(May 27, 2022 / JNS) It turns out that most Americans have no idea what the controversy over the anti-Semitic BDS movement is about. That was one of the key takeaways from a new Pew Research Institute survey released this week that measured American attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians.
It may come as a surprise to fighters in the BDS battles taking place on college campuses and elsewhere, but 84% of people polled by Pew said they had heard “not much” or “nothing at all.” everything” on the subject. With only 15% saying they know “a little” or “a lot” about it, it turns out that only 6% of Americans know enough to say they oppose it while 5% support a movement that discriminates against Israelis and Jews. .
Yet BDS enjoys strong support in the left wing of the Democratic Party, which subscribes to an intersectional ideology that compares the war against Israel’s existence to the fight for civil rights in the United States. This faction and its charismatic leaders within the Congressional “Squad” have influence far beyond their actual numbers in popular culture and the broader progressive movement that helped shape the policies of the President’s administration. Joe Biden. Seen in this light, the BDS debate may be more important than the numbers suggest, especially considering other findings from the Pew survey.
Other data points of note in the poll consist of numbers indicating that while Israel remains broadly popular among Americans, there are two demographic groups where support is weak and growing weak: young people and Democrats.
Pew shows that 67% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Israel and its people. Some 52% say the same of Palestinians. When the question moves to views on the Israeli government and that of the Palestinians, the gap between the two is wider.
Pew’s question about the Palestinians was vague since there are currently two Palestinian governments – the Islamist terrorists Hamas who run the Gaza Strip as an independent state in all but name, and the corrupt and tyrannical Fatah party who run many autonomously the Palestinian Authority in the West. Bank. While 48% of Americans had a favorable view of the politicians who democratically govern Israel, only 28% – although most may have no idea what they supported – said they had a favorable view of the or Palestinian governments. .
More troubling is the fact that younger Americans have less favorable attitudes toward Israel while being more supportive of the Palestinians than their elders. About 56% of those under 30 have a favorable opinion of Israel, while 78% of those over 65 have the same opinion. At the same time, 61% of those under 30 have a favorable opinion of the Palestinians and 47% of those over 65 hold the same opinion.
Among those under 30, some 27% have a favorable opinion of the Israeli government, while 26% of the same age group have a good opinion of Fatah and Hamas. Compare these numbers with the 65+ crowd, 57% who support the Israeli government with only 19% who think well of the Palestinian government.
When you consider that those most likely to love Israel and think ill of the Palestinians will leave the stage in the coming decades, while those whose views are more likely to be opposed will rise to positions of influence and of power, this is a potential demographic catastrophe for the pro-Israel movement.
These troubling figures are both compounded and to some extent explained by the breakdown of attitudes by party affiliation. Among those who identify as Republicans, 66% have a favorable opinion of the Israeli government and only 18% have a favorable opinion of the Palestinian government(s). Among Democrats, 37% view the Palestinian government(s) favorably while 34% view the Israeli democratic government(s) favorably.
As decades of Gallup investigations have illustrated, the partisan split over Israel is nothing new. Their tracking polls from the 1990s show that Republicans are far more likely to be strongly pro-Israel than Democrats, although the latter’s decline has accelerated over the past decade.
Americans who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and Israel’s existential struggles for survival in 1948, 1967 and 1973 are likely to sympathize with the Jewish state. Those who have come of age over the past 40 years – as Israel is increasingly mischaracterized as an oppressor of an “indigenous people” or even an “apartheid state” – are more likely to think ill of it and see the Palestinians as deserving of sympathy.
There are two questions to ask about this. Why did this happen and what should be done if it does?
As for blame, the Jewish left has a ready answer. They think it’s the fault of Israeli politics, the “occupation”, the settlements and, above all, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His public fights with former President Barack Obama over the peace process and the Iran nuclear deal have helped to exacerbate partisan division.
Netanyahu’s positions were firmly supported by the majority of Israelis and were based on facts rather than wishful thinking about the Palestinians or Iran. But the open argument has allowed Democrats like Obama to exploit these debates and turn them into a partisan litmus test rather than an expression of prejudice.
As Gallup’s numbers show, these trends were in place long before Netanyahu and Obama engaged in public bickering. Moreover, Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank has everything to do with Palestinians’ repeated rejections of Israeli offers of statehood and peace, and little to do with the policies of right-wing governments. Given that to this day the Palestinian Authority and Hamas reject the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, the continued ‘occupation’ is their fault – not Netanyahu or the coalition led by Naftali Bennett which includes an Arab party that succeeded him a year ago.
The failure of the American media, mainstream politicians and the foreign policy establishment to accept these facts as most Israelis have is why so many have accepted the false narrative about Palestinian victimization that had an impact on public opinion.
Israel’s polling problems can also be attributed to the popularity of left-wing ideologies like critical race theory and intersectionality that have largely taken over college campuses and recently migrated into the public square. If you think of Israelis and Jews as holders of “white privilege” – although the majority of Jewish Israelis are people of color whose origins can be traced back to ancient homes in the Middle East and North Africa – and think Palestinian Arabs, rather than Jews, like the indigenous peoples of the country, then you probably don’t know the facts of the conflict or the character of the movements that lead the Palestinians.
It is not surprising that these opinions are found more among young Americans and Democrats than among older Americans or Republicans.
As for what to do about it, the idea that policy changes regarding the Palestinians or Iran will make Israel more popular is a myth. The idea was discredited by what happened after the adoption of the Oslo process which involved territorial surrenders, as well as by the consequences of the complete withdrawal of all Israeli soldiers, settlers or settlements from Gaza by the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005.
These efforts led to more terrorism and allowed Palestinians to continue to dream of the destruction of Israel. Rather than illustrating Israel’s desire for peace or Palestinian disinterest in it, it had the opposite effect. Each concession has only reinforced the false narrative that Israel was a thief returning stolen property to rightful owners and breathed new life into an anti-Zionist movement whose goal is the elimination of the only Jewish state on the planet.
It demonstrates that what Israel needs is a more aggressive information policy based on arguments for Jewish rights and the truth about the nature of its opponents, not on trivial sentiments about a desire for peace or even attempts to divert public attention from the conflict by talking about Israel’s beauty or the value of its high-tech industry.
Israel will never convince the “progressives” who believe it has no right to exist any more than the Palestinians will convince the 30% of Americans who told Pew that they believe God gave land of Israel to the Jewish people to abandon them. Instead, he must fight for those in the middle, pointing out that toxic left-wing theories are a pass for anti-Semitism, not a plea for human rights. Any other approach will only ensure that the worrying trends among young people and Democrats will continue to worsen.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.