The Bipartisan Dip In U.S. Support For Israel
Gallup poll finds that ‘liberal’ Democrats express near-equal sympathy for Israelis and Palestinians and that support for Jewish state among Republicans drops significantly
U.S. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s apparent quest to expand the boundaries of what historically has been deemed acceptable criticism of Israel created a firestorm on Capitol Hill and in the media, generating heated public debate over whether bipartisan support for the Jewish state is a thing of the past.
Likely unbeknownst to the Muslim legislator of Somali heritage is that the brouhaha surrounding her comments have overshadowed a steep decline in Republican support for the U.S.’s closest Middle East ally, which perhaps has also gone largely unnoticed due to the perception both at home and abroad that President Donald Trump is the most-pro-Israel American leader ever.
To begin with, Omar’s push to broaden the so-called Overton window has seen her invoke classic anti-Semitic tropes that American Jews use their financial clout to bribe politicians into standing with Israel, and that they constitute a borderline fifth column due to their purported allegiance to the Jewish state over America.
Omar is also a proud and vocal proponent of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, deemed by many as beyond the pale as it uniquely targets Israel for opprobrium despite the vast number of ongoing territorial conflicts around the globe.
Now she has added more fuel to the fire, implying in a Washington Post op-ed that Israel was born because of Western guilt over the Holocaust, albeit while recognizing the Jewish people’s millennia-long connection to the territory. Even while professing “support [for] a two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination,” Omar seems incapable of – or, possibly, unwilling to – set aside what many argue are deep-seated biases.
The question at the heart of the matter is whether Omar is an aberration or, in conjunction with freshman representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and, to a lesser degree, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a fair barometer of future support for Israel among Democrats.
According to a recent Gallup poll, the answer is, not unsurprisingly, complicated.
While the annual World Affairs survey found that sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians (a criterion long-used to determine affinities) among Democrats fell from 49 percent last year to 43% in 2019, the broader picture shows essentially no change since 2001, when the figure stood at 42%.
A deeper dive into the data, though, reveals a telling trend: namely, that Democrats self-identifying as “liberal” expressed near-even support for Israelis and Palestinians, a stark departure from only a few years ago when the net difference in sympathies (i.e., the percentage of liberal Democrats sympathizing more with Israel minus the percentage sympathizing with the Palestinians) was 17 percentage points.
And while a majority (58%) of liberal Democrats still view Israel favorably (notably, favorability ratings for Israel among all American political demographics have increased by about 10% since 2001), the percentage of the cohort maintaining a positive opinion of the Palestinian Authority has risen from 21% to 35% in the past two decades.
A prevalent conclusion is that the farther the Democratic Party shifts to the left, the less supportive of Israel it will be – with one caveat: so long as the Jewish state continues to be viewed primarily through the prism of the conflict.
By contrast, Heather Stone, chair of Democrats Abroad Israel, believes that recent developments in the U.S. are a “non-issue” and represent merely a temporary blip in longstanding bipartisan support for the Jewish state.
“The Democratic Party has always been a big tent and accepting of a wide range of opinions,” she told The Media Line. “[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi is very capable and will be able to manage the diversity of her caucus, including the new young women who entered Congress together and are very vocal and able to use social media to garner attention.”
Stone also noted that the Israeli government had a role to play in upholding the bilateral relationship by demonstrating an “ability to act with transparency, take initiatives toward peace and seek to engage the U.S. on issues that [align] with the democratic values that are so important to Americans.”
The second, almost entirely overlooked, trend is that the percentage of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians fell from an all-time high of 87% in 2018 to 76% today. Despite the previous Gallup poll being conducted amid the anticipation of the Trump administration’s prospective relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which could partially account for the year-on-year decrease (especially when considering the number is still way up from 59% in 2001), the drop in Republican support/sympathy for Israel is, statistically, more significant than the fall among Democrats.
Specifically, while self-identifying “conservative” Republicans have remained consistent – with 87% viewing Israel positively and over 80% sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians – there have been important changes among “moderate/liberal” elements of the party.
In fact, the survey found that this segment’s net sympathy for Israel dropped from 58% in 2018 to 52% this year, whereas the favorability rating for the Palestinian Authority grew from 14% (between the period of 2013 and 2016) to 20% (from 2017-2019).
This, in turn, contributed to total American support for Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians decreasing to 59%, the lowest level in a decade.
Marc Zell, chair of Republican Overseas Israel, described to The Media Line the dip in his party’s support for the Jewish state as an “outlier” and emphasized that the survey had been conducted prior to the controversy surrounding Omar’s remarks and therefore the figures were liable to rebound, in particular in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential vote.
He nevertheless conceded that there was “concern among Republicans about the younger generation of Evangelical Christians…[and] it may be that these Millennials are becoming less passionate about Israel than their forebears.”
Finally, Zell pointed to the phenomenon of “Jewish voters who have long titled heavily Democratic walking away from their party,” saying that it was “unknown how extensive this will be but the movement is gaining traction because of the Democrats’ extreme shift to the Left and its anti-Semitism.”
Indeed, many argue that Omar and her progressive counterparts are by-products of a pre-existing political environment given that support for Israel among liberal Democrats began its accelerated descent during then-president Barack Obama’s second term.
One vivid example of the prevailing mood at the time was the now-infamous Democratic National Convention in 2012, when the crowd erupted in boos over a motion in the party’s platform to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (which, as one might recall, initially was removed and only reinstated amid a backlash).
While focus on support for Israel has since remained primarily on Democrats – for example, following their recent about-face on a resolution originally intended to condemn anti-Semitism but which morphed into a blanket condemnation of all forms of bigotry – Republican backing for Israel might be waning, including among Evangelicals, one of the party’s largest voting blocs, and thus warrants inquiry.
Otherwise, though the sky presently is far from falling, a time may come when the bipartisan congressional position on Israel entails castigating a country that polls show holds the most favorable view of the U.S. in the world.