demands Palestinian freedom

Significant numbers of Jewish Americans view Israel as an apartheid state that commits genocide, according to a recent survey.

Leah Millis Reuters

Efforts by Israel and its lobby to equate criticism of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people with anti-Jewish bigotry are in overdrive.

Yet a new poll indicates that this campaign has failed even with the vast majority of Jewish American voters.

The survey commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute, a group led by supporters of the Democratic Party, contains several eye-catching findings.

A quarter of Jewish American voters agree that Israel is an apartheid state – a number that shoots up to 38 percent among those under age 40.

Twenty-two percent of Jewish voters overall agree that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, a figure that rises to an astonishing 33 percent among the younger group.

Moreover, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the US, according to 34 percent of Jewish voters surveyed. That figure exceeds two in five among those aged under 40.

These findings are likely to dismay lobby group leaders who have long fretted about the erosion of support for Israel among Jewish Americans, particularly younger ones.

What’s also striking is that even Jews who disagreed that Israel commits apartheid and genocide often do not consider such statements to be anti-Semitic.

For example, 62 percent of those surveyed disagreed that Israel is committing genocide, but only half of those considered such a statement to be “anti-Semitic.”

Table showing some of poll results described in article

Poll of Jewish American voters finds significant minorities agree with candid statements about Israeli racism, apartheid and genocide. (Source: Jewish Electorate Institute)

Open to one-state solution

Jewish Americans are also more open-minded than they are perhaps generally given credit for when it comes to a political solution for Palestinians and Israelis.

While 61 percent surveyed still support the moribund two-state solution, a sizable minority – 20 percent – favors a democratic one-state solution with equality for everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Just 19 percent favor formal Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank without giving Palestinians equal rights – effectively the situation that exists now in all but name.

And when it comes to US aid to Israel, 71 percent overall consider it “important.”

But 58 percent agree that the US should restrict such aid from being used by Israel to build settlements in the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, 62 percent favor the US restarting the aid to Palestinians cut by the Trump administration.

This poll did not ask respondents about the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but a poll of Jewish Americans by the Pew Research Center published in May did.

It found that 34 percent of Jewish Americans “strongly oppose” the BDS movement. Consistent with other findings, those most hostile to BDS tended to be older, more Republican and more religious.

Bogus anti-Semitism claims

Whenever the world’s attention is focused on Israel’s atrocities, Israel lobby groups often try to deflect attention towards a supposed wave of anti-Semitism.

This May, when Israel massacred dozens of children in Gaza, was no exception.

Leading Israel lobbyists and corporate media talked up a wave of alleged anti-Jewish attacks across the US.

Yet a meticulous investigation by journalist Max Blumenthal revealed that these claims were baseless.

“What they’re doing in the US is basically trying to find an exit ramp from the scenes that even CNN was showing, of media towers in Gaza being taken out for no reason … or entire families being exterminated, to replace the victimhood of Palestinians with that of … American Jews,” Blumenthal told The Electronic Intifada Podcast last month.

That is not to say there is no anti-Jewish bigotry and that it should not be a concern. Indeed, 90 percent of those surveyed – a figure that barely varies by age or religious observance – are concerned about anti-Semitism in the US.

But among men and women, and across all age groups, 61 percent of Jewish voters surveyed are more concerned about anti-Semitism from the political right. Overall, just 22 percent said they are concerned about “left-wing anti-Semitism.”

This indicates that American Jews have not generally fallen for the propaganda that the left is rife with anti-Jewish animus, even as lobby groups have ignored or downplayed right-wing bigotry and even lethal violence against Jews to focus instead on attacking and blaming the Palestinian solidarity movement.

It is because people on the left tend to be more supportive of Palestinian rights and more critical of Israel that lobby groups have focused on falsely smearing left-wing parties and leaders – for example Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – as anti-Semites.

It is a bad faith strategy that aims to punish and scare people into silence about Palestine and absorb all the energy that might go into advocating for Palestinian rights into defensively debating what is and is not anti-Semitic.

