Should We Worry?
The facts, before we dive into the many points of data, are quite simple:
- Americans sympathize with Israel much more than they sympathize with the Palestinians.
- But behind this fact lurks a partisan divide: Republicans are highly supportive of Israel, Democrats less so.
- The trend of eroding Democratic support for Israel continues.
- The trend of declining support of Israel among young Americans also continues.
These are the facts, presented yesterday by the Pew Research Center. Now the questions.
The first of which is: should we worry? This has an easy answer. Of course, we should. Israel needs American support, and the more support the better. Israel also needs stable support, not one that comes and goes when government switches parties. If only one party is highly supportive of Israel, then only when this party is in power Israel can be relatively calm about the support it will get.
What Can We Do?
A second question is more complicated: what can we do about it? For this question, there are several answers available – and it is not surprising that each of them serves a certain political agenda. That is to say: these are answers that mostly utilize the new numbers to advance a cause.
First answer: Israel must change its policies and attitudes. Obviously, it is the answer you hear from people who want Israel to change its policies. For example: end the occupation, and your support in America will get a boost. With this answer there are two problems. One – Israel was not more popular when it was engaged in peace talks with the Palestinians.
Take a look: these are the numbers representing sympathy with Israel since 1990 (borrowed from the Jewish Virtual Library). As you can see, support for Israel is rising even amid recent hurdles in Israeli-Palestinian relations (look at the red trendline). You’d also notice that disengagement from Gaza (2005), or post Oslo Accord years (mid 1990’s) did not necessary translate to more American sympathy.
Of course, there’s another problem with the change-your-policy suggestion. Israelis do not want to change course because they believe that the current course is the one most secure and beneficial. They will only change course if they decide that the current course is no longer the best course, or if they calculate that what they gain by staying on course is less than what they lose in American support. And that is not an easy thing to calculate.
Second answer: Invest more in PR. This is the answer of people who think Israel ought not change its course but want to do something about the worrying trend. These people believe that Israel has a good case, and that with this case minds and hearts can be altered.
The problem with this answer is clear: the case might be strong, but Americans of a certain camp do not buy it – and even many Israelis don’t. In the world of geo-politics, actions speak much louder than PR campaigns. No campaign can compete with the impact of war in Gaza. No campaign can be more effective than a speech by Netanyahu in Congress.
Third answer: There is not much Israel can do. What we see – the alienation of liberals from Israel – is the result of social megatrends that impact many subjects among which Israel is just one. If that’s the case, the conclusion could be: invest in the people with which you have chance (namely, Republican conservatives), and don’t sweat over things you do not control.
What’s the problem with this attitude? Come November 2018, assuming the Democratic Party takes over Congress, the problem will become clear. The party in power will be the one that is less committed to the US bond with Israel.
Should We Panic?
No. The trend is clear, and the new survey is authoritative. But looking at the many surveys done in the last couple of years is a calming exercise. Yes, support for Israel is eroding, but the Palestinians do not gain much. In fact, the trendline is still one of a growing gap between the (higher) support for Israel and the (lower) support for Palestinians.
Take a look (this is based on numbers assembled by Rosner’s Domain):