Israeli daily poll: 47% back Iran strike following nuke deal


Seventy-one percent of Israelis say they believe accord brings Iran closer to bomb, and 51 percent support bypassing Obama in effort to nix it.

Forty-seven percent of respondents in a survey conducted by Maariv, an Israeli daily, supported a military strike to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.

The poll was published Friday after Tuesday’s nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers, which agreed on the details of an unsigned accord that would offer Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for a scaling back of the Iranian nuclear program.

The paper did not give a sample size or margin of error for the poll carried out by Panels Politics Polling Institute. It did not provide information on respondents’ age, gender or religion.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents in the poll said they thought the agreement would accelerate Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, not prevent it as claimed by the powers.

Asked “Do you support independent military action by Israel against Iran if such action is needed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?” 47 percent said yes, 35 percent said no and 18 percent expressed no opinion.

A majority of respondents believed Jerusalem should use whatever means necessary to convince  Congress to reject the deal, while only 38 percent said it was now time to engage with President Barack Obama on the execution of the deal in order to achieve conditions preferable to Israel. Eleven percent said they did not know what the best course of action was.

Poll: Plurality of Americans support Iran deal, half say U.S. should defend Israel


A plurality of Americans support the newly brokered deal with Iran, and half believe that the United States should defend Israel militarily, a new poll found.

Some 44 percent of Americans support the interim agreement on Iran‘s nuclear program reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last weekend, and 22 percent oppose it, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday showed.

The survey also showed that 49 percent of Americans want the United States to increase sanctions if the Iran deal fails and 31 percent think it should pursue further diplomacy, according to Reuters. Twenty percent believe U.S. military force should be used against Iran.

The poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe that Iran’s nuclear program is developing a nuclear bomb. Iran says the project is for civilian purposes only.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of those polled said that that the United States “should not become involved in any military action in the Middle East unless America is directly threatened;” 21 percent disagreed with the statement.

Fifty percent of the Americans polled believe that the United States “should use its military power to defend Israel against threats to its security, no matter where they come from,” and 31 percent disagreed with the statement.

The poll of 591 Americans was conducted from Sunday through Tuesday with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the six-month interim agreement with Iran has not yet started, saying that the next step is “a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement.”

She said the U.S. is “respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place” and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s Parliament on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant, in contravention of the announced agreement. The previous day, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.

Polls: Most Americans support interim Iran deal


Two new polls released this week show most Americans surveyed support easing sanctions on Iran in exchange for a partial rollback of its nuclear program.

A CNN poll released Thursday and conducted by ORC international showed 56 percent of respondents favored “an interim deal that would ease some of those economic sanctions and in exchange require Iran to accept major restrictions on its nuclear program but not end it completely and submit to greater international inspection of its nuclear facilities.” Thirty-nine percent opposed. The poll, based on phone interviews between Nov. 18-20 of 843 respondents, has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

A Washington Post-ABC poll published Tuesday showed 64 percent of respondents support a deal “in which the United States and other countries would lift some of their economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.” Thirty percent opposed. The poll was conducted Nov. 14-17 over the phone and reached 1,006 respondents. It had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Unlike the CNN poll, the Post-ABC poll did not specifically address the crux of the difference between the Obama administration and Israel: Whether Iran should suspend all or some of its nuclear activities in an interim deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by some U.S. lawmakers, has insisted that Iran totally dismantle its nuclear program and end all enrichment in exchange for any easing of sanctions.

A third round of talks between Iran and major powers is underway in Geneva this week.

The Post-ABC poll also showed that only 36 percent of respondents were confident that such a deal would stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while 61 percent were not confident.

Pew study finds a vibrant Jewish community


Over the past week, I have seen a flurry of writing about Pew Research Center’s study on American Jews. Several scholars and communal leaders have taken an alarmist stance toward the findings, calling the increasing rate of intermarriage “devastating” and describing non-Orthodox Jews as “demographically challenged.” As an adviser to the Pew study and researcher of American Jewish communities, I would like to offer a more optimistic analysis.

Some of the articles have looked for the most dramatic findings to report. The Forward focused on the fact that in 1957, Jews made up 3.4 percent of the U.S. population, compared to 2.2 percent today. This decrease can be explained by the steady streams of mostly non-Jewish immigrants from Latin America and around the world, which have increased the U.S. population at a higher rate than the Jewish population. To quote the Pew report, “The number of adult Jews by religion rose about 15 percent over the last half century, while the total U.S. population more than doubled.”

So how many Jews are there? It depends on how you count. The study estimates that there are 8 million people in the United States who are willing to tell a phone interviewer that they are fully or partly Jewish. But many of those are also Christian or have no Jewish ancestry and have not converted. The researchers realized that different readers would want to apply different definitions, so they provided a handy calculator where we can check off boxes and come up with our own estimate. (Missing from that tool is a halachic definition: There are no checkboxes for having a Jewish mother and/or conversion.) If we include only people who say they are Jews and do not also subscribe to another religion, we find 6.7 million. Just people who say their religion is Jewish (called “Jews by religion”): 5.1 million. No matter how you calculate our population, we still have an impressive representation.

The New York Times and other venues reported a 71 percent rate of intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jews, a number I have already heard discussed with concern in various Jewish circles. I contacted the Pew researchers to verify this statistic, as it does not appear in the report. It is accurate (actually, it’s 71.5 percent), but it is a bit misleading. First, it includes only people who have married since 2000 and whose marriages are still intact. Second, it includes Jews of no religion. The sample size was too small to calculate the percentage of non-Orthodox Jews by religion who have married non-Jews in the last 13 years. But if we look at all Jews by religion, we find the recent intermarriage rate at 50 percent (marriages from 2000 to 2004) and then 45 percent (2005-2013); note the drop in the last several years. Third, these calculations include many people who themselves have mixed ancestry. If we look only at Jews with two Jewish parents — common practice in demography, as my colleague Bruce Phillips has explained — we find the intermarriage rate is 37 percent, compared to a whopping 83 percent of those with only one Jewish parent. I asked Pew to calculate the intermarriage rate for non-Orthodox Jews with two Jewish parents, and they complied: 43 percent. Again, the sample is too small to divide these results by year of marriage or even age, but it is clear that the “intermarriage rate” can vary widely depending on how it is calculated.

