Leon Hadar

The War and Americans’ Attitudes Towards Israel

Good News: Americans support Israel. Bad News: Young and non-white Americans not so much.

International crises, in particular, wars, can act as major game changers when it comes to public opinion. They can have a big-bang effect on attitudes relating to a country’s foreign policy and its place in the world.

Hence the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor helped transform the then mostly isolationist sentiments among Americans, driving them to support the entry of the US into World War II and to embrace an internationalist foreign policy agenda.

When it comes to Israel, the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948 ended-up “Zionizing” large segments of the American public, including a mostly non-Zionist Jewish community, sentiments that were reinforced after Israel’s military victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Some would argue that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the images of the massacre in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps delivered a blow to Israel’s public image among Americans, in particular among members of the left-leaning segments of the public who were already critical of its treatment of the Arabs in the occupied territories.

So could the horrific images of the massacres perpetrated by the Hamas terrorists inside Israel, and the killing and kidnapping of innocent civilians, including children and women, lead to changes in the American public’s attitudes towards Israel?

It may be too early to answer this question, and a lot depends on the effect that the expected Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, that could involve large number of Palestinian civilian casualties, would have on American public sentiments.

But the results of a latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel, suggest that the American public’s attitudes towards Israel, in general, and across generational and racial lines are unlikely to change anytime soon.

The good news for Israelis is that according to the poll, two-thirds of Americans say that the United States should publicly support Israel in the war between Israel and Hamas.

When the poll was conducted — and before the Israeli incursion into Gaza — more Americans, but not a majority, thought that Israel’s response has been appropriate, though an overwhelming number of respondents were worried the war would spill over into a broader regional conflict.

Overall, 65 percent of Americans said the US should support Israel publicly. That was true of big majorities of both parties, 77 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Republicans, and 54 percent of independents.

But there were major differenced in public attitudes across generational and racial lines. Hence 78 percent of those 45 and older thought the US should take a publicly pro-Israel stance, but just 48 percent of those under 45 said that.

In fact, just 48 percent of Gen Z/millennials said the US should publicly voice support, as compared to 63 percent of Gen X, 83 percent of baby boomers and 86 percent of the Silent/Greatest generation, those who were fought or were born during World War II.

When it came to race, while 72 percent of whites thought the US should take a public stance supporting Israel, only 51 percent of nonwhites agreed with that stand.

Moreover, 8 in 10 Americans said that they were concerned that the Israel-Hamas war would lead to a broader conflict in the Middle East, a position shared by 87 percent of women as opposed to 71 percent of men, reflecting a certain gender gap.

More Americans, 44 percent, said Israel’s response was “about right” when the poll was conducted, while a quarter said that it was “too much” while a quarter said it was “too little.”

According to the poll, Democratic men were the most likely to say that Israel’s response was “too much” (44 percent), followed by those who live in big cities (41 percent), those under 45 (37 percent) and, interestingly enough, Biden supporters (37 percent).

At the same time, white men without college degrees (45 percent), Republican men (44 percent), white evangelical Christians (40 percent) and Donald Trump supporters (39 percent) said that the Israel response was “too little.”

By a margin of 53 percent to 41 percent, respondents said they believe US support for Israel made the Middle East safer.

But again there was a generational gap, with the majority (54 percent) of younger Americans. Gen Z/millennials saying that US’s support for Israel was making the region more dangerous.

And again there was a racial divide. By a 49 percent to 42 percent margin, nonwhites said US support for Israel makes the region more dangerous. Whites were 17 points more likely compared to nonwhites to say US support for Israel made the region safer.

The results of the poll suggest that while President Joe Biden has taken a staunch pro-Israeli stand after the Hamas attack, some segments of his electoral base in the Democratic Party, in particularly, the young and African Americans don’t agree with his policies towards the Jewish State.

These Democrats were much less supportive of Israel, than Republican and conservative voters, including Trump supporters, who ironically were opposed to President Biden in general.

About the Author
Leon Hadar is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program. Dr. Leon Hadar served as Washington correspondent for The Business Times of Singapore and as the New York and United Nations bureau chief of The Jerusalem Post and The London Jewish Chronicle. He is a contributing editor with The National Interest and The American Conservative, having contributed regularly to The Spectator, and is a columnist and blogger for Haaretz (Israel). He holds three Master’s degrees, one in political science and communication from Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and two from the School of International and Public Affairs and the School of Journalism (where he was the recipient of the Henry N. Taylor Award) at Columbia University where he also received a certificate from the Middle East Institute. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the American University, Washington DC. He has taught international relations, Middle East politics, and communication at the American University and the University of Maryland, College Park, and was the director of international studies at Mount Vernon College in Washington.
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