Huddling in the Middle



The American Jewish Committee is out with its annual survey of U.S. Jewish opinion, and the major conclusion is not very surprising: When it comes to Mideast issues, at least, most Jews cling close to the center.

Among the findings from the 800 respondents interviewed between Aug. 30 and Sept. 17: Some 60 percent favor the dismantling of some or all of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, compared to 37 percent who say that none should be removed.

At the same time, 58 percent say that Israel should not be "willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction," with just 37 percent in favor.

On the establishment of a Palestinian state, 49 percent of those surveyed favor it, with 41 percent opposed.

Asked whether they agreed or disagreed that "the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel," a whopping 75 percent said they agreed.

On Iran, 56 percent of American Jews would support the "United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons." That's an increase of 14 percentage points from the AJC survey taken in the fall of 2008. In addition, 66 percent of those surveyed said they would back an Israeli strike on Iran.

None of this should come as a shock. Given the dismal state of affairs with regard to the long-dormant peace process and the increasingly alarming threat from Iran, even the most liberal and optimistic among us worry about Israel's future.

What might be more confusing, given the strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington, is that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama score about the same approval rating — 59 percent for Netanyahu and 54 percent for Obama, who got a 32 percent disapproval rating.

A greater divide came not between younger and older respondents, but among the religious streams. Just 14 percent of Orthodox respondents said that they approved of the Obama administration's handling of U.S.-Israel relations, compared to 54 and 59 percent for Conservative and Reform Jews, respectively.

In an effort to make sense of the data, AJC executive director David Harris put it this way to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: "Despite the attempts by some ideologically motivated groups" to place all Jews solidly in liberal or conservative camps, "this survey reinforces what we have found — American Jews are very close to the center."

But it also shows that there is not one opinion on many of these critical issues, as there rarely is when it comes to serious matters facing Jews in the United States.

Any group that tries to speak for the whole of U.S. Jewry needs to be cognizant and honest about this fact.


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