Instead of bemoaning or even debating the numbers, an alternative response to the survey would be to marvel at the fact that so many Jews still marry other Jews. We live in an age of acceptance: Not only are Christians willing to marry Jews, many (an estimated 800,000) feel so connected to Jews or Judaism that they tell a phone interviewer that they are Jewish, even if neither of their parents is Jewish. Why don’t the vast majority of Jews marry non-Jews? I would suggest it is because synagogues, schools, youth groups, Hillels and other Jewish organizations are creating opportunities for Jews to get to know other Jews.

According to conventional wisdom, Jewish organizations are no longer touching most Jews. The survey finds the opposite: 58 percent of all Jews report that they attend Jewish religious services at a synagogue or other place of worship at least a few times a year. There is little difference among age groups in synagogue attendance.

We see similarly high numbers for Jewish education: 67 percent of respondents participated in some kind of formal Jewish education. And when we look at Jewish day school attendance — the most exclusive and demanding form of Jewish education — we see an increase based on age: Only 17 percent of those 65 and older attended day school, compared to 35 percent of those 18-29. (Note that these statistics include many people of mixed ancestry, and the numbers for “Jews by religion” are significantly higher.)

Synagogues, schools and other organizations are, it seems, succeeding in fostering friendships among Jews: 79 percent of Jews say that at least some of their close friends are Jewish. Interestingly, this is the only item for which the report mentions regional differences. In the West, only 67 percent say that at least some of their close friends are Jewish, compared to 77 percent in the Midwest and South and 85 percent in the Northeast. These numbers are likely much higher in densely Jewish parts of Los Angeles, but to confirm this we’ll need to wait for the next (much-needed) L.A. Jewish Population Survey.

To sum up, yes, the report finds that the Jewish population is changing. Boundaries between Jews and non-Jews have become more porous, and Jews continue to marry the people they love, whether or not they are Jewish. This trend may lead to decreasing numbers of non-Orthodox Jews in the future. But the numbers seem less alarming with a bit of explanation. The Pew study clearly shows that we are still a robust and vibrant community, numbering in the millions — no matter how you count.


Sarah Bunin Benor is Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Jewish Nonprofit Management and Louchheim School for Judaic Studies at USC.

Americans backing Israel in ever-growing numbers, poll shows


Americans' sympathies lean heavily toward Israel over the Palestinians in the highest level of support seen in 22 years.

According to data gleaned from Gallup's 2013 World Affairs poll, 64 percent of Americans support Israel over the Palestinians, with 12 percent backing the Palestinians over Israel. The last time Israel garnered as much support from Americans was in 1991 during the Gulf War.

Republicans are much likelier than Democrats to favor the Israelis, at 78 percent to 55 percent, with independents at 63 percent. But since 2001, independents have shown the greatest gain in support, up 21 percent. The support from Republicans has increased 18 percent during that time and Democrats' backing has grown 4 percent.

Older Americans backed Israel in the greatest numbers, with 71 percent among those 55 and older showing sympathy. The figure fell to 65 percent among 35- to 54-year-olds and 55 percent among 18- to 34-year-olds.

Among young adults, the percentage of those answering no opinion or does not favor either side has increased.

Each age group polled 12 percent in favor of the Palestinians. 

The poll was conducted Feb. 7-10, with a random sample of 1,015 adults aged 18 and older living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.

Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu take 31 seats; Yesh Atid comes in second


Initial Israeli exit polls show the combined Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket won the highest vote total while the new center-left Yesh Atid unexpectedly came in second.

Polls released just after polls closed at 10 p.m. on Jan. 22 reported that the Likud-Beiteinu won 31 seats, down from the 42 the two parties currently hold.

Yesh Atid, led by former television personality Yair Lapid, is projected in exit polls to receive 19 seats.

Channel 1 projected that right-wing parties collectively garnered 62 seats in total, compared to 58 for the left-wing parties.

The channel also projected 17 seats for the Labor party led by Shelly Yachimovich, 12 seats for the Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, and 11 for the Sephardi Orthodox party Shas.

Hatnuah, led by Tzipi Livni, and Meretz, led by Zahava Gal-On, both received 7 seats.

The Arab-Israeli Balad party and the controversial Strong Israel party are each projected to receive two seats in the Channel 1 poll, though other polls projected they would not reach the two percent threshold.

Some 85 percent of the ballots are expected to be counted in the coming hours, with the remaining tallied and announced on the morning of Jan. 23.

Fighting over every percentile: Arguing about the Jewish vote and exit polls


President Obama’s Jewish numbers are down, but by how much and why?

Get ready for four more years of tussling between the Jewish community’s Republicans and Democrats about the meaning of Obama’s dip from 78 percent Jewish support cited in 2008 exit polls to 69 percent this year in the national exit polls run by a media consortium.

Is it a result of Obama’s fractious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Or is it a natural fall-off in an election that was closer across the board than it was four years ago? Does it reflect a significant shift in Jewish voting patterns toward the Republicans?

A separate national exit poll released Wednesday by Jim Gerstein, a pollster affiliated with the dovish Israel policy group J Street, had similar numbers: 70 percent of respondents said they voted for Obama, while 30 percent — the same figure as in the media consortium's Jewish sample — said they voted for Mitt Romney.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the $6.5 million his group spent and the $1.5 million an affiliated political action committee spent wooing Jewish voters was “well worth it.”

