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Jews increasingly hawkish on Iran, skeptical of Obama

By IPS | Last updated: Oct 22, 2010 - 12:22:02 AM

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Graphic: MGN Online
‘I don't think these results are surprising, especially given the drumbeat of Islamophobia in the American media, the constant pounding on the Iran threat by Israeli politicians and their supporters here, and the Obama administration's repeated failure to explain what it thinks it is doing in the Middle East.’
—Stephen Walt,
Harvard international relations expert

WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - U.S. Jews, who, next to Black Americans, have constituted the minority most supportive of Barack Obama, are growing more skeptical of his performance and increasingly hawkish on Iran, according to a new poll released by the American Jewish Committee.

The survey of 800 self-identified Jewish Americans, the latest in an annual series that stretches back more than a decade, also found a marked decline in confidence over Mr. Obama's handling of U.S.-Israel relations compared to eight months ago when the AJC published its last poll. The poll was released Oct. 12.

While 55 percent of respondents voiced approval—and only 39 percent disapproval—of the Obama administration's handling of U.S.-Israeli relations last March, a mere plurality of 49 percent in the latest poll said they approved now, compared to 45 percent who voiced disapproval.

Support for U.S. military action against Iran “to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons ... if diplomacy and sanctions fail” rose from 53 percent to 59 percent since last March, while opposition to such a course fell from 42 percent to 35 percent over the same period.

As recently as its 2008 survey, the AJC found that 42 percent of respondents opposed an attack, while a 47-percent plurality supported one.

“I don't think these results are surprising, especially given the drumbeat of Islamophobia in the American media, the constant pounding on the Iran threat by Israeli politicians and their supporters here, and the Obama administration's repeated failure to explain what it thinks it is doing in the Middle East,” said Stephen Walt, a Harvard international relations expert and co-author of the controversial 2007 book, “The Israel Lobby.”

“They've let their critics define the narrative, while doing nothing to give anyone on either the left or the right any confidence in their leadership,” he added. “If I'd been asked, I'd have said my approval of the job he's doing was pretty low, too, though I obviously don't agree with the idea of attacking Iran.”

The survey suggested that the hawkish views of the right-wing leadership of major Jewish organizations, including the AJC itself, have been gaining traction with the more-liberal Jewish public over the last eight months.

It was released just before mid-term elections in which Republicans, whose leadership has strongly assailed Obama over his sometimes rocky relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his efforts to engage Iran diplomatically, are expected to regain control of at least one of the two houses of Congress.

AJC president David Harris appeared to echo those Republican themes, claiming that “the nervousness of American Jews about two of our nation's top foreign policy issues and how our leadership is responding” was “the most disturbing” of the survey's findings.

It was the first time the AJC has conducted two polls within a year.

“Things have been very fluid in the Middle East, and we thought this was a good opportunity to look again at the Iran nuclear threat, how it's being handled, and U.S.-Israel relations and the peace process,” said AJC spokesman Kenneth Bandler.

“And we wanted to gauge opinion for the mid-term elections,” he added.

Indeed, the latest poll offered good news for Republicans. One-third of respondents said they believed “the country would be better off if the Republicans controlled Congress.” Historically, Jewish support for Republicans has hovered around 20 percent.

Despite their relatively small number—about two percent of the total U.S. population and about three percent of voters in most elections—Jewish Americans are major donors to political campaigns, accounting for as much as 25 percent of all financial contributions to national campaigns and as much as 40 percent of all contributions to Democratic candidates, in particular.

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Graphic: Tamiko G. Muhammad/MGN Online
Republicans have tried hard in recent years—albeit with little success until now—to divert that funding in their direction, or, if not, to at least persuade Jewish funders to withhold contributions to their Democratic rivals.

Their courtship of Jewish voters and contributors has consisted primarily of stressing their virtually unconditional support for Israel, particularly under Mr. Netanyahu, who has intimate and longstanding ties to leading U.S. neo-conservatives and the Christian Right that make up the right-wing core of the Republican Party.

The latest poll suggests that their strategy may be paying off, as a number of neo-conservative bloggers boasted.

“In answer to the question of whether anything can wean Jews off their sick addiction to the Democratic Party, the answer seems to be ‘Obama,' ” wrote Jennifer Rubin at Commentary's blog, “Contentions.”

She noted that President Obama's overall approval rating among Jews had fallen from 57 percent last March to 51 percent in September, just a few percentage points above the rating given him by the general public.

That observation was also underlined by University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “A 50 percent positive rating for a Democratic president among Jews is, frankly, terrible,” he told the New York Jewish Week.

At the same time, the survey suggested that Jewish disillusionment with Mr. Obama, like the general public's, may have as much as or perhaps more to do with the struggling economy than with his Middle East policy.

His lowest rating—45 percent—came in response to a question about his handling of the economy. On a related question, significantly more respondents said the economy and health care will loom larger in their vote in the upcoming congressional elections than foreign policy or Israel.

Related news:

The Zionist-Jewish Stranglehold over US media (The New Nation, 07-25-2010)

Israeli push for Iranian sanctions losing legitimacy (FCN, 06-27-2010)

Shame on America and the United Nations (FCN Editorial, 06-21-2010)

Brazil-Turkey Deal with Iran frustrates belligerent U.S. policy (FCN, 05-21-2010)

World community backs Iran's nuclear program (FCN, 09-14-2008)

Pro-Israel lobby dictates U.S. policy, study charges (FinalCall.com, 04-05-2006)

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