American Jews are less supportive of a military strike against Iran, in case diplomacy fails to curtail the country’s suspected nuclear weapons program, than they were last year. Yet, barely one in 10 is more optimistic this year about the Middle East peace process — despite the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are back at the negotiating table for the first time in three years.
Those seemingly contradictory sentiments about the power (or impotence) of diplomacy are among the findings of the American Jewish Committee’s annual poll of American Jewry, which was released on Monday.
According to the survey of 1,034 American Jews, 24 percent “strongly support” and 28 percent “support somewhat” U.S. military action against Iran should negotiations fail. That total of 52 percent is a decrease from the 2012 figure of 64 percent; in 2012, 28 percent “strongly” supported a U.S. strike and 36 percent did “somewhat.”
The total support for unilateral Israeli military action against Iran similarly dropped in the last year, from 75 percent to 67 percent; this is is despite a vigorous effort by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to suggest that Israel would act on its own if it believes American efforts in stopping Iran’s nuclear program are not succeeding.
The current figures on Iran also follow an emphasis on negotiations advocated in the last year by the Obama administration, and the so-called charm offensive conducted by newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“Our survey shows that [a majority of American Jews] are particularly worried about Iran’s drive for nuclear-weapons capability,” despite the decrease in the numbers who favor military action, said David Harris, AJC executive director.
The survey’s “unique snapshot of how American Jews are thinking” reflected “a lot of pessimism about the Arab world … a lot of pessimism about the way things are headed” in the Middle East, Harris said, pointing to other figures: 19 percent said prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace have decreased in the last year, while 68 percent said prospects have “stayed the same.” And 75 percent agreed that “The goal of the Arabs is … the destruction of Israel.”
“There’s no reason for renewed optimism” about the situation in the Middle East, Harris said. He added that respondents to the survey also were not optimistic about the renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, perhaps because there has been a news blackout on how those negotiations are proceeding.
The Jewish community was evenly split between support for and opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. Harris said this divide indicates a sense of “schizophrenia” in the Jewish community. “American Jews want peace, but don’t believe Arab intentions.”
The survey also indicated that most American Jews consider anti-Semitism to be a problem in this country. Fourteen percent of the participants called it “a very serious problem,” and 67 percent said it is “somewhat of a problem.” Nearly identical results were reported in the 2011 AJC survey, the last year in which the question about anti-Semitism was asked.
The high level of a sense of a problem of anti-Semitism — a total of 81 percent — “does not surprise me,” said Harris said. “Most American Jews are reluctant to say there is no anti-Semitism.”
He said the latest survey indicated “a hierarchy of concerns” among members of the American Jewish community — greater numbers said anti-Semitism is “a very serious problem” in Europe (38 percent) and in the Arab world (88 percent).
In a finding that mirrors the recently released, and much commented on, Pew Research Center survey of American Jewry, 33 percent of the participants in the study described themselves as “just Jewish,” rather than a member of a particular denomination of Judaism; the Pew study found that 27 percent of Jews used that description.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received the highest grade among likely candidates for president in 2016. She rated 60, on a 0-to-100 scale, ahead of Vice President Joe Biden (45) and current Secretary of State John Kerry (40). All are Democrats. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received the highest grade among possible Republican candidates, at 37.
The poll was conducted on Sept. 30 to Oct. 15. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Among other findings of the survey:
Fifteen percent of American Jews “strongly approve” of the way President Obama is handling U.S.-Israel relations, and 44 percent “approve somewhat.” Nearly identical percentages of the Jews polled indicated support for the president’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program.
Nineteen percent “strongly approve” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct of U.S.-Israel relations, and 52 percent “approve somewhat.”
American Jews are evenly split on President Obama’s conduct of the conflict in Syria. Fifteen percent “approve strongly” 44 percent “approve somewhat,” 20 percent “disapprove somewhat” and 20 percent “disapprove strongly.”
On the question, “Which side do American Jews favor in the internecine Syrian fighting?,” 24 percent of Jews support the rebels, 11 percent support the government and 63 percent say they support neither side.
Most participants approve of how President Obama is handling national security: 23 percent “approve strongly,” 44 percent “approve somewhat,” 18 percent “disapprove somewhat” an 15 percent “disapprove strongly.”
Forty percent of the people surveyed found reason for optimism in the Arab Spring movement that “brought change to several Middle Eastern countries” two years ago. Three percent said they were “very optimistic” an 37 percent said “moderately optimistic.”
Forty-nine percent are “moderately optimistic” about “recent political developments” in Israel; 29 percent are “moderately optimistic.”