“We’ve increased our share of the Jewish vote by almost 50 percent,” he said, noting that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican nominee, got 22 percent in that year’s exit polls to Romney’s 30 percent this year.

Brooks said that his group’s hard-hitting ads, which attacked Obam on his handling of both Israel and the economy, helped move the needle. “There’s no question we got significant return on our investment,” he said.

Democrats insisted that the needle didn’t wiggle so much, saying the more reliable 2008 number for Obama's shae of the Jewish vote was 74 percent, a figure that is based on a subsequent review of data by The Solomon Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with the National Jewish Democratic Council.

“Right now 69 or 70 is the best number we have for this cycle, and 74 percent is the best number we have for four years ago,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a consultant to Jewish and Democratic groups, including the NJDC. “You can intentionally use a number you know has been corrected just for the purposes of comparison, or you can use the data.”

The 2008 numbers, like this year’s, are based on the 2 percent of respondents identifying as Jewish in the major exit poll run by a consortium of news agencies — altogether, between 400-500 Jews, out of a total of over 25,000 respondents. The Solomon Project review, by examining a range of exit polls taken in different states as well as the national consortium, used data garnered from close to a thousand Jewish voters, a number that reduces the margin of error from about 6 points to 3 points.

Whether the 2008 percentage was 74 or 78 — or some other number entirely given the margins of errror — both Republicans and Democrats agreed that Obama’s share of the Jewish vote had declined. Rabinowitz conceded that the Republican expenditure, which dwarfed spending on the Democratic side, might have had an impact.

“What yichus is there in the possibility of having picked up a handful of Jewish votes having spent so many millions of dollars?” Rabinowitz asked, using the Yiddish word connoting status.

Gerstein said his findings suggested that the Republican blitz of Jewish communities in swing states like Ohio and Florida had little effect; separate polls he ran in those states showed virtually the same results as his national poll of Jewish voters. Gerstein’s national poll of 800 Jewish voters has a margin of error of 3.5 percent; his separate polls of Jewish voters in Ohio and Florida canvassed 600 in each state, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

He also noted that there were similar drop-offs in Obama’s overall take — from 53 percent of the popular vote in 2008 to 49 percent this year — as well as among an array of sub groups, including whites, independents, Catholics, those with no religion, those under 30. The only uptick for the president in the media consortium’s exit polls was seen among Hispanic voters, likely turned off by Romney’s tough line on illegal immigration.

“You see a lot of things that are tracking between the Jewish constituency and other constituencies when you look at the shift in Obama’s vote between 2008 and now, “ he said.

The NJDC president, David Harris, attributed what shift there was to the economy.

“American Jews are first and foremost Americans, and like all Americans it’s a difficult time for them,” he said. “The Democratic vote performance has decreased somewhat.”

Gerstein said that the mistake Republicans continued to make was to presume that Israel was an issue that could move the Jewish vote.

“They’ve got to do something very different if they’re going to appeal to Jews,” he said. “The hard-line hawkish appeal to Israel isn’t working.”

He cited an ad run in September in Florida by an anti-Obama group called Secure America Now that featured footage from a press conference in which Netanyahu excoriated those who he said had failed to set red lines for Iran, which was seen as a jab at Obama. Gerstein said that of the 45 percent of his Florida respondents who saw the ad, 56 percent said they were not moved by it, 27 percent said it made them more determined to vote for Obama and only 16 percent said i made them more determined to vote for Romney.

Israel did not feature high among priorities in Gerstein’s polling, a finding that conformed with polling done over the years by the American Jewish Committee. Asked their top issue in voting, 53 percent of Gerstein’s respondents in his national poll cited the economy and 32 percent health care. Israel tied for third with abortion and terrorism at 10 percent.

Gerstein’s national poll showed Obama getting strong overall approval ratings of 67 percent of his respondents, with strong showings on domestic issues like entitlements — where he scored 65 percent — and majority approval of his handling of relations with Israel (53 percent) and the Iranian nuclear issue (58 percent.).

But the RJC's Brooks said he was confident Republicans would continue to accrue gains, saying that with the exception of Obama’s strong showing in 2008, his party has steadily increased its proportion of the Jewish vote since George H. W. Bush got 11 percent in 1992.

“Our investment is not in the outcome of a single election,” he said. “It’s ultimately about broadening the base of the Republican Party in the Jewish community.”

Five challenges facing the American pro-Israel community in the next four years


The American pro-Israel community has a lot of work to do. While many pro-Israel organizations in the United States, including AIPAC, Christians United for Israel, Stand with US and Hasbara have been extremely effective in defending the Jewish State, there is always more we can do. Here is a list of the five greatest challenges facing the American pro-Israel community in the next four years.

The University

Unfortunately, the place where we send our children to grow up and obtain wisdom, the university, is the hotbed of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in America. Who can forget the exchange between David Horowitz and an anti-Israel student at UC San Diego a couple years ago? Mr. Horowitz asked her, “I’m a Jew. The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. [Are you] for it or against it?” The student answered “For it.”

Incitement against Jews and Israel at the university is not unusual at the hate-fest known as “Israel Apartheid Week,” where anti-Semites are invited to rail against the Jewish State. At one event at UC Irvine, Imam Amir -Abdel Malik-Ali—who has called Jews “the new Nazis”— blamed the financial crisis on “Alan Greenspan, Zionist Jew, Geithner, Zionist Jew, Larry Summers, Zionist Jew.” A few years ago, after visiting several universities in the U.S., Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh described what he observed: “I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah…What is happening on the U.S. campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation’ as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.”

