Jewish Democrats strongly agree with the Israeli position and disagree with President Obama's on issues such as a Palestinian state, settlement construction and trading land for peace. Does the president realize he's at risk of a break with an important part of his base?
A phone survey (sponsored by the Traditional Values Coalition and conducted by Global Marketing Research Services on July 22-24) of 500 American Jews who self-identified as Democrats exposes broad disagreement with Obama's Middle East policies.
Asked to choose between the Obama view that "if Israel could settle its dispute with the Palestinian refugees and give them a nation of their own, that the Arabs would live in peace with Israel" and the Israeli government view that "the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel and that giving them a nation of their own will just make them stronger," Jewish Democrats sided with the Israeli view by 52 percent to 20 percent.
On the contentious issue of construction in existing West Bank settlements, Democratic Jews also sided with Israel more than with Obama. The survey asked for agreement with Obama when he "says that it is very important that Israel not expand its settlements on the West Bank so as not to alienate the Palestinians," or with Israel that "it should be allowed to build new homes in existing settlements but not to start new ones" and got 52-37 backing for the Israeli view.
Democratic Jews still strongly back Obama in general, with 92 percent reporting that they approve of the job he is doing as president. But 44 percent feel that "Obama is naive in thinking he can make peace with the Arabs," while only 37 percent disagree.
Nearly half of Jewish Democrats still reject the idea that Obama is biased against Israel: In all, 49 percent said he wasn't and 16 percent said he was but a significantly large number, 35 percent, said they were undecided.
By 58-16, Jewish Democrats agree that "Obama is doing a good job of promoting peace in the Middle East." But they share Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's skepticism about trading land for peace, the cornerstone of the "road map" to a settlement laid out in the 1990s.
Only 27 percent feel that "President Obama is right that Israel should agree to let the Palestinians form their own country and return the West Bank to them. This would defuse the hatred in the Middle East, reduce terrorism and help America, the Palestinians, and Israel live in peace."
But 55 percent disagree, preferring the statement: "President Obama is naive in thinking that the Palestinians would make peace, whatever they say. They will just use the new land as a base to attack Israel like they did in Gaza."
On the issue of Iran, Jewish Democrats are confused. While they agree, by 67-8, that "if Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will use them to destroy Israel," only 14 percent said it was "very likely" that "Israel could be destroyed by an Iranian nuclear attack in the next 10 years." Another 37 percent called it "somewhat likely" and 40 percent said "unlikely."
Only 40 percent said they thought Obama is doing a good job in his efforts to "stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons." At the same time, by 15-62, they disagree that "Israel should bomb Iran to stop them from developing nuclear weapons."
Yet, only 38 percent felt that there "is a real chance that Iran can be stopped from developing a bomb without an Israeli attack."
Jewish Democrats heartily approve of Israel and most of its policies and emphatically reject any moral equivalence between the Jewish state and the Palestinian refugees:
92 percent have a favorable opinion of Israel; just 17 percent have a positive view of the Palestinian refugees.
By 81-6, they agree that "Israel is a democracy and has a free political system."
They agree that "it is very important that Jews have a country of their own, considering their history of persecution" by 86-7.
Emphatically, by 9-75, they reject the claim that "Israel has become a bully, pushing its Arab neighbors around."
By 14-55, they disagree with the accusation that "the Israeli Army and Mossad are guilty of human-rights abuses." Rather, they say by 59-14 that "the Israeli Army and Mossad go out of their way to avoid hurting civilians."
Asked if "Israel is always trying to grab more land and throw out the Palestinians who live there," Jewish Democrats disagree by 11-73. And they also disagree with the charge that "Israel is intolerant of its neighbors and does not do enough to get along with them in peace" by 13-70.
The pro-Israeli mindset of Jewish Democrats is most evident on the basic question of who's to blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict. By 60-20, they agree that "if the Arabs lay down their weapons, there would be no more war. It is just their desire to destroy Israel that creates the conflict." Likewise, they agree by 83-6 that "if Israel were to lay down its weapons, the Arabs would destroy it."
The fervency of their support for Israel suggests that Obama may suffer real political damage among a core Democratic constituency if he continues his current policies.