x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

US Jews 'want peace in Middle East'

J Street Poll shows that American Jews support peace in the Middle East and negotiations for a Hamas-Fatah government.

NEW YORK // Two out of three Jewish-Americans support negotiations with a Hamas-Fatah unity government and are split about whether the United States should attack Iran, according to the latest poll by J Street, a dovish lobbying group. There was overwhelming support for active US engagement to bring about Middle East peace, including a role for Washington as a "fair and impartial broker" rather than one that "sides with Israel". "Overall, this poll demonstrates that American Jews take very sophisticated and nuanced positions when it comes to American policy towards the Middle East," Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director, said. "While some of the louder voices from the American Jewish community focuses exclusively on the need to confront Iran, or isolating Hamas, or on military aspects of the conflict, American Jews as a whole understand that diplomatic engagement with Iran or with a unified Palestinian government, which includes Hamas, are essential Israeli and American interests," he said. J Street's self-declared intention is to present a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" stance in contrast to bigger and more established lobbying groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). Launched last year, the group distributed US$570,000 (Dh2.1 million) to House and Senate candidates last year, making it "the largest of several dozen pro-Israel PACs in the country", it said. The poll was conducted among 800 self-identified adult US Jews, and such demographic details as synagogue attendance or age reflected those of other surveys, for example, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. When asked whether the United States should attack Iran if it was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, US Jews were split 41 per cent to 40 per cent while 16 per cent chose neither. There was a 39 per cent to 37 per cent split when asked to choose between direct negotiations that provide Iran with incentives to abandon its nuclear programme and sanctions that force Iran to choose between nuclear weapons and international isolation. On the Gaza Strip, the poll found that 3-1 US Jews "approved" of Israel's massive offensive at the beginning of this year although 59 per cent said it had either no effect on Israel's security or made it less secure. Gerstein/Agne Communications, which wrote the questionnaire for the poll, said it was important to note the survey was conducted before recent revelations of the reckless behaviour of some Israeli soldiers during the offensive and that American Jewish attitudes were still evolving. "When Israel is threatened, American Jews will rally to its defence. J Street too is unwavering in its commitment to Israel's security," Mr Ben-Ami said. "However, we - and American Jews as a whole - can move beyond simply choosing sides to ask what's best for Israel." Seventy-six per cent of US Jews supported a two-state solution, such as that nearly reached eight years ago. J Street noted disapprovingly the lack of such support by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader who is likely to lead the next Israeli government. Jewish-Americans were also strongly opposed to settlement expansion in the Palestinian territories, including 64 per cent of those who follow the Reform strand of Judaism and 72 per cent of those who give money to political campaigns. But 80 per cent of ultra-Orthodox Jews strongly supported settlements. There was also strong support for Barack Obama, the president. However, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, scored notably higher support at 70 per cent than the 42 per cent for George Mitchell, the Middle East envoy, who is half-Lebanese. Nonetheless, 57 per cent thought he should act as a "fair and impartial" broker compared to 25 per cent who thought he should side with Israel. More broadly, US Jews did not consider themselves conservative, with 73 per cent having an unfavourable view of Rush Limbaugh, the outspoken radio show host who recently said again that he wanted Mr Obama to "fail" in his reform efforts. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, and the Republican Party as a whole, also scored similarly poor ratings. The seemingly liberal tilt on Israel of the Jewish community in the US, and of the Obama administration it overwhelmingly voted for, has raised concern within conservative circles in the United States as well as in Israel. Many took note of a recent speech that was critical of both Israel and the Palestinians by Gary Ackerman, a pro-Israel Democratic congressman from New York. "The downward pressure comes from terrorism and the march of settlements and outposts, from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms ? It comes from tunnels in Gaza and from digging in Jerusalem as well," he recently told the House of Representatives' Middle East subcommittee, which he chairs. "There is no moral equivalence between these acts, but they are part of the same destructive dynamic." Charles Freeman, an Arabist diplomat who recently withdrew from his appointment to a top US intelligence post, blamed "character assassination" by the pro-Israel lobby after denunciations of his criticism of Israel and his ties to Saudi Arabia and China. Aipac did not openly lobby against him and opposition to Mr Freeman appeared to be driven by hawkish internet campaigners. sdevi@thenational.ae