Up against such hate and propaganda, the pro-Israel community must fight back. The Horowitz Freedom Center has been very effective, launching important counterattacks like Islamic Apartheid Week and the Wall of Truth, which expose the hateful lies and hypocrisy of Israel’s enemies. The Jewish community must continue to give money to on-campus Israel advocacy organizations, and we must all redouble our efforts to make sure that Israel is adequately defended and promoted at American universities.

The Fringe of American politics

Thank God a majority of elected representatives in both parties strongly support the State of Israel. These members must make sure that the views at the fringe of their parties do not become mainstream. The Republican Party must guard against the likes of Ron and Rand Paul, who would like to see America pull back from the world stage and cease its support for Israel. Fortunately, this movement does not seem to be gaining steam, as every poll shows that the Republican Party overwhelmingly supports Israel.

Unfortunately, however, any serious reflection by pro-Israel Democrats must conclude that there is a problem within their leftwing ranks. Though most pieces of pro-Israel legislation overwhelmingly pass both Houses of Congress, those who abstain or vote in the negative are disproportionately Democrats. In 2009, the House passed a resolution condemning the Goldstone report–which had accused Israel of war crimes—by a vote of 344 to 36. 33 of the 36 who voted against the resolution were Democrats. In 2010, 333 members of the House signed onto a letter re-pledging their support for the American-Israel relationship. 7 Republicans and 91 Democrats withheld their signatures. Furthermore, according to a recent Gallup Poll question–“Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?”—78% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats answered Israel. This poll was reaffirmed when at least half the Democratic delegates to their convention in August expressed their disapproval of Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of Israel.

I am not writing this to score political points for Republicans, but to reveal a real problem within the Democratic ranks. This is so disappointing, because the liberal case for Israel is such a compelling one. Israel treats its minorities better than any other country in the Middle East—out of the 120 member Israeli Knesset, 16 are not Jewish. During its short existence, Israel has welcomed millions of immigrants from all over the world, including Africa and Russia. Israel has a very liberal supreme court, which routinely places restrictions on its military in times of war. Israel is also leading the way with game changing green innovations that will reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, Tel Aviv annually hosts a gay pride parade! What other country in the Middle East would be so inclusive?

American Jewish liberals must do a better job of making this case forcefully and passionately to their Democratic allies.

Apathy

Jews shouldn’t be ashamed to say that support for Israel ranks among their most important political priorities. If it doesn’t, then there is a problem.

According to an American Jewish Committee survey, when asked what political issue was most important to them, 4.5% of American Jews said U.S- Israeli relations, and a paltry 1.3% said Iran’s nuclear program. This is very troubling. If American Jews don’t care enough about Israel’s survival, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, then who will?

Jews in America clearly underestimate how important a strong and prosperous Israel is to the collective Jewish psyche. After all, the welfare of Israel is not disconnected from that of American Jews. If something terrible were to happen to Israel, or should there be a mass migration of Jews out of Israel, the status of the Diaspora would be negatively impacted forever, including in the United States.

A strong Israel with a strong military also serves as a deterrent against terrorist attacks against Jews all over the world. Furthermore, a strong Israel is in America’s national self-interest, as Israel is on the front line in the war against radical Islam.

Using these arguments, the pro-Israel community must do a better job of encouraging our friends and family to become more politically active, in order to promote a strong American- Israel relationship.

Iran and the Economy

America has been mired in an economic crisis since 2008. As such, American citizens and its elected representatives have been almost single mindedly focused on improving the economy. The race for the Presidency has largely been defined by whom could best promote a strong economy, even though the most important Constitutional powers of the President reside in the realm of foreign policy. This is understandable. However, it is up to those in the pro-Israel community to ensure that preventing Iran—which is led by a fanatic who denies the holocaust and wishes to wipe Israel from the earth–from obtaining a nuclear capability is not overlooked.

Unfortunately, this issue has not been addressed adequately to date. Though tough sanctions have been passed against Iran, it continues to spin its centrifuges. We in the pro-Israel community must insist that a credible American military threat be understood by Iran as a reality. This is the only way they will peacefully give up their nuclear weapons program.

To this end, we must write letters to our Congressmen, join pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC, give money to pro-Israel causes, and encourage our friends and family to do the same.

Israeli Delegitimization

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign—which encourages people to refrain from doing business with Israeli companies and universities –was launched against Israel several years ago. The campaign is meant to portray Israel in the same light as apartheid South Africa, a country that institutionalized segregation. Of course, this is complete nonsense, as more than one million non-Jews in Israel enjoy the same rights as Jews.  Furthermore, as cited above, there are 16 non-Jews serving in the Israeli Knesset.

Many college professors and pop music figures in America have embraced this campaign. Roger Waters, the former lead singer of Pink Floyd, is spearheading it. He refuses to perform in Israel and is encouraging his musical cohorts to join him. The Pixies, Elvis Costello, The Gorillaz and Carlos Santana have followed his lead, and have all canceled their scheduled performances in Israel. Famed American actress, Meg Ryan, refused to attend an Israeli film festival, because of what she viewed as Israel’s indefensible actions in response to the Gaza flotilla.

This is deplorable. The pro-Israel community must make it known that boycotting the only Jewish State will not go unnoticed. It is one thing to criticize Israel, which, in proportion and without demonizing, is acceptable. However, it is totally unacceptable to try to destroy Israel economically, which is the BDS campaign’s primary goal.

The pro-Israel community should not support those who engage in the BDS campaign; don’t buy their CDs, don’t go to their shows, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Majority of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel


The vast majority of Israeli Arabs are reconciled with the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and even exhibit a degree of patriotism, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey by Haifa University found that nearly one in seven (68.3%) preferred to live in Israel than anywhere else, even a future Palestinian state. It found that 57.7% are reconciled with Israel as a Jewish democratic state whose day of rest is the Sabbath on Saturday and Hebrew is the main language.

