“This threatens to end the support the American people give the State of Israel.” This fear has been expressed countless times over the past 74 years of Israel’s existence. Israeli operations, incursions into Arab populations and policies vilified as oppressive, have all caused Zionists to worry whether Israel was risking a significant drop in the American people’s traditional support of the Jewish state. Besides the loss of Presidential and Congressional support of Israel, Zionists constantly fear the loss of the American people’s support of Israel. Current events in Israel are complex and require analysis and nuance to grasp. All too often Americans rely on superficial and biased reports to form opinions about Israel. This is an unfortunate reality and often leaves Americans asserting inaccurate criticism of Israel.
Zionists’ latest worry about a drop in American popular support came last May. Responding to Hamas rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, Israel bombed Hamas strongholds and rocket positions. The anti-Israel narrative quickly spread on social media and spread to traditional news outlets and was even given voice a few months later, on the floor of Congress. Zionists the world over, but especially American Zionists, were worried if this widespread false narrative about Israel was the start of something more ominous, specifically a change in popular American perceptions of Israel. The fear of popular American support isn’t truly about “Joe in the Street,” but about elected officials sharing negative views about Israel and a drop in American military and diplomatic support for Israel. Israel currently enjoys over 4 billion dollars in military aid from America and the American veto at the United Nations Security Council. The fear is that support could disappear if American popular opinion about Israel shifts against Israel. American policy, the thought goes, is influenced by public opinion.
Young Americans between the ages of 18-30 cause particular concern to Zionists. Showing only 36% support for Israel in a recent Gallup poll, many Zionists are claiming they’re losing the younger generation to Israel’s opponents. Academic boycotts, BDS student resolutions, and “Apartheid Week” on campuses throughout America only cause more concern. Zionists spend millions of dollars on student advocacy programs designed to give Pro-Israel students the tools they’ll need to counter anti-Israel narratives spread by professors, students, and activists on the college campus. Yet, few are asking the question if the fear of losing American popular support is really warranted or is this an industry talking point and nothing more?
I do have to admit that I am not impartial on this topic. The Zionist community pays me generously to educate its youth about Israel in order that they’ll have the tools to defend Israel on campus and online. It’s in my interest to highlight the fear of the anti-Israel narrative and make it seem as concerning as I can to Zionists. For that reason, I might be the best voice to deliver the shocking message that we don’t have as much to fear as we’ve convinced ourselves. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, or better yet, to put it in truly neurotic Jewish terms, it’s always been this bad.
The fear Zionists express is that in polls measuring how favorable American public opinion is towards Israel, the favorables are low and assumably dropping. This is worrisome as long as the numbers are actually dropping and that American public opinion about Israel influences American government policy towards Israel. The good news is that looking at past polls, tracing numbers and policy demonstrates three things; poll numbers aren’t low, poll numbers have been consistent from past polls until today and when poll numbers have fluctuated, they’ve had little to no influence on American government policy towards Israel.
In a 1997 Gallup poll 42% of American above fifty years old and older favored Israel, in 2018 that number had risen to 54%. In that same poll, 40% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 49 favored Israel, and in 2018 that number stayed stable at 34%. 32% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 favored Israel in 1997 and in 2018 that number had also stayed stable at 36%. While below 50% numbers might seem low, in American polling these numbers are actually healthy. Polls are greatly dependent on the question being asked. When asked if their sympathies lie with Israelis or Palestinians, in 2001, 51% of Americans said Israelis and 16% answered Palestinians. When that same question was asked in 2021 58% of Americans answered Israelis and 17% said Palestinians. Over 60%
The biggest comfort to worrisome Zionists should be about American youth. Contrary to the widespread belief that American youth are moving away from Israel, two factors show the opposite. First, the poll numbers of favorables towards Israel have been consistent for the past twenty-five years. Second, if a low number of American youth favored Israel twenty-five years ago, we would expect to see Israel’s favorable among middle age Americans (the same youth, just older) drop twenty-five years later. It turns out, as American youth mature, they develop a more favorable impression of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship.
We find a few examples of times where poll numbers on favorables towards Israel have fluctuated and yet they’ve had little to no influence on American government policy. This is true whether the numbers have risen or dropped. During the first Persian Gulf War, favorables towards Israel was at its highest ever point and yet even though the United States had previously agreed to provide Israel $10 billion in loan guarantees to help Soviet Jews resettle in Israel, President Bush said that the United States would not issue those guarantees until Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed to halt its settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza and enter a peace conference with the Palestinians. Israel’s favorable numbers were the lowest in May 2021 and yet Congress and the administration overwhelmingly supported Israel and its right to defend itself. It’s clear public opinion plays little role in how the President and Congress decides to support Israel.
American government support for Israel has rarely been based on public opinion. The President and Congress have supported Israel based on American national security interests and shared values. It’s in America’s best interest to have a strong relationship with Israel. Israel’s intelligence, research, and technological innovation all contribute to America’s increased national security. In the dark neighborhood of oppressive Middle East regimes, Israel’s values of freedom and equality shine bright. Americans see Israel as a country like their own and naturally gravitate towards it. When support for Israel dips in polls, Zionists should realize it’s part of the usual cycle and has little effect on American government policy.