Political splits affect American attitudes on Jews and Israel

While attitudes towards Palestinians and Israelis have changed, this is not the case with the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Workers at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem prepare for the upcoming visit of U.S. President Joe Biden, July 12, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Workers at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem prepare for the upcoming visit of U.S. President Joe Biden, July 12, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

American awareness of the increasing attacks against Jews and the growing threats faced by Israel may not be reaching key audiences. Three new surveys on the perception of American Jews and Israel show changing views that reflect demographic and political trends.

Most U.S. Latino Millennial and Gen Z leaders believe that anti-Jewish hatred deserves the least urgent attention among minority groups, according to a just-released American Jewish Committee study. Half of Latinos categorize Jews as “white”; a slight majority think that Jews do not face significant levels of discrimination; only 14% believe that antisemitism is getting worse; and Jews do not need help from the Latino community to combat anti-Jewish hatred.

The AJC survey also asked participants about their views of Israel. About twice as many young Latino leaders are more sympathetic to Palestinians than they are to Israel. The reasons cited for favoring Palestinians include many of the falsehoods pushed by anti-Israel activists, including that Israel is a criminal colonial state, against a peaceful solution and the aggressor against oppressed Palestinians.

Echoing this sentiment, an annual Gallup poll revealed that Millennials and Democrats sympathize more with Palestinians than with Israelis for the first time in the survey’s decades-long history. While Republican sympathy remains consistent over the past decade, there has been a notable drop among Democrats and Independents. In 2023, 49% of Democrats sympathize with the Palestinians versus 38% of Republicans. The biggest drops in sympathy towards Israelis in the past 10 years by generation were found among Millennials and unexpectedly, the Silent Generation—those born before 1945.

While attitudes towards Palestinians and Israelis have changed, this is not the case with the Palestinian Authority and Israel. American views of Israel have remained fairly consistent over the last decade—68% favorable—though favorability toward the Palestinian leadership has nearly doubled to 26%. Support of the P.A. among Democrats and Independents is growing while favorability for Israel is declining.

Gallup cites political polarization as one of the reasons for changes in support for Israelis and Palestinians. The polling organization also mentions decreases in religious observance as affecting results. Historically, sympathy for Israel is highly correlated with religion and religious attendance at places of worship.

Reactions to the Gallup poll from the American Jewish community were mixed. CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition Matt Brooks stated that declining Democratic support for Israel “is an extremely troubling trend.” His counterpart at the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer, indicated that “there is no contradiction between being pro-Israel and supporting Palestinian rights” and support for Israel continues in Congress and the White House.

In contradiction to the rising rate of anti-Jewish hate in the U.S., Americans have a more positive view of American Jews than other religious groups. The Pew Research Center’s study on inter-religious relations reveals that 34% of non-Jews have a favorable rating of Jews compared to only 7% who have an unfavorable rating. Mormons had, by far, the most positive attitudes towards Jews, followed by Protestants and Catholics. The lowest views were among those without a religious affiliation. Also, Democrats have a slightly less positive view of Jews than Republicans but substantially more positive compared to views of other religious groups.

Two-thirds of Americans report knowing someone who is Jewish despite Jews making up only about 2% of the U.S. population. Americans knowing at least one Jew had double the favorability rating of Jews than those who did not know any Jews.

Points to consider:

  1. American Jews are a diverse community that needs to be better understood.

They are culturally and ethnically diverse with Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities that date back to before the American Revolution. There are Jews from Ethiopia and Asia; and a growing number of Latino, Asian and African-American converts. Even many Jews are unaware of the diversity within the American Jewish community. Americans often perceive Jews as “white,” despite the repeated deadly attacks perpetrated by white supremacists. The Gallup survey shows the importance of knowing Jews and it is vital to understand issues affecting the American Jewish community. The AJC survey on young Latino leaders revealed a stark disconnect between their perception of antisemitism and the disproportionate number of hate crimes against Jews. Leah Soibel, the founder and CEO of Fuente Latina, a media organization serving Latin news outlets, said: “It’s not necessarily a case of Hispanics not liking Jews, but rather not knowing us.”

  1. Partnerships between American Jews and other minority groups are needed.

Hatred is a systemic problem, not only for Jews but also for other minorities in America: Asians, Latinos, African-Americans and other ethnicities. The Jewish community is very small and cannot stand up against hate without a chorus of solidarity from other communities. Hands of mutual support must reach across the barriers that have the power to either divide or diversify us. Interfaith relationships among Christians, Muslims and Jews have helped the Jewish community in Colleyville, Texas, recover from last year’s trauma. There is a critical need to work together in the fight against all forms of discrimination. There shouldn’t be a minority when it comes to condemning hatred. When Jews and their allies stand together against hate-mongers who would seek to attack Jews and other minority groups in America, a mighty majority is formed.

  1. Political polarization shapes Americans’ perceptions of Jews and Israel.

The increasing polarization of Americans from the political left and right is shifting public attitudes on Jews and the Jewish state. Support of Israel among Americans who identify as Democrats and Republicans is often closely associated with how each political party views Israel. Republicans often had more negative views of Israel but this began to change in the 1990s and accelerated following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. On the other hand, support among Democrats has weakened as the more vocal far-left voices are influencing the political party’s positions on Israel. Many Americans know little about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and often automatically lend their support based on their political affiliation. History shows that these views change, so it is crucial that American Jews create partnerships that are independent of political views.

  1. Supporting Palestinians and Israelis is not mutually exclusive.

Americans do not need to choose a side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In a recent interview with political commentator and TV host Bill Maher, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and Delegitimization Noa Tishby, stated: “I’m pro-Israeli and I’m also pro-Palestinian.” It is possible to support both the Palestinian and Israeli people without regard to their governments. Unlike the freedoms enjoyed by Israelis—regular elections, freedom of speech and a free press—Palestinians do not have these democratic norms. Palestinian Authority leaders use their education system as an indoctrination system. Many Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, yearn for the same freedoms that Israelis enjoy. Striving for a peaceful solution that allows both Palestinians and Israelis to live in dignity with freedom is a worthy goal.

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