WASHINGTON (IPS) - Despite Republican efforts led by President George W. Bush to align the party squarely behind the policies of successive right-wing governments in Israel, U.S. Jews are expected to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in next week’s elections.
According to a survey by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), U.S. Jews have continued to lose confidence in the Bush administration, particularly its conduct of the “war on terrorism” and the Iraq war, although a modest majority said they approved of the way Washington handled last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The survey, part of an annual series conducted by the AJC since the mid-1990s, found that Jews were significantly more negative than the general population as a whole on a range of Bush’s policies, even as they remained relatively hawkish on Israel, pessimistic about Arab-Israeli peace, and highly sceptical about Arab intentions toward the Jewish state.
Thus, 65 percent of the 958 respondents surveyed between Sep. 25 and Oct. 16 said the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq, while only 29 percent said the U.S.-led invasion was the “right thing” to do. By contrast, only 49 percent of the general public believes the U.S. should have stayed out, compared to 43 percent who believe it was the right decision, according to a Newsweek poll taken earlier this month.
Similarly, 62 percent of Jews said they disapproved of the way Washington has conducted the war on terrorism, twice the percentage who said they approved of it. According to a CBS-New York Time poll in mid-September, 54 percent of U.S. citizens said they approved of the conduct of the war, while 40 percent said they disapproved.
On one issue — whether the U.S. should take military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons — there appeared to be a virtual identity of views between U.S. Jews and the public at large, according to AJC survey and a Newsweek poll taken earlier this month.
Fifty-four percent of both groups said they would oppose such action, while 38 percent said they would support it, according to the two polls.
Among U.S. Jews, that represented a significant drop in support for military action compared to last year, when 49 percent of respondents told the AJC they would support an attack, and 46 percent were opposed.
The drop in support is particularly significant given the amount of media attention generated over the past year by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel and Tehran’s refusal to bow to western demands that it suspend its uranium-enrichment activities which Washington believes are a critical step toward its acquisition of nuclear weapons.
In a comment to this week’s Forward, the Jewish community’s most important newsweekly, AJC executive director, David Harris, said the discrepancy may reflect more a lack of confidence in the Bush administration than a decline in hawkish sentiment vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic.
He noted that 57 percent of respondents said they would support an Israeli strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, although most analysts believe that Israel, while a regional superpower, lacks the ability to carry out a successful attack without U.S. assistance.
The survey, which covers a range of views held by the nation’s roughly six million Jewish citizens, comes at a critical moment, both with respect to the Middle East and the Jewish community here.
While Jews make up only about two percent of the U.S. population, their exceptionally high rate of voter participation gives them almost twice the voting power. In addition to solidly Democratic New York and California, their numbers are also concentrated in several “swing” states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, and Illinois, where Democrats are expected to oust a number of Republican incumbents in the Congress with the increasingly likely result that the House of Representatives, if not the Senate, will come under Democratic control next year.
In addition, funding by Jewish donors of Democratic Party candidates is traditionally highly significant, accounting, for example, for as much as one half of all campaign contributions received by Democratic candidates to the Senate in the last election cycle.
The very well-endowed Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a group of mainly pro-Likud and neo-conservative donors who have touted Bush’s strong backing for Israel’s hawkish policies of the last six years, has mounted a particularly aggressive campaign to woo Jewish votes in the ongoing campaign. They have bought, for example, more than one million dollars in ads in some two dozen Jewish newspapers attacking the Democrats for an alleged lack of zeal in defending Israel’s interests. The Republican National Committee, which is headed by a prominent Jewish Republican, Ken Mehlman, has also made much of Bush’s unprecedented support for Israel, particularly during the Lebanon war.
But these efforts have not borne much fruit, according to the survey. Although Bush himself boosted his share of the Jewish vote from 19 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2004, only 15 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, down from 16 percent from last year. Fifty-four percent said they were Democrats, while 29 percent opted for “independent”.
By between two-to-one and nearly three-to-one majorities, respondents said Democrats were more likely to make the right decisions on a range of issues, from the war on Iraq to terrorism and the economy.
Respondents were also generally pessimistic about Israel: only 56 percent said they believed there will come a time when Israelis and Arabs and will be able to settle their differences and live in peace; and a whopping 81 percent said they agreed that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel,” although that was down from 84 percent who took that position two years ago.” Nearly two-thirds said they agreed with those “who claim that the West and the Muslim world are engaged in a clash of civilizations.” Twenty-nine percent disagreed.
At the same time, however, a 54 percent majority said they favoured the establishment of a Palestinian state, compared to 38 percent who opposed it. That was up from 49 percent in 2002, but down from 57 percent in 2004.
Four in ten Jews said that Israel should be willing to compromise with Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem as part of a final peace settlement; that was a notable rise from 36 percent last year. And while, 60 percent opposed such a compromise in last year’s survey, only 52 percent took the same position this year.
The fact that support for a territorial compromise, including on such sensitive issues as Jerusalem’s status, should encourage a growing number of prominent U.S. Jews, as well as several senior former Israeli officials, who have complained that Bush’s encouragement of a hard-line Israeli position vis-a-vis the Palestinians and other Arab neighbours was destroying hopes for a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution.
Over the past month, a number of extraordinarily wealthy Jewish philanthropists, among them George Soros, Peter Lewis, and Charles Bronfman, have been meeting quietly to consider providing a major injection of funding for lobbying and organizing efforts to urgently build support, particularly within the Jewish community, for resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and a broader settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
The group reportedly includes more than half of the top 10 Jewish donors to the Democratic Party which, in its view, has tended to be too responsive to the hawkish leadership of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the organisation most closely identified with the so-called “Israel Lobby”.
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