J Street poll: Most Democrats haven’t heard of BDS

Survey finds that most likely Democratic voters want to reenter the Iran deal and favor US pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to strike accord

Palestinian and left-wing Jewish groups stage a rally walking from Times Square to United Nations Building in New York on September 15, 2011. (AP/David Karp)
Palestinian and left-wing Jewish groups stage a rally walking from Times Square to United Nations Building in New York on September 15, 2011. (AP/David Karp)

WASHINGTON — Most Democrats have not even heard of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, a new poll commissioned by the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street found.

The survey, released Wednesday evening, found that 63.6 percent of Democratic respondents said they were unaware of the BDS movement that has stirred debate on college campuses over the last several years and which is starting to penetrate the halls of Congress.

Two freshmen House Democratic members — Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib — have expressed support for attempts to boycott Israel in support of the Palestinians. Both are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

Out of the other Democrats polled, 27.3% said they had heard “a little” about BDS, while 5.1% said they heard “a good amount” and 4% said they heard “a great deal” about it.

The new poll, which was conducted by the veteran Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies, comes ahead of the 2020 primary and with the BDS issue having recently been debated intensely in Congress, as lawmakers considered legislation to penalize supporters of the movement. It was conducted from May 1 to May 5, and surveyed 800 likely voters.

In this photo from February 5, 2019, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, left, is joined by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, at US President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In February, the US Senate passed the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that would would criminalize participation in boycotts of Israel. All of the senators running for president opposed the bill on the grounds that it would suppress speech rights, except for Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

The J Street poll said that while most Democrats didn’t even know about BDS, most opposed laws penalizing the movement’s followers. Fifty-five percent expressed opposition to such laws, whereas 22% said they backed them.

J Street, which does not support BDS, has been vociferously opposed to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and similar state-level legislation. Other liberal advocacy groups like MoveOn and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed them, too, saying they violate both the spirit and letter of the First Amendment.

The poll also found that 72% of Democrats are in favor of reentering the Iran nuclear deal. Eighteen percent favored staying out of it.

US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark pact last year. His predecessor Barack Obama forged the accord in July 2015.

Many of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have vowed to reenter the pact if elected, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Democratic National Committee also passed a resolution in February calling to rejoin the pact.

J Street was a prominent supporter of the deal as it was being litigated on Capitol Hill and has defended it since its implementation.

US President Donald Trump (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embrace prior to signing a Proclamation on the Golan Heights in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, March 25, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)

Ahead of the Trump administration’s plan to release its highly anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the poll found that most Democrats are supportive of both Israelis and Palestinians, but most have an unfavorable view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While 41% of respondents said they had a favorable view of Israel, and 32% said they had a favorable view of the Palestinians, only 12% said they had a favorable view of Netanyahu.

Democrats heavily favored the US taking an active role to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace, but expressed a desire for Washington to put pressure on both sides to strike an accord. Seventy-five percent said the US should pressure both Israel and the Palestinians, while 12% said it should put more pressure on Israel and 7% said more on the Palestinians.

Those responses could be seen as an implicit rebuke of the Trump administration’s handling of peace talks. Since taking office, the White House has been seen as heavily favoring Israel — reflected in moves such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, cutting aid to the Palestinians and appearing to roll back support for the two-state solution.

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