“I wouldn’t say that the Arabs are Israeli patriots. What we found was that they said that Israel was a good place to live in. They have benefits in Israel. They have the rule of law. They have democracy. They have a modern way of life. And all this they appreciate and this is their pragmatism,” Sammy Smooha, the University of Haifa professor who conducted the survey, told The Media Line.”

“When they say they reconcile themselves with the Jewish state this doesn’t mean that they prefer a Jewish state. They prefer to have a bi-national state. This also doesn’t mean they justify a Jewish state,” Smooha added.

The poll of 715 Israeli Arabs released Thursday found that 80% blame the Jews for the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of the expulsion of most (over 700,000) of the Palestinians from Israel during the 1948 war. It also found that 38% participate in events marking the Nakba.

Smooha, who has been monitoring attitudes among Israeli Arabs for more than 30 years, told The Media line that there has been a steady erosion of faith in Israel’s democracy over the years.

Still, it found that the Israeli Arab public-at-large was less extremist than its leadership, he said.

“Their leaders reject Israel as a Jewish democratic state, whereas our studies over the years have found that the Arab public say that while they prefer a bi-national state, they are reconciled with reality and say they have to deal with it,” Smooha explained.

Extremism was not absent from the survey. Nineteen percent of Israeli Arabs denied Israel’s right to exist, as opposed to 11% who expressed a similar view in 2003. Fifty-seven percent of Israeli Arabs said that they would support a referendum that defined Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state that promised full civil rights to Arabs,” compared to the 70.9% who said they would support such a referendum in 2006.

“This poll confirms the continued trend of the hardening of Arab attitudes and the worsening of Arab Jewish relations, but also shows that there is a lot of pragmatism among the Arabs and the framework for Arab-Jewish relations is still in existence and still solid,” Smooha said.

He defined the framework as the acceptance of the state of Israel and the Palestinian state alongside.

Ali Haider, co-director of Sikkuy, an organization pushing for civic equality in Israel, was more skeptical. He said it was important to have surveys to examine trends, but he disliked terms like “co-existence,” “pragmatism” and “alienation.”

“We talk about equality and shared public space and respect of identities,” Haider told The Media Line. “The Palestinian minority in Israel from 2000 until now feels some kind of frustration from the government and Jewish society, especially after the last election,” which highlighted a right-wing agenda.

“Israeli Arabs feel that the government in Israel is working against them. Current trends reflect to the Arabs that they are not welcomed and their citizenship is threatened,” Haider said.

He was referring to the so-called “Nakba Law” which imposes financial damages on any state-funded institution sponsoring a Nakba-related event; imposed civil service; incitement against Arab leadership; and increasing racism by right-wing Israeli leaders.

“I don’t know to which national group we are patriotic, but we want to be citizens of Israel; but on the other hand, we want to keep our Palestinian identity and feel part of the Palestinian people and also citizens of Israel,” Haider said.

“This combination is very complicated. I think that identity is not something static. This is dynamic and people can have at the same time more than one identity and this is the issue.”

Netanyahu the clear favorite heading to Israel’s upcoming elections, Haaretz poll


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can rest easy after reading the results of the latest Haaretz-Dialog poll: Not only does he trounce all his rivals on the question of who is most fit to lead the country, but an absolute majority of Israelis reject the aspersions cast on him last week by former Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin.

Judging by this poll, Netanyahu is the only candidate with a realistic slot of becoming prime minister after the election slated to take place in another four months.

Asked which candidate is most suited to hold the job, 48 percent of respondents said Netanyahu. That is considerably more support than the other three candidates received put together.

His closest rival, Shelly Yacimovich (Labor ), got only 15 percent support. Next came Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ) with nine percent, and finally Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) with six percent. That is a blow to Mofaz, who has been presenting himself as Netanyahu’s only realistic rival.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Polls: Most in U.S. see Iran as threat; majority of Israelis against Iran strike


A poll showed 87 percent of registered American voters believe that Iran’s suspected illegal nuclear weapons program is a threat to the United States.

The poll commissioned by The Israel Project also found that 88 percent of respondents believed that Iran is a threat to Israel.

In addition, three-quarters of the poll’s respondents viewed Iran in a negative light and 82 percent of supporters backed sanctions to stop what Israel, the United States and many Western countries believe to be Iran’s nuclear program. Iran insists the program is for civilian purposes, although it has steadfastly resisted transparency. 

Pollster Neil Newhouse, who oversaw the survey, said “it is clear that Americans see Iran as a threat to the West.”

“The overwhelming support for sanctions is a strong indication that voters believe the U.S. must take an active role in confronting this challenge,” he said.

[Rosner’s Domain: There’s a new Israel-US survey, but don’t be fooled by the headlines]

The poll also showed that a majority of American voters continue to view Israel favorably, with 56 percent of respondents having warm feelings for the Jewish state.

Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted the poll on Feb. 26-28; it has a margin of error of 3.46 percent.

A separate poll conducted by the University of Maryland found that Israelis were wary of a potential airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

According to the poll, only 19 percent of Israelis favored a unilateral action by the Israel Defense Forces, while 42 percent supported a strike only if there was U.S. backing. The same poll found that 34 percent of respondents were opposed to an airstrike.

Shibley Telhami, the Sadat chair for peace and development at Maryland, conducted the poll and said in a news release that “Israeli leaders may decide to strike without U.S. support, but a detailed analysis of the poll suggests that their public wants them to follow Washington’s lead, and Israelis appear to be influenced by America’s judgment.”

