Americans’ support for Israel didn’t waver in wake of Gaza fighting

Pew study shows US public’s sympathy for Israel over the Palestinians remains strong with ‘stark partisan differences’; 36% have no opinion or sympathize with neither side

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Israeli soldiers preparing their tanks along the Israel-Gaza border on the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense, November 16, 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/ Flash90)
Israeli soldiers preparing their tanks along the Israel-Gaza border on the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense, November 16, 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/ Flash90)

NEW YORK — Israel continues to enjoy much higher levels of sympathy than the Palestinians among Americans, even in the wake of the mid-November clashes with Hamas in Gaza.

According to a national survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of Americans sympathize more with Israel, while just 10% say the sympathize more with the Palestinians.

The findings of the study, which was conducted December 5 to 9 among 1,503 adults in all 50 states and Washington, DC, are consistent with figures from recent years, and suggest support for Israel didn’t waver after Operation Pillar of Defense.

However, the study found, “stark partisan differences” are noticeable in the numbers, with sympathy for Israel somewhat lower among Democrats and the young. Many Americans did not express a clear preference. A quarter of respondents, or 23%, declined to offer an opinion, 13% said they sympathized with neither side and 4% said they sympathized equally with both sides.

“Attitudes on this question have been stable over the past six years, after showing more volatility in the middle of the last decade,” Pew noted in a statement publicizing the findings Thursday.

The figures hint that, for many Americans, there is difficulty sympathizing with the Palestinians, rather than overwhelming or ideological support for Israel. For example, while “white evangelical” Protestants sympathized with Israel by a factor of 67-5, “white mainline” Protestants, many of whom belong to churches that have considered divestment actions against Israel in the past, still favor Israel by 47-7. Just 8% of evangelicals say they favor “neither,” compared to 20% of mainline Protestants.

Even when support for Israel declines, that decline does not seem to translate into increased sympathy for the Palestinians.

The clearest partisan gap measured by Pew is in the political sphere. Among conservative Republicans, the preference for Israel is at a very high 75%, with just 2% sympathizing more with the Palestinians. For liberal Democrats, however, only 33% said they sympathized more with Israel, though this was still more than the 22% who said they sympathized more with the Palestinians. (Independents favored Israel by a margin of 47% to 13%.)

Younger people were somewhat less likely to sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, with respondents under 30 preferring Israel by a margin of 38% to 15%. That gap rose to 46-9 among 30 to 49-year-old, and 58-8 for Americans 50 and up.

Overall, the survey found very high support for Israel among evangelical Protestants (67% to 5%), and slightly lower but still dramatically pro-Israel views among Catholics (44% to 11%).

The poll’s primary questions related to the fighting in Syria. It found that Americans oppose the notion that the US has a responsibility to act to stop the fighting in Syria by a factor of 2-to-1. Asked if the US has “a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria,” 63% of respondents said no, compared to just 27% who said yes. A March Pew poll asked the same question and got nearly the same answer, 64% to 25% opposed.

In fact, the numbers are identical to a March 2011 poll about the fighting in Libya, with Americans opposing intervention by 63% to 27%.

The opposition to intervention may be related to skepticism about the opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 65%, said they opposed sending arms and military supplies to “anti-government groups” in Syria, while just 24% favored the idea.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed