Most American Jews say you can support Israel and criticize its government
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Analysis

Most American Jews say you can support Israel and criticize its government

For the first time, a pollster asked respondents not only whether they were pro-Israel, but if they were also critical of Israeli policies; 59% said yes

Ron Kampeas
A man wearing an American flag watch the flags march outside Damascus Gate on May 13, 2018 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images via JTA)
A man wearing an American flag watch the flags march outside Damascus Gate on May 13, 2018 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images via JTA)

JTA — A poll commissioned by a new group founded by Jewish Democrats, the Jewish Electorate Institute, found that Jewish voters favor Democrats over Republicans, 74-26 percent. Only 25% approve of the job Trump is doing, while 75% disapprove.

The numbers on Democrats and Republicans line up with polling since the George W. Bush presidency. Jewish disapproval of Trump has been a thing since his 2016 campaign.

What’s interesting is that for the first time I can recall, a pollster asked respondents not only whether they were pro-Israel, but whether they were also critical of Israeli policies. (J Street in the past asked respondents whether they supported US peace moves, even if it means the US government pressing Israel, which is not quite the same as asking the respondent whether she feels comfortable criticizing Israel.)

The breakdown shows that a majority of American Jews do not perceive criticism of Israeli government policies as inconsistent with support for Israel: 32% say they are supportive of Israel and its government’s policies; 35% are supportive of Israel and critical of some government policies; and 24% are supportive of Israel and critical of many of its government’s policies.

That’s a majority of 59% who say they are comfortable supporting Israel and also criticizing its government. (Also, 92% of voters say they are supportive of Israel, belying the noise generated by fringe anti-Israel groups who say they are more representative of where Jewish Americans are heading.)

That may not go down well on the Israeli right, which has traditionally bristled at Jewish criticism of Israeli policies as a special kind of betrayal.

Nevertheless, it’s a posture that will likely define US Jewish-Israel relations going forward, as seen in our roundups this week of Jewish nominees — Democrats and Republicans — in the US House of Representatives and last week’s roundup of Jewish Senate candidates.

Of 41 Jewish Democrats running in the midterms, 17 accept the endorsement of J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group whose very ethos is supporting Israel while criticizing its government.

J Street came up when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz debated Rep. Beto O’Rourke this week: Cruz blasted his Democratic challenger for accepting support from a group he called “rabidly anti-Israel.” That kind of attack may resonate among Christian evangelicals in Texas (the home state of Christians United for Israel), but seems less likely to make inroads among liberal and centrist Jews.

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