J Street Poll shows strong support for Obama, weak support for Lieberman and complex views about Iran and Gaza.

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

James Besser in Washington

A new poll by J Street, the pro-peace process political action committee and lobby, contained good news for President Barack Obama, worrisome signs for incoming Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu and some predictably bad news for Jewish organizations facing an unprecedented economic crisis.

The survey portrayed a community that is pro-peace and that supports a stronger U.S. peace role, but is also not too inclined to challenge Israeli policies on issues like its military response to rocket attacks from Gaza.  Jews supported the recent Israeli military actions in Gaza – but don’t believe they made Israel more secure.  The survey also revealed uncertainty about the best way to deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran.

A Jewish community that gave 78 percent of its vote last November to Obama continues to back him with 73 percent approval of his performance as president. The numbers were fairly consistent when narrowed down to his handling of the economy and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu party leader and in all likelihood the next foreign minister, didn’t fare as well, although the way some questions were asked may have skewed the results.

Lieberman scored near the middle on a “warmness” scale – below Obama, the Democrats and Middle East envoy George Mitchell but ahead of the Republicans, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

One question cited Lieberman’s views on the “execution of Arab members of Israel’s parliament who met with Hamas” and his campaign message calling for “Arab citizens of Israel to sign a loyalty oath to the Jewish state,” and asked if respondents support those positions; 69 percent said no, 31 percent yes.  42 percent said they “strongly oppose” those positions.

But as the Jerusalem Post’s Hilary Krieger pointed out in a teleconference with pollster Jim Gerstein, J Street excluded Lieberman positions that might generate a more favorable rating, including his views on secular marriage.

Still, 32 percent said his appointment as foreign minister would weaken “my personal connection to Israel because Lieberman’s positions go against my core values.”  Gerstein said that number went up to 40 percent for respondents under 30 years old; that “should be particularly disturbing to those who are concerned about the connection of young Jews to Israel,” he said.

A majority approved of Israel’s recent military action in Gaza – but 41 percent said those actions had “no impact” on Israel’s security, a tie with those saying it made Israel more secure;  18 percent said the Gaza operations made Israel less secure.

Asked if Israel’s response to Palestinian attacks was “disproportionate” given “hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis resulting from a month of no electricity and clean water” – a question that might be seen as loaded –  69 percent said no, 31 percent yes.  But a slim majority also said that “Israeli military actions that target terrorists, but kill Palestinian civilians create more terrorism instead of preventing terrorism.”

Asked about expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank, 60 percent said they oppose, 40 percent support.  By a 2-1 margin, respondents said they would support working with a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas.

The poll contains numbers showing that J Street, which is about a year old, is starting to gain traction with American Jews – but that it still has a ways to go  before challenging AIPAC.

Asked if pro-Israel groups that “lobby Congress to support every Israeli government policy” – an obvious reference to AIPAC –  are helping or hurting Israel’s security, more said helping than hurting.

Still, the poll seems to back up some key J Street arguments, starting with the claim that the Jewish community is more progressive, with more nuanced views about issues such as U.S. “pressure” on Israel, than the major pro-Israel groups admit.

Finally, participants were asked whether the recession is affecting their charitable and political giving.  42 percent said the economic crisis was reducing their giving to non-Jewish organizations and charities and 35 percent said they were cutting their giving to Jewish ones.  21 percent said they had cut or will cut their contributions to synagogues.

Interestingly, they were also asked about their connection to mega-swindler Bernie Madoff.  Only 2 percent said they were “personally affected” by his giant Ponzi scheme, but 17 percent said they knew someone who was affected and 28 percent said “an organization I support has been affected.”

And the 6 percent of Jews who must be living in caves said they “do not know about the Bernard Madoff financial scandal.”

The Internet-based survey examined a sample of 800 Jewish respondents.

There’s lots more here; take a look at the data and the J Street spin at their Web site.

You can also read a biting critique on Shmuel Rosner’s blog over at the Jerusalem Post.

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.