American Jews would like to see former President Bill Clinton named a special Middle East peace envoy, and they support an active United States role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — even if it means publicly pointing out U.S. differences with Israel and the Palestinians.
Those were some of the findings from a post-election national survey of 800 Jews by independent pollster Jim Gerstein for the liberal pro-Israel lobby group J Street. (J Street favors an active U.S. role in the Middle East peace process.)
Most of the attention about the poll focused on the fact that 69 percent of Jewish voters supported President Barack Obama. (That figure was less than the 78 percent exit polls said the president received in 2008; a subsequent analysis earlier this year put the figure at 74 percent.)
The poll, which was conducted by e-mail Nov. 6 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent, found also that although Israel views Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb as an existential threat that must be dealt with by next summer, American Jews don’t see it as a high priority. In fact, 61 percent said the U.S. should address both Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the same time. Only 29 percent believe the U.S. should give the Iranian nuclear threat a higher priority.
Asked to name the two most important issues facing the U.S. today, only 2 percent said Iran — the economy came in first at 53 percent and health care second at 32 percent. Israel was sixth at 10 percent, tied with abortion and terrorism.
Gerstein said American Jews’ minimal concern about Iran “shouldn’t be surprising.”
“When most people wake up, they are concerned about paying their bills, about college costs and vacation plans,” he explained. “They are much less concerned with things that do not concern their daily lives.”
The survey asked Jews to rate people and organizations, with 100 being the most favorable. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a mean score of 59; President Barack Obama’s mean score was 60; Vice President Joe Biden’s was 54, and Bill Clinton scored the highest with 67.
Another surprising finding from the poll — given the major contention by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that Obama has failed to be fully supportive of Israel — was that 53 percent of Jews said they believed Obama “would do a better job” dealing with Israel while only 31 percent believed Romney would.
“The gap between conventional wisdom about what Jews think and what they actually think is a very big gap that always gets reconciled on Election Day,” Gerstein said, noting that Obama received 69 percent of the Jewish vote.
He pointed out that the survey found that 45 percent of Jews reported seeing television ads or mail critical of Obama for his positions or actions against Israel.
“But they also reported that these ads did not move them towards Romney,” Gerstein said.
In fact, 38 percent said the ads actually “made them more likely to support Obama” and 40 percent said they made no difference. Only 23 percent said they made them more likely to support Romney.
Fully 84 percent of Jews would support Clinton’s appointment as a special Middle East peace envoy to help Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a final-status agreement.
Interestingly, although the Jewish establishment saw former President George W. Bush as one of Israel’s most supportive American presidents, Jews gave him a mean rating of only 32; Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s was only 34 and his vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, received a mean score of 30.
The Democratic Party’s mean score was 56, the Republican Party’s was 33 and the Tea Party movement’s mean score was 24.
Regarding Middle East peace, 76 percent of Jews said they would support the U.S. offering its own Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that proposed borders and security arrangements.
In addition, 72 percent said they favored a final-status agreement that called for a demilitarized Palestinian state; financial compensation for Palestinian refugees, with some Palestinians to return to Israel for family reunification; internationally recognized borders based on the 1967 border with mutually agreed land swaps and the resettlement of most West Bank Jews within Israel proper; Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem would become part of a new Palestinian state; international forces would monitor the new Palestinian state and border crossings.
(It should be noted that the questions made no mention of the fact that Hamas, which has vowed to destroy Israel, controls the Gaza Strip and is unwilling to negotiate with Israel.)
Regarding Iran, 47 percent of American Jews favor more diplomacy and sanctions before setting red lines that if crossed would trigger an American military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And 46 percent believe the interests of Israel are best served when the American Jewish community speaks with a unified voice on Israeli government policy.
American Jews are split about Israel’s treatment by the United Nations, with 51 percent believing it is treated fairly and 49 percent unfairly.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he plans this month to ask the UN General Assembly to recognize an independent Palestinian state, but only 35 percent of American Jews believe the U.S. should vote in favor while 44 percent are against.
Fully 82 percent of Jews support a two-state solution that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem if it resulted in all Arab countries establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel. An equal number believe a two-state solution is needed to strengthen Israel security and ensure its Jewish democratic character, and that it is important for America’s national security interests.
Of the 800 Jews polled, 32 percent said they were Reform, 27 percent Conservative, 10 percent Orthodox and 2 percent Reconstructionist. Another 27 percent said they were unaffiliated. Almost half of the respondents said they had attended formal religious services only a few times a year or hardly ever. Forty-one percent said they belong to a synagogue, and 31 percent said they have been to Israel.
The Republican Jewish Coalition commissioned its own exit poll of Jewish voters that focused strictly on politics.
It found Jewish support for Romney at 32 percent, roughly the same as found in the polls by the national media consortium and Gerstein. Matt Brooks, the group’s executive director, noted that four years ago Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona received 22 percent of the Jewish vote, “an increase of almost 50 percent.”
The RJC’s national poll of 1,000 Jews found that 49 percent were Reform, 31 percent Conservative and 12 percent Orthodox. It said that about half said they attended synagogue services regularly or at least once a week.
It found that only 22 percent of Jews said “issues concerning Israel” were “not important” in making their decision on whom to vote for president.
In addition, 39 percent of those polled labeled themselves as politically liberal, 25 percent conservative, and 31 percent moderate. Some 63 percent had a favorable opinion of Obama; 35 percent had a favorable opinion of Romney. And 45 percent said Obama is more pro-Israel, while only 23 percent said he is more pro-Palestinian.
Asked about party affiliation, 56 percent said Democratic, 19 percent Republican and 23 percent independent or no party.
Of the respondents, 53 percent were women, nearly half were in the 41-64 age group. Thirty-one percent lived in the Northeast, with 29 percent in the South, 23 percent in the Midwest and 17 percent the West.