New Poll Reveals Jews May Be Open to Change in Israel Policy

J-Street, a “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” lobbying group founded last year to counterbalance the legendary clout of the right-leaning AIPAC, is celebrating the release of its new polling data, which seems to demonstrate that the majority of American Jews are on their side. Here are some of the key published statistics from their “National Survey of American Jews”:

*President Obama enjoys a high level of support in general, and 69% of respondents view his position on the Middle East favorably. (More on this in a moment.)

*88% want active American involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and a slightly smaller number would tolerate pressure being exerted on both sides.

*69% were in favor of negotiations with a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas, and 76% percent expressed some degree of support for the “two-state solution” as outlined in the 2000 Camp David and Taba talks. (This was the agreement, often said to have been rejected by Arafat, but which actually fell apart due to a complex series of failures on both sides).

The 69% of respondents (the number is even higher among Jews under 30) opposed to Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist politician who has advocated the “transfer” of Israeli Arabs and will most likely be taking up a minister’s portfolio in the new Netanyahu government, further emphasizes the survey’s dovish tilt.

But an important question to ask is: what does it mean that so many American Jews support Obama’s stance, when that stance, to date, has been best described by observers as “enigmatic”? How well will these numbers hold up if Israel’s “most favored nation” status is truly challenged by an American administration?

Despite some American Jewish alienation from Israeli policy, backing for a bold new direction in the peace process is not entirely solid, a fact reflected in the same survey.

40% of respondents continue to support West Bank settlements, which, no matter how J Street chooses to spin it, is not an insignificant number. 75% supported the IDF operation in Gaza, though only 41% believe Israel is now more secure. And as for Iran, negotiators and hardliners are running neck-and-neck.

The stakes are high. If President Obama attempts to take a harder line with Israel he risks alienating his Jewish base. At the same time, if American Jews are not willing to support the president, they risk a diminishment of their own political capital if he does it anyhow.

The J Street data, if nothing else, indicates that there is at least the potential for collaboration between the administration and the Jewish community on a more even-handed American engagement with the Middle East. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens when the Obama doctrine is clarified.