US Jews tilt rightwards on Israel

WASHINGTON, December 12 (IPS) - US Jews appear to have become more opposed both to Israel’s making key concessions in renewed peace talks with Palestinians and to the US carrying out a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to the latest in an annual series of surveys of Jewish opinion released here this week by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

The poll, which was carried out during November before the formal resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis late last month, also found continued skepticism in the Jewish community over both the war in Iraq and the “war on terror” as conducted by the administration of President George W. Bush.

Moreover, a growing majority of Jews identify themselves as Democrats — 58 percent compared to 54 percent in October 2006 — while only 15 percent said they considered themselves Republicans, the same percentage as 14 months ago, on the eve of the Democratic sweep of the mid-term elections.

Fifty-three percent said they had a favorable opinion of Sen. Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner in the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, compared to 38 percent of respondents who said they held positive views of the two other leading contenders, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards.

On the other hand, all of the current Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, are viewed more negatively than positively by strong pluralities of Jewish voters. On Giuliani, the current Republican frontrunner in national polls, Jewish voters were split: 41 percent said they had favorable views; 38 percent said their opinions were unfavorable.

The survey, which covers a wide 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 next year’s presidential elections.

While Jews make up only about two percent of the US 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, that could very likely decide a close election next year.

Moreover, 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, is also likely to play a strong role in next year’s election. Several RJC leaders helped found Freedom’s Watch, a group that is expected to spend as much as 200 million dollars over the next year to promote Bush’s “war on terror” and more hawkish policies directed against Iran and other perceived threats to Israel’s security.

That may prove a hard sell to the Jewish community, at least according to most of the new survey’s results. For example, two-thirds of US Jews now believe that Washington should not have gone to war in Iraq — up two percentage points from 14 months ago — and 76 percent believe that US efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq are going either “somewhat” or “very” badly.

As for the threat posed by Iran — which is expected to be a major foreign policy focus of the Republican presidential campaign, particularly if Giuliani wins the nomination — only 35 percent of US Jews said they would support “the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons,” while 57 percent said they would oppose such a move.

Those findings are striking both because 59 percent of Jewish respondents said they are “very concerned” about the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and because they represent a further erosion of Jewish support for military action compared to previous years.

The poll was taken before last week’s publication of the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which found that Iran had suspended its alleged nuclear weapons program in 2003 and is unlikely to be able to build a weapon before 2010 at the earliest.

Thus, in the 2005 survey, 49 percent of Jewish Americans said they would support military action, while 46 percent said they would oppose it. Last year, 54 percent said they would support such action, while 38 percent said they would oppose it.

If the Jewish community has become more dovish on Iran and Iraq, however, it has also become more skeptical about Israeli-Arab peace efforts and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fifty-five percent said they believe that negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “cannot lead to peace in the foreseeable future.” Three out of four respondents said Israel could not achieve peace with a Palestinian government led by Hamas, which currently controls the Gaza Strip.

In a more stunning result, only 46 percent of respondents said they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state, while 43 percent said they oppose it.

In 2004, 57 percent of respondents said they supported the establishment of Palestinian state. Last year’s survey still found majority support — 54 percent for a Palestinian states, and 38 percent opposed.

Asked whether in the framework of a permanent peace accord, Israel should be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction, 58 percent of respondents replied negatively this year. Last year, only 52 percent were against such a compromise, which most analysts, including Olmert’s deputy prime minister, Haim Ramon, consider essential to achieving a final peace agreement.

These more hawkish views on Israeli-Palestinian ties clearly reflect the views not only of Jewish Republicans, which would not be surprising, but other, more liberal and Democratic members of the Jewish community as well. Forty-three percent of respondents defined themselves as liberal, 31 percent as “moderate,” and 25 percent as conservative.

Still, “support for Israel” ranked relatively low among the issues which respondents said would be most important to them in deciding how to cast their votes next year. Asked to choose among nine different issues, 23 percent named the economy and jobs as their top issue; 19 percent opted for health care; 16 percent cited Iraq; and 14 percent, “terrorism and national security.” Along with immigration and the energy crisis, support for Israel was named as the most important issue by only six percent of all respondents.

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