Democrats are almost as likely to sympathize with the Palestinians as they are with Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian peace conflict, while support for the Jewish state among Republicans is nearly three times higher than Democrats, according to a poll released Tuesday.
Twenty-seven percent of Democrats told the Pew Research Center they sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, compared to 25% who said their sympathies lie with the Palestinians.
Among Republicans, those numbers were 79% and 6%, respectively.
The survey said the partisan divide in support for Israel was “wider than at any point since 1978,” when 49% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats sympathized with Israel over the Palestinians.
Although the percentage gap in support for Israel remained fairly steady between the parties in the two decades after 1978, the parties’ views on Israel began to diverge in 2001, since when support among Democrats has fallen from 38% to 27% today, while among Republicans it has risen from 50% to 79%.
Tuesday’s poll pointed to support for Israel becoming an increasingly partisan issue, which many Israelis view as a troubling development.
“I think it’s a very concerning trend,” said Sallai Meridor, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the US a decade ago. “For Israel, the bipartisan support of the American people is a strategic asset.”
He said the poll is “concerning and saddening” because the countries have so much in common. “There are many reasons for Democrats to see in Israel a mirror of their deep values and beliefs,” he said, pointing to his country’s commitment to free speech, a universal health care system and its support for gay rights.
The partisan gap in support for Israel was also seen in respondents views of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While 52% of Republicans said they have a favorable view of Netanyahu, only 18% of Democrats said likewise, a lower percentage than the 39% of Democrats who have an unfavorable view of Israel’s premier.
Netanyahu had a notoriously frosty relationship with former US president Barack Obama, with the two clashing over Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
He has since developed close ties with Obama’s predecessor Donald Trump, who is highly unpopular among Democrats.
With this, 46% of Democrats said Trump is too favorable of Israel, with only 21% saying he is “striking the right balance” between the sides. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans say Trump is striking the right balance.
Other notable trends highlighted in the poll were younger Americans less likely than older Americans to sympathize with Israel; support for Israel is likely to drop as one earns more academic degrees; and that more men sympathize with Israel than women, at 50% and 42% respectively.
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which sponsors educational trips for Israeli politicians to meet American Jews, said the results were not surprising given the deep divisions in American society.
He said that with most American Jews supporting the Democrats, Netanyahu’s close alliance with Trump is risky.
“It’s not playing well to the vast majority of Americans. I don’t think it’s playing well to the vast majority of the Jewish community,” he said.
Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, said he too was concerned by the partisan divide in the US, but rejected the idea that Netanyahu was responsible. Instead, he claimed the Democratic Party has lost its way.
“Israel should be concerned about the fact that the Democratic Party has moved leftwards and is now adopting a lot of radical positions,” he said.
The survey, which was made up of 1,503 respondents, was conducted between January 10-15.