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Is The GOP The Pro-Israel Party?

What last week’s poll really meant

Marc Tracy
March 02, 2010
President Obama yesterday.(Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)
President Obama yesterday.(Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images)

Both James Besser and Shmuel Rosner—two of the shrewder analysts of Jewish-American politics—highlight (Besser here, Rosner here) the same dynamic from that poll last week that showed historically high American support for Israel. Namely: there is a whopping 37 percent gap between the two parties’ pro-Israel-ness, with 85 percent of Republicans saying they “support” Israel and only 48 percent of Democrats saying that.

How does this square with the fact that most American Jews continue to stick with the Democratic Party (or at least its candidates)? For Besser, the juxtaposition of the Democratic turn from Israel and continued Democratic support among Jews is less a function of Democrats, and particularly Democratic Jews, forsaking Israel, and more of most Jews deciding Israel is just not hugely important any which way: perhaps, Besser argues,

rank-and-file Jewish voters know Republicans tend to be more hard-line supporters of Israel, or at least of current Israeli policy, and they don’t much care.

Maybe that’s because a lot of American Jews don’t like current Israeli policy, either.

Or it’s because Israel just isn’t a big factor in their political decision-making. …

Maybe the Democrats aren’t as gung-ho about Israel, or at least the current Israeli government, but nobody’s saying Israel’s aid should be cut off, a Democratic president isn’t pounding Israel with a diplomatic sledgehammer, so what’s the big deal? Where’s the crisis?

That final point—where’s the crisis?—is especially compelling. If it’s true, though, does mean that the worst that could happen to the Democrats as far as Jewish support is concerned would be for a prominent Democrat to say that Israel’s aid should be cut off, or for the Democratic president to pound Israel with a diplomatic sledgehammer.

I’d offer one more possibility: maybe the question over “support for Israel” obscures a nuance that liberal American Jews, and many liberal Americans of all groups, hold dear. Many of these folks, after all, support Israel but affirmatively don’t support many of Israel’s current policies; and, moreover, they see that disapproval as being very much in the service of that fundamental support. They oppose settlements, they would tell you, because they support Israel. That may not be the type of support that polls such as this one can trumpet, but it’s also nothing that Democrats should be embarrassed about, or worry about.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.