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American Jews stood by Obama and Democrats

In Tuesday debacle for the Democrats, one constituency stood firm  – the American Jewish community.  

A poll of American Jewish voters conducted on Election Day revealed a community that is holding firm to its support of President Obama and its strong antipathy to Congress. It is also a community that cares deeply about Israel but overwhelmingly backs assertive U.S. leadership to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution even if that means publicly stating disagreements with both sides. 

{mosads}The poll of 800 Jewish voters conducted by GBA Strategies with a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points found that 69 percent of respondents voted Democrat in their district with only 28 percent voting Republican. Obama’s approval rating was 57 percent, compared to around 43 percent in the general population. Only 18 percent approved of the job being done by Congress while 82 percent disapproved. 

The clear conclusion is that despite Republican efforts to target Jewish voters and to paint the president as somehow anti-Israel, the Jewish vote is not up for grabs. In fact, there has been a remarkable consistency in the Jewish vote for Congress over the past three elections as measured by GBA surveys, including 66 percent for Democrats in 2010, 69 percent in 2012, and 69 percent in 2014.  

Moreover, in a test 2016 matchup pitting Hillary Clinton against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Clinton won by 69 to 24 percent. She beat Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) by 71 to 22 percent. 

When asked to list two issues most important to them, Israel was only mentioned by eight percent of respondents and came in 10th place. The top issue was the economy (44 percent) followed by health care (31 percent) and Social Security and Medicare (20 percent).  

Some compelling findings in the survey, which was commissioned by the pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group J Street concerned attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role Washington ought to play in trying to resolve it. The figures show a community which cares about Israel but seems increasingly estranged from the policies being followed by the current Israeli government. 

Core support for Israel, especially, when its security appears threatened, remains strong. Eighty percent of respondents supported Israel’s military campaign against Hamas last summer and 85 percent opposed the idea of boycotting Israeli products. 

Yes, American Jews care deeply about Israel and rally behind it, particularly when it comes under physical attack – but they also overwhelmingly support US leadership to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   

Support for a two-state solution was overwhelming at 80 percent. Even when respondents were specifically told that a two-state solution would entail the establishment of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, support remained at 72 percent with only 28 percent opposed.  

Asked whether the United States should put its own peace plan on the table and ask the parties to return to negotiations based on those parameters, 77 percent said that it should. Most illuminating, 74 percent of American-Jewish voters said they would support the US exerting pressure on both Israelis and Arabs to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace. 

By 78 percent to 22 percent, American-Jewish voters also agreed that a two-state solution was necessary to strengthen Israel’s security and ensure its Jewish, democratic character. 

Although these voters gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a 53 percent approval rating, twice as many thought his policies had hurt Israel’s relations with the United States as those who thought they had helped. 

Eighty percent supported a partial or complete suspension of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, with 52 percent willing to go along with construction only in core settlement blocs.  

Lastly, on Iran, 84 percent of American-Jewish voters supported the outlines of an agreement that would restrict Iran’s enrichment of uranium to levels suitable for civilian energy only while placing inspectors at Iranian nuclear facilities to make sure they are not developing a nuclear weapon. Only 15 percent opposed this. 

Israel backed by much of the American-Jewish establishment, is of course strongly opposed to such a deal, insisting that Iran give up all of its enrichment capability in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions. However, if the six powers negotiating with Iran reach such an agreement by the Nov. 24 deadline, the poll suggests that American Jews will side overwhelmingly with the Obama administration rather than adapting the opposing position. 

Elsner is vice president of Communications for J Street.

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