The poll was conducted by Israel’s Dahaf Institute on Feb. 22-28 and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Poll: Little support in Israel for solo strike on Iran


A wide majority of Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike on Iran or would favor an attack only if it was carried out with U.S. agreement, an opinion poll showed on Thursday.

The survey by the University of Maryland and the Israeli Dahaf Institute was released before talks next week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama on Iran’s nuclear program.

The poll found that 34 percent of the 500 people surveyed believed that Israel should not strike Iran and 42 percent said it should attack only if the United States backed the decision.

Only 19 percent believed Israel should attack even without the support of Washington, which said on Wednesday that diplomacy and increased sanctions to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions have time to work.

Netanyahu and Obama are to meet at the White House on Monday amid U.S. concern that Israel, which has cautioned that time is running out for effective military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, could attack them.

Though both Israel and the United States have not ruled out the use of military force against Iran, U.S. officials have said such action would be premature and could destabilize the Middle East.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, not to build a weapon. Israel, widely believed to be the region’s only atomic power, has said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence.

Writing by Maayan Lubell

Corruption survey ranking rankles Israel


Israel’s ranking on an annual corruption index should “turn on a warning light,” said an Israeli board member of the watchdog group that issued the survey.

Israel finished 36th among 182 countries in the corruption ranking issued Thursday by Transparency International, while the United States came in 24th. Most other Middle Eastern countries trailed Israel, with the exception of Qatar and United Arab Emirates, which ranked 22nd and 28th, respectively.

The Transparency International index rates countries according to domestic polls reflecting opinions on how corrupt their public sectors are. Under the previous government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel was rocked by a succession of graft scandals, but these have largely ebbed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the exception of the rape verdict against former President Moshe Katsav.

Israel was ranked 30th in last year’s Transparency International index, and the drop in standing was received locally with alarm.

“Israel’s disappointing grade should turn on a warning light among politicians, decision-makers and the entire public,” Amnon Dick, a member of Transparency International-Israel’s board of directors, told Yediot Achronot. “We are perceived around the world as more corrupt than we were the past, and this could have economic repercussions in the future.”

New Zealand topped the list, followed by Europe’s Scandinavian countries Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Somalia was deemed the most corrupt nation.

Polls show strong U.S. support for Israel


Two new polls show a majority of Americans have favorable views of Israel.

A survey by the Anti-Defamation League, which it commissions every two years, found that 49 percent of those polled have greater sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians, a slight increase from the 45 percent figure reported in the previous survey. Only 18 percent favored the Palestinians.

A similar figure was reported in a separate survey commissioned by the pro-Israel media group The Israel Project. That survey found that 60 percent of respondents believed the United States should favor or strongly favor Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. The figure was even higher — 67 percent — among so-called “opinion elite,” a designation based on a respondent’s engagement with foreign policy issues, education and income.

Both surveys were released Nov. 10.

The ADL survey, conducted by Martilla Strategies, polled 1,754 adults in mid-October and has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent. The Israel Project survey was performed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and polled 800 registered voters over four days ending Nov. 2. Its margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.

Evangelical Protestants sympathize with Israel, survey finds


Evangelical Protestant leaders from around the world said they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, although a small majority said they sympathize with both sides equally, a survey found.

Thirty-four percent of respondents in a new Pew Research Center global survey released Wednesday said they sympathize more with Israel, compared to 11 percent who sympathize more with the Palestinians. Some 39 percent said they sympathize with Israel and the Palestinians the same amount.

Sympathy for the Palestinians was strongest among leaders from the Middle East and North Africa, and strongest for Israel among leaders from sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, 30 percent said they sympathized more with Israel, 13 percent said the Palestinians and 49 percent said both sides equally.

Regarding leaders’ views on other religious traditions, Judaism ranked the most favorable among non-Christian groups, with 75 percent of respondents saying they have a favorable opinion, compared to just 33 percent who said they have a favorable view of Muslims, or 30 percent who said they have a favorable view of atheists.

On their views regarding evangelization, 22 percent viewed Jews as a “top priority” for evangelizing, compared to 73 percent who said the non-religious are a priority and 59 percent who said Muslims are a priority.

Israel ranks seventh in happiness level, poll finds


Israel ranked seventh worldwide in the happiness level of its residents, according to a survey conducted by the Gallup Institute.

Some 63 percent of Israelis are satisfied with their lives, Gallup’s global wellbeing surveys in 2010 found. Israel was ranked higher than the United States, which came in 12th place—59 percent of Americans said they were thriving, the indicator of happiness. Thirty-four percent of Israelis said they were struggling and 2 percent said they were suffering, according to the survey.

New Zealand also ranked seventh among the 124 countries surveyed. Denmark ranked first with 73 percent of respondents saying they were thriving.

Among the countries where fewer than 25 percent of citizens said they were thriving were Russia, China and Lebanon.

Some 14 percent of the residents of what the survey calls the “Palestinian territories” said they were thriving, according to the survey.

Results were based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults per country, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2010.

Poll: Majority of Egyptians seek end of Israel peace treaty


More than half of Egyptians say the peace treaty with Israel should be annulled, a new poll has found.

Some 54 percent are prepared to overturn the treaty, with 36 percent saying the treaty should be maintained. Some 10 percent said they did not know, according to a nationwide survey from Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

Some 20 percent of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of the United States, basically unchanged from 17 percent who rated the U.S. favorably in 2010. When asked their opinion about the U.S. response to the political situation in Egypt, 39 percent responded that the U.S. has had a negative impact, while 22 percent say it has had a positive effect. Some 35 percent said that the U.S. has neither positively nor negatively influenced the situation in their country.

Fifteen percent of Egyptians surveyed want closer ties with the U.S., while 43 percent would prefer a more distant relationship. Forty percent would like the relationship between the two countries to be the same as it has been in recent years.

