One of the problems with the assessment of the U.S.-Israel alliance is that it tends to be judged primarily by the state of the peace process and the relationship between the Israeli prime minister and the American president. It is no secret that based on those criteria, ties have been frayed. Nevertheless, the strength of the relationship, which has survived far worse disagreements in the past, lies in the depth and breadth of ties at the state, local and federal level.
Despite the efforts of the Israel deniers, economic relations have never been more robust. Trade exceeds $36 billion and more than 10,000 U.S. companies do business in or with Israel. In addition, more than 20 states have their own agreements to cooperate with Israel in a variety of areas such as tourism and trade. Exchanges also take place in virtually every imaginable field, from forestry to agriculture to biotechnology. Nearly every federal agency has an agreement with its Israeli counterpart in areas such as space, environmental protection and education. Thousands of university researchers work collaboratively with Israelis in science, agriculture and other academic fields. Missions of first responders, law enforcement officers, educators, national security officials and other Americans seeking to learn from the experience of Israelis are routine.
Even more important, despite the political disagreements, and the obsessive criticism of Israel in the media, the American people recognize that Israel is the one democracy in the Middle East, that it shares American values and interests, is a loyal ally and is clearly distinguishable from its neighbors. This support is consistently borne out in surveys, including the most recent ones taken amidst tensions between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
According to Gallup, for example, 62% of Americans sympathize with Israel, the same figure as last year, and just below the record high of 64%. By comparison, only 16% sympathize with the Palestinians. If we look at 250 polls taken since 1967, Americans support Israel over the Arabs/Palestinians by more than four-to-one. In 86 Gallup polls, support for Israel has increased from an average of 42% in the 1970s to 63% in the last six years. In fact, despite the Obama Administration’s frequent criticism of Israel, public support for Israel during his term has averaged 62%, the highest figure during any post-67 presidency.
Seven in 10 Americans also view Israel favorably, trailing only a handful of other nations in popularity. By contrast, Palestinian approval is only 17%, placing it among the most unpopular nations, such as North Korea and Iran.
According to Gallup, “a key reason Americans’ sympathy for Israel has solidified at a sizeable majority level is that Republicans’ support for the Jewish state has increased considerably, rising from 53% in 2000 to more than 80% since 2014.” In addition, contrary to claims by some of Israel’s Jewish detractors, “Democrats’ support for Israel has also risen since 2000, but not quite as sharply as Republicans,’” and it has slipped in the last year in reaction, most likely, to the Obama-Netanyahu tension. Still, as pollster Mark Mellman noted, “Democrats are no less supportive of Israel than they were in the 1970s….The gap that exists today is completely a function of increased Republican support and not by any decline in Democratic support.”
Another canard disproved by the data is the claim that Israel is losing the support of young Americans. The February 2015 Gallup poll found that 57% of Americans 18-29 sympathize with Israel. This figure is higher than that for 30-49 year-olds (55%) but less than the support of those over 50 (69%). If you look at 13 polls for which age data is available, support among the youngest cohort on average is 47% compared to 52% for the next oldest group and 49% for the oldest.
Furthermore, the data also reaffirms the conventional wisdom that political opinions change over time. Take for example, the group over 50 in the 2015 survey. They would have been in the youngest cohort 21 or more years earlier. In 1993, 41% of the youngest respondents supported Israel. This indicates that younger Americans today are more supportive of Israel than in 1993 and that the young people of that year increased their support as they grew older by 18%.
One other interesting finding in the latest Gallup poll is that Americans are not convinced of the merits of creating a Palestinian state. The 2015 survey found 42% in favor – the lowest figure since 2000 — and nearly as many Americans (38%) opposed to Palestinian statehood. This may reflect a recognition that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza did not bring peace and that a Palestinian state may pose a serious security threat to Israel. Those who do support a Palestinian state overwhelming say their sympathies are more with the Palestinians (75%) than the Israelis (36%).
The disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu will certainly have repercussions, but they will not fundamentally impact ties between the two countries that have only grown stronger – sometimes despite their leadership – since Harry Truman recognized Israel in 1948. The bedrock of this friendship and alliance is the recognition of the American public that Israel and the United States have shared values and interests.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby and Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews.