Americans’ support for Israel grows in wake of Arab Spring, poll reveals

As regional convulsions paint Israel as ‘our most reliable ally,’ support for US ‘military defense’ of Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran jumps to 71%

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

American and Israeli flags in Jerusalem (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
American and Israeli flags in Jerusalem (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

NEW YORK — The convulsions of the Arab Spring may be driving the American public’s support for Israel to new highs, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Washington-based group The Israel Project.

Americans who say the United States should support the Jewish state in the conflict with the Palestinians increased from 60 percent a year ago to 68% today, a survey of voters taken November 6-8 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has found.

Those who said they supported the Palestinians dropped from 8% to 7% in that time.

The survey polled 793 respondents and the margin of error is 3.5%.

“Given the turmoil in the Middle East, increased support among the American public for deepening the special relationship between the US and Israel is both a natural reaction and good policy,” said Israel Project CEO Josh Block. “Americans know that Israel is our greatest and only truly reliable ally in the region, and that is more true today than ever,” he added.

That analysis is supported by the finding that 81% of Americans want to maintain or bolster US relations with Israel, while only 13% want the US to distance itself from Israel. (A consistent 2% want the US to “end its relationship with Israel.”)

That’s a significant bump in support for the relationship from one year earlier, when support for maintaining or strengthening the relationship was at 73%, and for distancing at 23%.

Similarly, 59% said the US should work more closely with Israel, compared to just 24% who said it should work more closely with traditional Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The poll measured the “warm” feelings of respondents toward each side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Feelings for Israel, it found, remained identical compared to a year ago, with 60% saying they had “warm” feelings while those saying they had similar feelings for Palestinians dropped precipitously, from 26% a year ago to 16% today.

While a huge majority supports a two-state solution (69% support, 16% oppose), a large majority (57% to 27%) opposes unilateral Palestinian moves at the United Nations.

The increase in support for Israel over the past year is particularly striking in that it has not been accompanied by increased support for the Palestinians as well. According to figures released by The Israel Project, polls over the past seven years have seen simultaneous increases and declines of support for the two sides. Usually, during flare-ups in the conflict, both sides see increased support as those in the middle choose sides.

During the past year, however, the increase in support for Israel was not accompanied by an increase in support for the Palestinians, suggesting that in the wake of the Arab Spring the middle ground is tilting toward the Jewish state alone.

Wary of Egypt

Americans are also skeptical about the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Fifty-five percent of respondents agreed with the statement that new governments “in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt threaten US security interests because they are run by religious extremists.”

At the same time, just 30% agreed with the statement that the new governments “do not threaten US security interests, because they are likely to be moderate and become more pro-Western.”

The Israel Project also released polling data from Egypt on Wednesday that hinted at the effect an Iranian nuclear weapon might have in the region.

According to a TIP/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey of Egypt conducted in August 2012, 87% of Egyptians said they want a nuclear weapons program for their country, while 65% approve of resuming diplomatic relations with Iran. Fully 62% said they believed Iran “and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” are “friends of Egypt.”

In the November poll of Americans, 76% of respondents said the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was a “vital” US interest, and a majority (59% to 31%) favored withholding American aid to Egypt if Cairo attempts to abrogate its peace treaty with Israel.

Israel vs. Iran

The poll also found Americans have very negative feelings toward Iran, with 69% expressing “cold” or unfavorable feelings, and just 9% expressing “warm” or favorable feelings. That’s a trend for the worse for Iran, which one year ago enjoyed the support of 14% of Americans.

The poll found an increase of 10 points in support for American military assistance to Israel in the event of war with Iran.

The poll asked: “If Israel were to strike Iranian nuclear facilities to keep it from getting nuclear weapons, and then Iran attacked Israel in response, would you support or oppose the United States coming to the military defense of Israel?”

In November 2011, 61% supported, while 33% opposed. In November 2012, the figures were 71% supporting and just 22% opposed.

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