Some 71 percent of Egyptians said a democracy is preferable to any other type of government, up from 60 percent last year. In addition, 64 percent say they favor a democratic form of government over a strong leader.

Meanwhile, 62 percent of Egyptians surveyed think laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Koran.

The survey, conducted March 24 to April 7 in face-to-face interviews conducted in Arabic among 1,000 Egyptians, part of the larger Spring 2011 Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted in 22 countries and the Palestinian Authority under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.  The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Americans oppose unilateral statehood, poll finds


A majority of Americans oppose a declaration of Palestinian statehood absent a peace agreement with Israel, a new poll finds.

The poll released this week by the Israel Project showed 51 percent of registered U.S. voters oppose a proposal that the Palestinian Authority “unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state WITHOUT a signed peace treaty with Israel,” while 31 percent support it.

Republicans were likelier to oppose such a proposal, at 66 opposed to 21 percent in favor,  in constrast to Democrats, with 44 percent opposed and 33 percent in favor, and independents, with 48 percent opposed and 37 percent in favor.

The question is looming because Palestinians are pushing for UNited Nations recognition of statehood in September as a means of pressing Israel to freeze settlements.

Palestinians walked away from direct talks last September when Israel would not extend a 10-month settlement freeze.

The poll also found that voters perceive Israel as working harder for peace.

Respondents who said Israel was making an effort outnumbered those who said it was not, 61 percent to 29 percent. Those who said Palestinians were not making an effort to achieve peace outnumbered those who did 53 percent to 46 percent.

The poll, carried out by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 800 voters between April 5 and 7 and has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

Poll: Half of Israeli Jews hold negative views of Obama


51 percent of Israeli Jews hold negative views of U.S. President Barack Obama, while 41 percent feel positive towards the American leader, a poll released on Thursday by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy found.

According to the poll, the world figure most admired by Israeli Jews is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, with Obama coming in third place.

Not surprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the world leader most disliked by Israeli Jews.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Briefs: Peres elected President of Israel; Oprah criticized for pro-Israel stance


Peres Elected President of Israel

Shimon Peres became Israel’s ninth president. In parliamentary votingWednesday, the longtime leader defeated rival Knesset members Reuven Rivlinand Colette Avital. Rivlin and Avital dropped out after the first round,having received 37 and 21 votes respectively, the Jerusalem Post reported.In the second round 86 Knesset members supported Peres, the only remainingcandidate, and 23 opposed him.

“I have been in the Knesset for 48 years and not for one moment have I lostfaith or hope in Israel,” Peres said in his acceptance speech. “What Israelhas achieved in 60 years, no other country has been able to achieve. I hopeI can represent our faith not because there are no problems but because weall want to overcome them.”

Peres, 83, will assume the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, on July 15for a seven-year term. The presidency will cap a six-decade career in whichPeres has served in virtually every top civilian post in Israel. In 1993 hewon the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

Oprah Criticized for Pro-Israel Stance

Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), a partnership between the East Jerusalem YMCA and the YWCA of Palestine, said in a June 8 letter that Oprah Winfrey’s willingness to visit Israel was “very shocking” considering her image as someone who “stands with oppressed, marginalized people, fights racism, and works for justice and human rights.”

The letter was apparently a response to the talk show host’s declaration last month that she sympathized with the suffering of Israelis and would accept an invitation from Elie Wiesel to visit the Jewish state. Calling Israel’s policies a violation of international law, the JAI invited Winfrey to visit Palestinian areas and “witness firsthand the refugee camps, Apartheid Wall, movement restrictions and ghettos.”

Health Care Tops Poll for Jewish Progressives

An online poll conducted by progressive Jewish Web sites showed health care to be the top domestic political priority. The poll, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, listed 10 issues and asked respondents to pick the five most important. The top five were, in order: health care, the environment, education, civil rights and wages. The other issues, not in order, were seniors, immigration, housing, child-care and hurricane devastation. Each issue was framed in progressive terminology.

The poll got more than 8,600 responses through participating Web sites, including the Shalom Center, Jewcy and the National Council for Jewish Women. Polling experts believe online polls are suggestive at best, as participants are self-selective.

Grinspoon Offers $300,000 for Youth Philanthropy

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation will award $30,000 to each of 10 communities to start a B’nai Tezedek program, which asks teens to contribute a minimum of $125 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to an individual endowment fund. The foundation matches the contribution to help the teens establish a fund of at least $500, from which they make allocations every year. The program, which started in Western Massachusetts, where the foundation is based, is already up and running in 37 communities. The grants will be given on a first come, first serve basis, the foundation announced in a press release.

“It is essential to the future of Jewish society that we get our teens involved in giving to charity in a personally engaging way, and equip them with the tools to become financially intelligent donors,” said Harold Grinspoon, founder and chair of the foundation.

Rabbi Offers Online Advice for Interfaith Weddings

InterfaithFamily.com, a support and resource center for intermarried families, has hired Rabbi Lev Baesh as its first Rabbinic Circle director. The 1994 graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion begins work July 9. Baesh’s main tasks will be referring interfaith couples to rabbis who will officiate at their wedding and running a listserv for rabbis to discuss the issue and share practical tips.

InterfaithFamily.com President Ed Case, who said he receives about 60 requests a month from interfaith couples looking for officiating rabbis. Case says this service differs from the “rent-a-rabbi” phenomenon because the rabbis on Baesh’s list are all carefully vetted, and couples will be steered toward their local synagogues. “Our intention is not to tell rabbis that they should officiate, or pressure them to do so,” Case said.

The Reform movement’s rabbinic association officially discourages intermarriage, but leaves it to the discretion of individual rabbis whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are barred from doing so.

