While presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continue their race to the Democratic convention, the former secretary of state remains the presumed candidate despite the Vermont senator’s string of primary victories. Another disconnect within the party — one with direct impact on the Jewish community — is that it is losing pro-Israel voters to the Republicans by a disturbingly wide margin.
A recent Pew study on “American Views Toward Palestinians” found that “the partisan gap remains wide,” with 75 percent of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel (7 percent for the Palestinians) compared to 43 percent of Democrats favoring Israel and 29 percent for the Palestinians.
That gap is consistent within the Democratic Party itself, with conservative and moderate Democrats sympathizing with Israel by a 2-to-1 margin — 53 percent versus 19 percent for the Palestinians — while liberal Democrats sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel, 40 percent to 33 percent.
Not surprisingly, Clinton supporters favor Israel (47 percent to 27 percent) while those who prefer Sanders’ more even-handed approach favor the Palestinians (39 percent to 33 percent for Israel).
Most troubling are the trend lines among younger Democrats, where the erosion of support for Israel has grown in the last decade. In 2006, 9 percent of younger Democrats sympathized more with the Palestinians; today, 27 percent are in that camp.
Another finding is that 61 percent of Democrats overall believe a Palestinian state can coexist in peace with Israel, compared to 38 percent of Republicans.
These numbers should not surprise those who follow political trends, which indicate that minorities, women and young people — the fastest growing segments of the population — are less supportive of Israel than older white men.
One can attribute the statistics here to any number of reasons, from the policies of the government in Jerusalem, to the successes of those seeking to delegitimize Israel, to the widening liberal-conservative gap in our country on so many issues. But the message to the Jewish community should be clear. We need to do a better job of explaining Israel to a new generation of Americans, including many Jews, who are unfamiliar with the Jewish state’s history and its moral and strategic importance to the U.S.
Rather than cast aspersions on people for their lack of support for the Zionist cause, we need to educate and convince them that it is a just one.