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September 6, 2017 1:06 pm

Are Democrats Abandoning Israel?

avatar by Mitchell Bard

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama during a March 2013 meeting in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Some recent polls have shown a growing polarization on the formerly bipartisan issue of support for Israel. A widely cited January 2017 Pew poll, for example, found that 74% of Republicans sympathize with Israel instead of the Palestinians, compared with 33% of Democrats; support for the Palestinians was 11% among Republicans and 31% for Democrats.

Some Jews view these results in apocalyptic terms, and warn that these trends presage the US abandonment of Israel. Before giving in to the doomsayers, however, I would like to offer some historical context and data that contradicts the conventional wisdom.

In 1977, almost exactly 40 years ago, Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider wrote in Commentary about public support for Israel. They noted that in 27 national polls taken between 1967 and 1977, sympathy for Israel ranged from 35 to 56%, and between 1 and 9% for the Arabs (polls changed the question wording from “Arabs” to “Palestinians” consistently starting in 1993). By contrast, the latest (February 2017) Gallup poll found sympathy for Israel at a near record high of 62%, with support for the Palestinians at 19%.

For those who think that support for a Palestinian state is a new trend because of greater sympathy for Palestinian rights or opposition to Israeli policy, consider that a Yankelovich survey in 1977 found that 52% of respondents agreed that “the Palestinians have a right to a homeland as much as the Jews do.” In February 2017, Gallup found a split of 45% in favor, and 42% opposed to a Palestinian state.

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That same Yankelovich poll reported that 55% of Americans believed “Israel’s refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians” was an obstacle to peace (70% said the Arabs’ refusal to recognize Israel and negotiate was the major obstacle). As further evidence Americans were not in love with Israel, sympathy for Israel in the 1970s Gallup polls averaged only 42%.

Lipset and Schneider did not look specifically at partisan identification, but they did examine differences between liberals and conservatives, as well as McGovern versus Nixon voters. They found that McGovern voters were somewhat less supportive of Israel than Nixon voters, but this was only true for those under 40. This is a noteworthy reminder to those who believe that young people are suddenly turning away from Israel; in fact, this cohort has historically been less supportive of Israel than its elders. The polls also show that, as they age, these same people will become more pro-Israel.

I looked at Gallup data (because they have been asking the sympathy question consistently for decades) on partisan support for Israel during that period, and found Democratic support was well under 50% in the 1970s. For example, 44% of Americans sympathized with Israel in a 1975 poll, and Republican support exceeded that of Democrats by 47%-42%. A few months later, they were tied at 40%. In 1979, overall support for Israel was only 40%, and the Republican/Democratic split was 43%-41%.

In the 24 Gallup polls for which I found data between 1975 and 2017, average support for Israel among Republicans was 65%, and for Democrats 46%. Independents have been more pro-Israel than Democrats, averaging 50%. Shockingly, Democratic support in the most recent (February 2017) poll was the same as it was in 1975. Instead of a dramatic decline in support among Democrats, as so many people believe, the data indicates that Democratic Party voters’ sympathies have not changed in the last 42 years.

Moreover, the data tells us the notion that Democrats have historically been overwhelmingly sympathetic toward Israel is a myth. Similarly, it is a myth that Republicans were once less supportive of Israel than Democrats. The dramatic change, which has been widely noted, is that support among Republicans has skyrocketed. Instead of a difference of a few points, as in the 1970s, the partisan gap in 2017 was 35 points.

Rather than lament a non-existent decline in support among Democrats, the question to ask is why Democratic support has been so low all these years, predating the failure of Oslo, the growth of settlements, the Gaza blockade and all the other issues typically used to explain the party’s qualms with Israel.

One of the important points that Lipset and Schneider made, which is too often forgotten by those who jump to conclusions based on poll data, is that results do not necessarily represent what they called “passionate conviction.” They noted that “younger liberals tend to doubt the legitimacy of Israel’s liberal credentials,” but “one would have to go to a very fine level of detail — probably among younger blacks and radicals — to find deep-seated anti-Zionist conviction.”

Think about the issue of gun control. Polls consistently show significant support for tougher restrictions, but lawmakers ignore these results because the number of people who have that “passionate conviction” to lobby for gun control, and support candidates with their money and votes, is dwarfed by the far more vocal minority on the other side. In the case of Israel, the pro-Israel side has the double advantage of being the majority, and also being more passionate than Israel’s detractors.

It is also important to distinguish between general public opinion and that of elected officials. While a handful of Democratic politicians are certifiably anti-Israel, and a larger number are sometimes critical, overall, Democratic members of Congress have remained steadfast in support of Israel on key issues such as military cooperation and aid.

A good example was a recent vote in Congress. All 11 Republican senators and 6 of 10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted for the Taylor Force Act, which calls for a cutoff of aid to the Palestinian Authority if it continues its “pay-for-slay” policy of paying salaries to terrorists and their families. Immediately after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer announced that he would be a co-sponsor (along with five other Democrats), virtually guaranteeing that it will pass the full Senate.

And what about presidents?

Presidents’ positions on the Middle East are based primarily on their ideology and world view, and less influenced by partisan considerations. During the last 40 years, we have had three Democratic presidents and four Republicans, whose reputations on Israel are mixed. Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama were widely viewed as anti-Israel, while Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were very pro-Israel. The jury is still out on Donald Trump.

Lipset and Schneider’s 1977 conclusion that “the only ‘veto group’ in the American electorate concerned with the Middle East is composed of those dedicated to the survival of Israel” remains true today.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of “Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” “The Arab Lobby,” and the novel “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”

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  • ‘Nuther whiner confusing “Israel” with “Likud.”