Shalit’s Mother Assails Government

The mother of an Israeli soldier held hostage by Palestinians assailed the government for not doing more to recover him. Aviva Shalit, whose son Gilad was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen last June, broke her silence in a newspaper interview published Monday. Previous public comments on the family’s ordeal have been made by Shalit’s husband, Noam.

“All year I hoped that the repeated promises to do everything for Gilad’s release would bear fruit, but this hope is also beginning to wane,” Aviva Shalit told Yediot Achronot. “My strong feeling is that not enough has been done, because if had they really done everything, Gilad would be home, and so would the other two kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev,” Shalit said, referring to troops held by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon since last July.

Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists, in exchange for Shalit, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled this out for fear of encouraging further kidnappings.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency

Israel Reenters Image Fight on Campuses


More and more Jewish leaders are becoming aware of the dangers posed by a festering anti-Israel sentiment on U.S. college campuses. A recent poll showed that when students were asked whether they were more "sympathetic" to Israel or the Palestinians, 28 percent answered Israel and 22 percent said the Palestinians.

Some may not be too alarmed by those figures. After all, Israel is still in the lead. But given that the general U.S. population sides with Israel by more than 3-1 (49 percent to 14 percent) and that this poll comes at a time when Israel is defending itself against the most unprecedented campaign of terror in history, these numbers must concern all of us.

Israel cannot afford to lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation of American leaders.

When I assumed the office of minister of Diaspora Affairs, I planned to make the deteriorating situation on the campuses a central part of my agenda. But I, myself, did not understand the magnitude of the problem until I went on a tour of colleges in September.

The article I wrote following that visit, in which I argued that the passion, sophistication and intimidation tactics of the forces of anti-Zionism were winning the day against a largely silent and unprepared Jewish student community, spurred much discussion and debate.

This subject is high on the agenda of many organizations that have been warning for years about the growing hostility toward Israel on campuses. And whether it be Hillel dispatching Israeli advocacy interns across the country, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) mounting a voter drive to register pro-Israel voters or the Caravan for Democracy bringing prominent Israeli politicians to colleges across America, these organizations are clearly fighting back.

Equally important, the work of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a partnership between Hillel and the Shusterman family that includes nearly 30 national organizations, shows that efforts to coordinate the work of a number of heretofore separate bodies can be effective.

Individuals have shown that they, too, can make a difference. For example, Joey Low of New York is sponsoring college tours for young, articulate Israelis who show their American peers a different side of Israel than the one they see on CNN. And Rachel Fish almost single-handedly compelled Harvard’s Divinity School to consider rejecting a donation of millions of dollars from an Arab sheik who supports anti-Semitic and terrorist organizations.

But there is one body that for the last few years has been conspicuously absent from this struggle: the State of Israel. During the 1990s, Israel stopped all of its programming on college campuses, as well as many of its auxiliary public relations efforts, because it was convinced that good policies (i.e. the peace process) needed no explaining.

At the same time, our enemies were vastly increasing their efforts to turn America’s future leadership against Israel. By the time the Palestinians launched their war of terror, our enemies on campus faced little coherent opposition in their attempt to delegitimize the Jewish State.

Our government must re-enter the fray and stand shoulder to shoulder with those organizations that have worked so hard on campuses to defend Israel against this unprecedented onslaught. Today, Israel is beginning to do just that. Last month, one part of a Cabinet meeting was devoted to this subject, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on my fellow ministers to get more involved, asking them, among other things, to include college campuses on their itineraries when they travel abroad.

Next week in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish state and the spiritual center of the Jewish people, 1,000 Jewish students from around the world will gather to address the critical issues facing them and to chart a course of action. I am proud to be hosting this first-ever "summit," which was made possible by the coordinated efforts of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Hillel, the Israel on Campus Coalition and the World Union of Jewish Students, as well as a number of other student organizations.

Israel is also coordinating a project aimed at providing information and training to the approximately 2,500 students who are studying there on long-term programs. And the government is working with leading educators and organizations to strengthen Israel studies in Jewish high schools in order to prepare young students to meet the challenges they will confront on campus.

With every initiative, the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs will encourage existing organizations to pool their resources, energies and talents, and we will work to ensure that Israel’s government gives its full support to these efforts.

For my part, I plan to continue emphasizing the issue of human rights. In recent years, the principles of human rights have been twisted beyond recognition and are used as a bludgeon against Israel. Ideas that once were used in the struggle to protect basic individual freedoms are now used to defend regimes that deny freedom to their own subjects and attack states such as Israel that uphold them.

On college campuses, these warped arguments have been packaged to evoke a special resonance, and their false premises must be continuously exposed. Those who would defend Israel must not shy away from the human rights debate. On the contrary, it is precisely in the context of human rights that Israel’s record, as a democracy defending itself against terrorism, is most impressive.

The battle ahead surely will not be an easy one. For too long, too many Israelis felt that the problems in the Diaspora were not their concern.

Likewise, too many in the Diaspora thought Israel’s public relations image was not their problem. Now, we all once again recognize a central truth that we must never forget: We are in this together.

By working hand in hand, we can turn the anti-Israel tide and again make the Jewish State a source of pride for Jewish university students across the world.

Natan Sharansky will speak on Monday, April 19 at UC Irvine. For tickets, call (800) 969-5584, ext. 247.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week.

Most Americans Mistrust Saudi Peace Plan


Only 26 percent of Americans believe the Saudi peace initiative is sincere, according to a new poll of more than 1,000 Americans. Thirty-one percent believe the Saudis launched the initiative to improve their image in the United States. Sixty-two percent of respondents believe the Saudis are not ready to accept Israel’s right to exist.

The plan calls for the Arab world to make peace with Israel in return for a withdrawal from all lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. The survey, commissioned by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, has a margin of error of 3 percent.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency