US support for Israel eroding, but not among Trump voters, poll finds

The whiter, richer and more right-wing you are in America, the more likely you are to support Israel. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Back in January, I wrote that President Donald Trump’s tight embrace of Israel may accelerate Israel’s loss of support among key segments of the American public.

Now, a new YouGov survey for The Economist confirms that support for Israel aligns more than ever with Trump’s base – a hotbed of right-wing, white nationalist and Christian Zionist views – while eroding among other Americans.

Today, just 37 percent of those surveyed are prepared to describe Israel as an “ally” of the United States – a remarkably low number given the record-setting military aid Israel receives and the constant professions of “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries from American politicians across the political spectrum.

Overall, another 25 percent say Israel is “friendly,” while nine percent view it as “unfriendly,” 23 percent are unsure and six percent say Israel is an outright “enemy.”

White, richer and male

But notably, the number saying Israel is an ally drops to just 29 percent among women, 25 percent among 18-29 year-olds, 19 percent among Black Americans and 22 percent among those the poll calls Hispanics.

Those most likely to see Israel as allies are men (46 percent) and whites (43 percent).

Lamenting these findings, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev observes that they show a marked deterioration over recent years:

“In 2015, 47 percent of Americans described Israel as ‘an ally.’ In 2017, the number was down to 41 percent. In the most recent poll, the figure is even lower, at 37 percent.”

Support for Israel is also concentrated among those who are richer and more conservative.

One quarter of Democrats consider Israel an ally according to the poll, a number that soars to 57 percent for Republicans.

Similarly, only 29 percent of those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 say Israel is an ally, while that view is held by 65 percent of Trump voters.

Among those earning less than $50,000 per year, 29 percent see Israel as an ally, whereas half of those who earn $100,000 or more hold that view.

In brief, the whiter, richer and more right-wing you are in America, the more likely you are to support Israel.

Losing liberals

Shalev observes that although the poll indicates “a slight increase in support for Israel among Republicans/conservatives, it does not offset the sharper drop in support among Democrats/liberals.”

Views of Israel are therefore becoming ever more sharply partisan, a real vulnerability for the Israel lobby, which used to foster and count on support across the board.

The steady erosion of liberal/left support for Israel in Western countries is why Israel’s propaganda efforts have focused on trying to split progressives and co-opt some of them.

Israel’s propaganda messaging targeting the left includes greenwashing – falsely marketing Israel as environmentally friendly – and pinkwashing, a strategy that deploys Israel’s supposed enlightenment toward LGBTQ issues to deflect criticism from its human rights abuses.

Regard for Israel remains reasonably high overall – 62 percent view Israel as either an ally or friendly, according to the poll – especially when compared with the results for states that are routinely demonized in US media, including Turkey, Iran, China, Russia and North Korea.

But as Shalev notes, Israel’s standings “pale in comparison” to those of Canada (81 percent “ally” or “friendly”) and the United Kingdom (80 percent), and Israel’s position is lower than Germany (68 percent), Japan (69 percent) and South Korea (68 percent).

This poll confirms long-term trends about the profound change in the profile of support for Israel, which includes a dramatic erosion of support among younger American Jews.

It also suggests that the tens – perhaps hundreds – of millions of dollars Israel and its lobby are spending on shoring up that support has been a very poor investment.

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I'm not sure that surveys of this kind have much evidentiary value. The question of whether one regards Israel as an ally of the United States can't be answered in the simple fashion suggested in the YouGov poll. There seems to be an assumption that if the respondent agrees that Israel is indeed an American ally, then he/she views both Israel and American policy favorably. In fact, it's entirely possible to see Israel and the United States as the closest of collaborators while holding the view that either or even both are engaged in despicable criminal behavior both separately and together. In my own case, I couldn't logically contest the proposition that an intimate alliance exists between the two powers. That doesn't mean I'm happy about it. Until surveys ask whether subjects approve of these relations, and whether they support the actions of the states involved, very little of substance can be gleaned from such exercises. Naturally, I look for encouraging signs, like anyone else. But it's hard to read tea leaves mixed with coffee grounds.

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It must be the support of the 5 plus million US Evangelicals that are keeping the Trump/Israeli relationship strong, ever hopeful that they will be present for the Second Coming.
Any minute now man !!

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.