  • fuzzball

    Republicans favor Jews more than democrats, just don’t want Jews to date their sister’s, or anyone in the family marry one, go to their country clubs, live next door or work alongside them. I know from family experience, my sister almost got us kicked out of the country club because she brought one of “them” to the club. The right wing is nothing more than a lying machine. Never trust them at all.

  • flowerplough

    Yes. Old Democrats are abandoning Israel, young Democrats are attacking Israel. You need to ask?

  • Isaac barr

    Mitchell Bard white washes the Democratic party by comparing statistics as if individuality of the American voter really matters once election day is over. Not the statistics, but what their representative does really matters. Did any democrat supporter of Israel shame former president Obama for the US/Iran deal which provided the Iranians finance for their nuclear program. Worse, the 150 billion dollars that Obama gave Iran was used to buy technology from North Korea which now had finance to create a Hydrogen bomb and ballistic missiles which threaten the USA. Neither can we forget last minute passage of UNSC 2334 which Obama secretly orchestrated and did not get notice by the hoopla of US presidential election. This Security Council resolution not only prevents any dialogue between the Palestinians and Israel but also took from the Jewish people the Western Wall. Can we forget how Israel PM Netanyahu was accepted in Congress by the Democrats? Democrat Senator Menendez, one of four Democrat congressmen who attended, and now he may be paying the price. Lastly, the election of Keith Ellison to chair the DNC, a Muslim with connection to Lois Farrakhan and Hamas, was not prevented while Jewish sensitivity to this kind of candidate is overt. Republicans are forever seen as religious fanatics and antisemitic.

    • Herbertificus

      Anyone who “sees the Republicans as religious fanatics” is most likely a God-hater. Or they’re liberal to begin with and are therefore willing and eager to believe any demonization of Republicans that they get from the Leftist propaganda-media.

      Are religious Jews “fanatics?”

      What makes one a “religious fanatic?”

      Does believing that the Jewish scriptures are the inspired Word of God make one a “fanatic?”

      I’m a conservative Christian Republican and I’m very, very strongly pro-Jew and pro-Israel — as are nearly all of my conservative Christian Republican friends. If I were king-for-a-day, I’d call Bebe and tell him to make a wishlist of military hardware that he needs, and I’d find a way to get it to him (Israel) for free. I mean a hundred billion dollars worth.

      We conservative Christian Republicans understand the prophecies of the Bible and we understand the political recreation of the state of Israel in its Biblical historical context. We know that what is going on with Israel and the Jews is nothing less than the fulfilment of prophecy. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jews — with Israel — and everything about them, from Abraham to Netanyahu, from the revealing of God’s law to the revealing of God’s grace, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the transfiguration of Jesus and Moses and Elijah in the Garden of Gethsemane to the miraculous orchards and gardens of modern Israel — we Republicans stand with the Jews.

      At all costs.

      Any Jew who, in the year 2017, still believes the old slander that “Republicans are anti-Semitic” is either not paying a lick of attention to American politics, or he’s blinded by his own deep-seated liberalism and Leftism and doesn’t WANT realize who his true friends are.

      Jews on the left would do well to do some soul-searching and consider whether Leftist politics are more important to them than Abraham, their fellow Jews, and Israel, because — make no mistake — the American and Youra-peon Left is virulently anti-Semitic and getting worse. The Godless Left is as we speak teaming up with islam — Satan’s greatest Grand Scheme for destroying the human race — to oppose Christians, Jews, God’s Kingdom, and all that is rational in the human endeavor. The irrationality of Leftism should never have had a home in the extremely rational Jewish people in the first place.

      (Listening to Dennis Prager’s radio show either live or as podcasts would be a good first step for Jews to hear Republican conservatism from a credible source.)

  • Rachele Raanan

    It has been my experience, over many years involvement, that most Americans (including Jewish Americans) and their elected representatives are grossly ignorant about Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East as a whole. Not knowing the history, cultures, religions (and the relationships among the various sects), politics (inter-Arab, Arab-Persian, Arab-European etc.) makes it impossible to judge situations and probable outcomes. Not having the foundations for a realistic assessment, our leaders rely upon so-called ‘experts’ who are often just as clueless. (It is no wonder that U.S. policy is so often against its own best interests.) The fact is, lacking understanding based upon knowledge, we are left to emotions.

  • Yes, Democrats are abandoning Israel. The 2017 Democratic Party is more leftwing than in 1977. Eventually, the remaining Zionists in the Democratic Party will switch their registration to independent. If a Democrat becomes the next US President, Israel will lose a strong voice of reason at the UN Security Council.

    • SF2OAK

      Also that young American Jews are abandoning Israel. Michael Chabon & his wife Waldman are authors in an anthology of writing against the “occupation” not it’s a dispute. Israel is allowed to control the lands because the palestinians are belligerent., and the how of their knowledge come from Breaking the Silence. It gets worse for American Jews who have j Street,NIF, JVP (our own self inflicted wounds) couple this with Linda Sarsour ( who always manages t sneak in a little anti semitism in her speeches- so you’re nodding at a BLM speech and all of a sudden the anti semitism comes out- and BLM has an anti zionist plank of its platform. You have BDS. You have SJP week on campuses but the chant isn’t for a reasonable solution- it’s “From the river to the sea- they want it all! This is notwithstanding the fact Israel has given land for peace – gotten a mortal enemy in gaza- and Hamas should be no friend of liberals- they will kill you at the drop of a hat. Occupation you should have thought of that in 1947, or 1967, or 1973, the 80’s, 90’s or 2000’s