J Street Poll: Jews Eager for Compromise but Wary on Jerusalem; Good but not Great News for Obama

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

A new poll by J Street, the pro-peace process political action committee and lobby, showed overwhelming Jewish support for new peace moves in the region, but strong resistance to territorial compromise on Jerusalem.

The survey of 800 respondents by the new group, which is trying to convince lawmakers and congressional hopefuls that it’s okay to support a more robust peace process, also included these predictable findings:  American Jews strongly disapprove of the war in Iraq and by an even bigger margin disapprove of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job.

Overwhelmingly, Jews surveyed say Israel is less secure since Bush moved into the White House.

But that didn’t necessarily translate into great news for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama.  Asked about their current presidential choice this year, 58 percent indicate they back Obama, with another 4 percent saying they “lean” toward the Democrat.

If those numbers hold, Obama would still win a majority of Jewish votes -62 percent – but fall short of recent Democratic presidential nominees.  And Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, would get about 32 percent, a big increase from President Bush’s 24 percent in 2004.

J Street being a pro-peace process group, it’s hardly surprising the group asked questions about Jewish support for the kind of strong U.S. involvement the group advocates.

87 percent in the poll say they support “the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The pollsters then added a zinger to the question, asking whether they would support such a role “if it meant the United States publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs.” Support dropped only slightly, to 86 percent.

Then J Street asked the question again, this time asking whether respondents favor an active peacemaking role if it means U.S. pressure on both sides to achieve a compromise.  Support dropped, but again only slightly – to 81 percent.

When asked simply if they support “a two-state solution that declares an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, resulting in all Arab countries establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel and creating an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” 78 percent said yes, 22 percent said no.

But support dropped when they asked if respondents supported a full peace that included an Israeli withdrawal from “most of the West Bank” and the dismantling of “many of the Israeli settlements, with 59 percent supporting, 40 percent opposing.

The numbers flip when it comes to Jerusalem; 56 percent say they would oppose ceding Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to a new Palestinian state, suggesting that the city has a much stronger emotional hold on Jews than the territories, that groups like the Orthodox Union that have been campaigning against any compromise on Jerusalem are having an impact – or both.

J Street’s goal is to create a “comfort zone” for politicians who support Israel but also support a more active peace process and more extensive compromises.

That was explicit in several questions asking respondents to evaluate statements from “a candidate from Congress,” and say whether the statement would make them more or less likely to vote for the candidate.

Not surprisingly, candidates who reflected J Street positions did the best.

The survey also asked a number of questions about Christian Zionism and its most visible practitioner, Pastor John Hagee, whose Christians United for Israel (CUFI) holds its Washington Summit next week.

Hagee, who has stated strong opposition to territorial compromise and support for Israelis who want to remain in the West Bank, fared poorly when respondents were asked about  their feelings towards individuals and organizations; only 7 percent view the CUFI founder positively, barely above the 5 percent scored by Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  On a different question, 50 percent said they had a negative impression of CUFI, 19 percent a positive one.  A full 30 percent said they didn’t know anything out the organization.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), once an icon of the Jewish community, was viewed unfavorably by 48 percent, favorably by 37.

Finally, the poll suggests that Israel, while an overwhelming political priority for the activist community, remains far down the list for Jewish voters in general.

Asked about the “issues…most important for you in deciding your vote for President and Congress this November,” 55 percent said the economy, 33 percent the war in Iraq, 21 percent health care, the same for terrorism and national security.

Israel registered at only 8 percent as an issue in the elections.

There’s a ton more data; read it at the J Street Web site.  Scroll down the page and look at the documents.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.