WASHINGTON — Most Americans like Israeli people, but when it comes to the Israeli government, it’s a different story. At least, that is the takeaway from a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
Released Wednesday, the poll found that 64 percent of the American public hold a favorable view toward Israelis, while only 41% hold a favorable view of the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a 23-point gap.
A similar dynamic exists vis-a-vis Americans’ view toward the Palestinians. While not a majority, 46% of Americans hold a favorable view of the Palestinian people, as opposed to just 19% who feel the same way about their government. It is a tricky finding, as the Palestinians do not have a unified government: the Hamas terror group runs the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, runs Palestinian affairs in parts of the West Bank.
The survey, which was conducted between April 1 and April 15, reached 10,523 adult respondents.
Beyond the gap between US views toward the Israeli and Palestinian peoples versus their leaders, the poll found a significant partisan divide on attitudes toward both Israelis and Palestinians.
Democrats tend to have a much warmer attitude toward Palestinians than Republicans: Fifty-eight percent of Democrats expressed a “favorable opinion” of the Palestinian people, compared to only 32% of Republicans, who hold the same view.
Both parties have a negative view of the Palestinian government, but Republicans to a much greater extent: 81% of Republicans said they had an unfavorable view, as compared to 65% of Democrats.
Meanwhile, a larger percentage of Republicans hold a favorable view of the Israeli people than do Democrats — 77% to 57%.
The partisan divide is even deeper when it comes to orientation toward the Israeli government. In a more than two-to-one difference, 61% of Republicans favor the Israeli government, as opposed to only 26% of Democrats.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been one of the most popular world leaders among US Republicans. In August, a Gallup poll found that 64% of Republicans approved of the Israeli premier, whereas just 17% of Democrats did.
Evangelical Christians are most likely to hold Israel’s government in high regard — 73% according to the Pew poll.
The survey results come shortly after Israel’s recent election, in which Netanyahu clinched a fifth term as prime minister (most of the poll was conducted in the final nine days before Israelis went to the ballot box). It also comes as US President Donald Trump’s diplomatic team plans to release its long-awaited peace plan. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has indicated that the proposal will be unveiled in June.
Since Trump became president, he has had an intensely close relationship with Netanyahu. In the weeks leading up to the Israeli elections, Trump took several actions that were widely seen as boosts to the prime minister’s campaign: mainly, recognizing the Golan Heights as part of sovereign Israel and designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization.
Over the course of his tenure, Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, cut aid to the Palestinians and UN agencies that serve its population, and withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, a move that Netanyahu had long advocated.
Another major difference between Democrats and Republicans, the Pew survey found, was their respective views toward Trump’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian file.
The vast majority of Republicans — 79% — said that Trump was “striking the right balance” in his orchestration of US foreign policy on the conflict.
More than half of Democratic respondents — 53% — said Trump is “favoring the Israelis too much.” Only 29% said his approach struck the correct balance between the sides.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party largely wants US policy to strike a more sympathetic posture toward the Palestinians — and more adversarial toward Netanyahu.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the leading 2020 Democratic hopefuls, suggested Monday night during a CNN town hall event that he would take American policy on the conflict in a dramatically different direction, while casting Netanyahu’s coalition as bigoted.
“What I believe is not radical,” Sanders said. “I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level playing field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing — dare I say — racist government.”