Haaretz columnist, Chemi Shalev, writes: A Pew Research poll released this week found that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana, by a 52%-45% margin. Support is lowest among older, conservative Republicans and highest among younger, liberal Democrats.
The same trend holds true, in varying degrees, in all the recent polling on the issues that top the current American domestic agenda, such as gun control, gay marriage and immigration reform. The younger and more liberal you are, the more you are likely to support such measures; the older and more conservative you are, the more you are likely to oppose them.
Support for Israel, on the other hand, runs in the opposite direction: older, conservative and Republican Americans tend to prefer Israel over the Palestinians by overwhelming numbers, while younger, liberal and Democratic Americans are more ambivalent. In a January Pew poll, the gap between “conservative Republicans” and “liberal Democrats” on this matter was no less than a staggering 75%-33%.
Thus, while Israel continues to enjoy substantial overall support in the American public, its weakest links are to be found among the groups that are now on the ascendant on most domestic and social issues of the day. Generational gaps and demographic trends have combined to produce a significant shift in American public opinion, as the National Journal wrote this week: “The culture wars now favor the Democrats. The wind is in their backs.”
The question, therefore, is whether this wind might not eventually erode traditional support for Israel in American public opinion as well. Is the so-called “partisan gap” on Israel a permanent feature of the American political landscape that should worry Israelis or is it a reversible trend that will change with the times?
It is tempting, for example, to comfort oneself with the assumption that support for Israel comes with age, that young liberals who are now equivocating about the Jewish state will evolve over the years and become strong Israel-supporters, just like their elders. But that intuitive theory is rebuffed in a paper published earlier this year by Israel’s Institute of National Strategic Studies (INSS) in which researchers Owen Alterman and Cameron Brown cite polls showing that in the late 1970s, the generational divide was the other way round: Americans aged 18-29 were more supportive of Israel than those 65+ and over.
“Generations seem to develop views toward Israel that guide their opinions throughout their lifetime,” the authors note. If that is true, then the so-called Millenials born after 1980, will maintain their tepid support for Israel throughout the coming decades as the Israel-backing Silent Generation and Baby Boomers slowly leave the stage.
Alterman and Cameron also dissect the correlation between religiosity and support for Israel, and come to the far less surprising conclusion that the most supportive are the most religious, both Christian and Jewish, and that the coolest toward Israel are those who cite “none” as their main religion. The entire “partisan gap” on support for Israel created in the past two decades, after all, isn’t so much a decrease in left-wing backing for Israel as a dramatic increase in right-wing support that stems from the growing prominence of Israel among Evangelical Christians and their increasing dominance of Republican politics.
Right-wing Jewish ideologues like to gloat over the growing political divide as proof of liberal perfidy in general and the left’s animus toward Israel in particular. They tend to gloss over their own role in turning Israel into a “wedge issue” which they unsuccessfully tried to exploit in order to pry Jewish voters away from U.S. President Barack Obama in the recent elections. By portraying support for Israel as a uniquely Republican and conservative cause, Republican Jewish propagandists are steadily ensuring that many young liberals will be instinctively repelled from embracing Israel too ardently. [Continue reading…]