US opinion on Palestine is finally starting to shift

US opinion on Palestine is finally starting to shift
Comment: American Jews are abandoning support for Israel in favour of universal human rights, starting with those of Palestinians, writes Usaid Siddiqui.
5 min read
13 Jul, 2018
Pro-Palestine Orthodox Jews gather at the Philadelphia Democratic Convention in 2016[Getty]
Last month, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a Jewish advocacy group, published a comparative survey on American and Israeli Jewish opinion that has ruffled some feathers in the pro-Israel camp.

The surveys were conducted via telephone interview from April to May of this year with a sample of 1,000 Israeli Jews, and 1,001 American Jews, all over the age of 18.

According to AJC CEO David Harris, the "surveys are important barometers of the perceptions and views affecting current and long term relations between American Jews and Israelis, the two largest Jewish populations in the world".

Highlighting what the group calls "serious divisions" between the world's two largest Jewish communities, the report details divergent attitudes on several issues ranging from the peace process to Israeli settlements.

A growing split

On the question of whether they would favour a two-state, demilitarised Palestinian state, almost 60 percent  of US Jews interviewed said they would favour such a proposition, compared to only 44 percent of Israelis, with 48 percent of those surveyed opposing it.

Regarding the unrelenting creation of illegal settlements in the West Bank, over half of the American Jewish group (59 percent), said they should all, or somewhat be dismantled, while Israeli Jews who strongly or somewhat disapproved of the notion were a whopping 89 percent .

The recent US embassy move also elicited a sharp divide in opinion.

Israel's oppression of Palestinians has become a source of tension for US Jewish liberal sensibilities

When asked if they "support or oppose the recent US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to relocate the US embassy there", American Jews supporting the transfer were 46 percent for, and 47 percent against, while 85 percent of their Israeli counterparts said they supported the move, with just seven percent opposed to it.

This poll reveals that when it comes to Israel's cruelty towards the Palestinians, whether it's the persistent bombing of Gaza, or the demolition of Palestinian homes to make room for settlements in the West Bank - few American Jews are willing to defend it actions. In fact, they have become gradually more vocal in their criticism of the Jewish state.

Read more: What Obama 'didn't know' about Palestine is almost unfathomable

Moreover, American Jews are arguably one of the most liberal groups in America on issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, and women's rights. Israel's oppression of the Palestinians has therefore become a source of tension with their liberal sensibilities; especially among young Jews, for whom Israel plays little role in their politics, compared to previous generations.

Peter Beinart, a prominent Jewish writer and author of the book 'The Crisis of Zionism' recently stated that,

"When I talk to younger people, if they become convinced that what is on offer is one state, they will move toward saying the fundamental issue for us is basic human rights… if we cannot secure basic human rights for Palestinian people in a two-state solution… we'll have a debate about the one-state solution."

Beinart asserts that "I have very little doubt that a very large percentage of younger American Jews… will choose what they see as human rights and equality - even if it means the end of the Zionist dream"- a viewpoint not without merit.

2013 Pew survey showed that only 25 percent of Jews aged 18-29 believed the Jewish state was "making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians".

survey of San Francisco Bay area Jews found that among the 18-34 age group, only 11 percent said they would describe themselves as very attached to Israel.

Many also happen to be staunch supporters of the Democrat party, whose members as a whole, Jewish or otherwise, who have been increasingly supportive of the Palestinian cause in recent years.

Regrettably however, the leadership of the organisation remains hesitant to lend their support to the Palestinian cause, even at times actively undermining their voter base.

Democrat and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer has remained steadfast in his support for Israel, praising Trump's Jerusalem embassy move, that coincided with the Great Return March protests in Gaza which have so far killed 145 Palestinians. 

The Senator's out of touch move was met with a stern reply from many in the party, including the group If Not Now, who blockaded his office for 90 minutes, demanding he condemn Israel's recent killings of the Great Return March protestors - a day that ended in seven Jewish activists being arrested.

Hope for the future

Despite the old guard's resistance to criticising Israel's actions, or to challenging the powerful US Israel lobby, some Democrat lawmakers have been given some cause for hope.

In April, Vermont Senator and former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders introduced a letter in Congress demanding the Trump administration pressure Israel's hand, to end the inhumane blockade of Gaza. This past May, Sanders - a Jew himself - released a video showcasing Palestinian voices in Gaza describing their pain, a move unprecedented for a mainstream US politician.

Even on the hot button issue of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) that the Democratic leadership has unequivocally condemned - some even vowing to actively fight it - cracks in the party line are evident.

Pandering to Israel's interests or those of their supporters in the US is no longer a definitive pre-condition to having a real shot at American politics

California earlier in February this year adopted a resolution that vowed to fight anti-BDS bills that would effectively ban organisations that boycott Israel, a move that the courts have consistently rejected, as it undoubtedly tramples numerous free speech laws.

Furthermore, the recent win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a New York congressional race against an incumbent and Democrat loyalist, has been a promising story.

Cortez was 
unrepentant in her criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza calling the death of over 50 Palestinians on 14 May a "massacre" and asserting that "Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else". "Democrats can't be silent about this anymore", she boldly stated.

Her remarkable win has shown that pandering to Israel's interests or those of their supporters in the US is no longer a definitive pre-condition to having a real shot at American politics, a notion to which people like Schumer should pay close attention.

The tide is slowly, but surely, turning.

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. 

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.