It also aims to divide left-wing movements and co-opt influential figures into supporting Israel while still posing as “progressive.”

The Jewish Electorate Institute poll, however, suggests that most American Jews understand that the greatest threat to their safety comes not from supporters of Palestinian rights, but from the anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, anti-Black white supremacist political right.

Hard to sell

That significant numbers of Jewish Americans now accept that Israel is a genocidal apartheid state may seem surprising.

But it reflects broader patterns in American society of growing support for Palestinian rights and skepticism about Israel, especially among younger people.

Aside from Orthodox Jews, Jewish Amercians are a particularly liberal and progressive constituency: Overall 68 percent say they would vote for the Democratic Party if an election were held today.

Eight-two percent of the Jewish voters surveyed described themselves as moderate, liberal or progressive. Just 16 percent identified as conservative.

It is simply hard to sell Israel – a segregationist apartheid state – to a group that by huge majorities professes to support racial justice and progressive values in the United States.

A bellwether of that reality is the dramatic shift on Israel announced by Peter Beinart last year. An influential liberal Zionist commentator, Beinart long defended the two-state solution and opposed BDS.

But to the consternation and fury of Israel lobby leaders, Beinart recognized that his approach had reached a dead end and embraced a one-state solution based on equality.

The dilemma was also captured by Marisa Kabas, writing in Rolling Stone amid Israel’s attack on Gaza in May.

Kabas writes about how she and many of her young Jewish American peers are “grappling with the version of Israel presented on trips organized by groups like Birthright versus what they’ve seen unfold on the ground.”

She says they struggle with “how to square their love for their people and history with their commitment to racial and social justice, and how Israel’s actions in Palestine seem to fly in the face of ‘tikkun olam’ – the Jewish principle of improving the world through action.”

“Bottom-tier issue”

And contrary to the impression one could get from looking at major Israel lobby groups or listening to pandering politicians, the survey indicates that Israel is a very low priority for most Jewish Americans.

It is true that 62 percent of respondents say they are “emotionally attached” to Israel, while 38 percent say they are not. That attachment also weakens somewhat among those who are younger or less religious.

But how different would these numbers be if a pollster asked a group representing all Americans about their “emotional attachment” to Israel?

For decades, after all, US political leaders have been telling Americans that they have a special, unbreakable bond with Israel unlike with any other country.

Influential American Christianist clerics such as Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, even tell their flocks that supporting Israel is a religious duty.

In any case, emotional attachment – whatever that may mean – apparently does not translate into political priorities.

Only four percent of Jewish voters name Israel as one of the top two issues they want the US government to focus on, while three percent list Iran – another obsession of Israel lobby groups.

Meanwhile, by wide margins, the top concerns are climate change, voting rights and economic issues. Only among Orthodox Jews does a significant minority – 18 percent – see Israel as a priority.

For most Jewish voters, according to the Jewish Electorate Institute, Israel is a “bottom-tier issue.”

It has never been the case that Jewish Americans uniformly support Israel or its colonialist state ideology Zionism, although both anti-Semites and Zionists have been happy to allow this idea to prosper for their own purposes.

This survey, added to other evidence, helps dispel that myth.

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This excellent summary of the poll of US Jews emphasises that support for Israel is weakest amongst young and less religious Jews. My contention is that this poll will have missed a significant portion of non-religious Jews and therefore overestimated the amount of support for Israel that there is. The reason is that the pollsters decided who was likely to be Jewish based on their first or last names and where they lived. They then asked them if the identified as Jews (which is the right thing to do). People whose fathers are/were not Jewish (e.g. me) or whose families "Anglicised" their names will not feature.

This is the same with the main surveys carried out in the UK, although there the methodology was even worse, as they approached synagogues, asked Jews in them if the knew other Jews they could interview, or used surnames only in the electoral register.

There is also an issue about students. The poll shows that 66% of US Jews questioned have undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, so a lot of Jews will be at University at any one time. If they questioned people based on where they live, what measures did they take to include a representative sample of Jewish students, many of whom are likely to be living in "non-Jewish" areas?

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.