Most US Jews support Iran nuclear deal, J Street poll finds

Survey indicates overwhelming Jewish support for agreement given more information; Obama, two-state solution and Hillary Clinton remain popular

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Representatives from world powers and Iran posing prior to the announcement of an agreement on Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, April 2, 2015. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
Representatives from world powers and Iran posing prior to the announcement of an agreement on Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, April 2, 2015. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

WASHINGTON — American Jews support a final agreement with Iran that increases inspections in exchange for sanctions relief, a poll released Wednesday morning by the dovish group J Street indicated.

The poll, which was conducted among 1,000 people who identify as Jewish, found that 59 percent of those polled say they would support such a deal.

The number closely tracked to a CNN poll conducted in April among the general US population which found that 53% of American adults supported such a deal when asked the same question.

When provided further details about a final agreement, Jewish support grows further. A striking 78% of American Jews would back an agreement that imposes intrusive inspections of Iran and caps its enrichment of uranium at a level far below what is necessary to make a nuclear weapon in exchange for phased relief from US and international sanctions.

“When it comes to the best way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, these results make clear that American Jews overwhelmingly support the president’s diplomatic efforts,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote in a statement issued Wednesday. “The numbers just go to show — once again — that pundits and presumed communal representatives are flat-out wrong in assuming American Jews are hawkish on Iran or US policy in the Middle East in general.”

The question was part of a larger poll of American Jewish attitudes on US policy in the Middle East, released today by J Street, just weeks ahead of the June 30 deadline for negotiations between the P5+1 member states and Iran.

“If the president reaches an historic deal that keeps a nuclear bomb out of Iran’s hands, he is still likely to face serious attempts by the Israeli government and others purporting to speak for the community to rally opposition to it in Congress,” said Ben-Ami. “The president and the Congress should know that American Jews broadly will line up behind this deal.”

When broken down across denominational lines, Orthodox Jews — approximately 10% of the US Jewish population and 10% of those polled — were the only group that did not support the framework for an agreement with Iran, with 47% supportive of the terms.

Although 66% of respondents said they were well informed or somewhat informed about the negotiations, only 6% consider Iran as one of the top two priorities on which they believe President Obama and Congress should focus.

In the list of 11 issues suggested, Iran placed last while the economy (45%) and ISIS (29%) were the top priorities. Israel ranked 9th, with 7% citing it as one of the top two issues the government should focus on.

Overall, President Obama’s approval rating remains higher among American Jews than among Americans in general. Fifty-six percent approve of the way he is handling his job as president, compared to 45% of the general population, according to a calculation published by website Real Clear Politics from the same period.

Obama’s approval among American Jews has remained in the mid-50s for most of the past year, although his approval in the general population has risen on average.

In April, Gallup noted that while Obama’s approval was still higher among Jews than in the general population, the gap between Jewish approval and approval in the general public is narrower in the past. Throughout Obama’s term in office, the average gap was some 13 points, whereas in 2015, polls have consistently placed it below 10%.

A similar number of those polled indicated that Obama’s criticism of Netanyahu’s policies is “appropriate” while 43% said that the president has “gone too far.” At the same time, the percentage of people who supported either statement “strongly” was almost identical – 20% in favor of Obama’s criticism and 19% opposed.

Netanyahu received a 47% approval rating among American Jews — higher than any Republican in the poll, but trailing support for Obama.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the poll suggested a broad consensus regarding the American role in seeking a resolution. Eighty-four percent believe that the United States should play an active role in helping the parties to resolve the conflict; 70% would support US engagement even if it meant stating US disagreements with both the Israelis and Arabs; and 69% would support the US pressuring both parties to make the compromises.

Curiously, more of those polled believed that the US should play an active role in seeking a resolution (84%) than the 72% who support a two-state solution to the dispute.

US policy has, for decades, advocated that a two-state solution reached through direct negotiations is the best way to achieve a resolution to the conflict.

The poll also floated a question about who would win in a race between the presumed Democratic and Republican front-runners in the 2016 presidential elections. In a head-to-head race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, Clinton beat Bush by 68-30 among those polled, with 2% undecided.

While still indicating strong support for the presumed Democratic candidate, it is an approximately 10% drop from the estimated 78% of the Jewish vote that Obama received in 2008.

Pollster Jim Gerstein, who conducted the poll for J Street, noted that the demographics of the poll, which was conducted last week, are closely aligned with the demographic breakdown of the American Jewish community described in the landmark 2013 Pew survey of American Jewry.

The poll carried a 3.1-point margin of error.

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