Polls Show Strong, Nuanced Support for Israel in Gaza Fight

Friday, January 16th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

For pro-Israel groups that have been fighting the PR wars since the latest Gaza conflict began in December, the polling news has been mostly good, with indications Americans to blame the Palestinians for the current violence much more than they blame Israel.

What is unclear: just how high a priority the issue is with a populace that has its mind on other things, starting with their disappearing 401Ks an disappearing jobs.

The Israel Project, as usual, offered the most comprehensive poll, and not surprisingly it showed strong support for Israel despite European and Third World hostility.  But TIP’s numbers were consistent with other polls that weren’t commissioned by advocacy groups.

You can read the poll here, so there’s no need to go through all the numbers. But a few things stand out.

Asked who wants peace and who doesn’t, 48 percent Israel’s leaders do, only 5 percent said the Palestinian leadership.  27 percent said “neither,” 11 percent didn’t know.

In the blame game, 18 percent blame Israel to some degree, 56 percent blame the Palestinians.

Asked what’s important in the conflict, 91 percent said “getting Palestinians to stop shooting rockets into Israel,” 41 percent said “getting Israel to stop its military incursions into Gaza” and 41 percent said “getting Israel to open all the borders to Gaza so that goods and services  can flow freely to the Palestinians.”

Those numbers suggest some nuances in the reaction of Americans.

Jewish groups have clearly done a good job getting across the idea that Palestinian rocket fire is the most important cause of the current conflict.

But a significant minority (41 percent) see Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a problem, although probably not the one that precipitated the current crisis.

And 38 percent say “getting Israel to stop expanding its settlements and give up land to the Palestinians” is important.

How much do people actually know about the Gaza situation?

In the Israel Project poll, 74 percent say they have “seen, read or heard” a lot or some about the situation, 25 percent say “not much or nothing.”  But that’s a pretty rough measure; there’s a big difference between reading in-depth stories in the New York Times and catching sound-bite news items on CNN or Fox.

Still, the nuances in answers suggest a fair amount of knowledge.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows that almost have of those polled say the Palestinians are to blame, compared to just 18 percent who point  the finger at Israel.

Asked if U.S. policy in the conflict is fair, 37 percent said it is too “one sided.” Of that group, 30 percent said U.S. policy is skewed to Israel, 3 percent to the Palestinians.

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.