As Democratic support for Israel wanes, will American Jews abandon their political home?

Buried in a new Pew Research Center poll on a broad-range of American political concerns is a finding that has the potential to radically scramble American Jewry's long association with the Democratic Party. Not surprisingly, the lightning-rod Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of this.

The finding? For the first time, it appears that Americans who are registered Democrats are as statistically likely to favor the Palestinians as they are Israel.

Ladies and gentleman, this is potentially big news -- assuming the polling is accurate.

Not because of the small number of Jewish voters who exist on a national scale relative to the overall number of registered American voters (Jews account for only about 2 percent of the entire American population).

But because of what this could mean for Jewish campaign contributions, Jewish political activism and Jewish voting in future presidential, congressional and other contests in New York, California, Florida and other states with large Jewish concentrations. (I'm referring here to non-Orthodox Jews; many of the eligible voters among the 10 percent or so of American Jews who identify as Orthodox, already largely support Republican politicians.) 

Political reporters at mainstream American news outlets, as far as I can tell, paid comparatively little initial attention to the survey finding. I suspect this is because of the avalanche of stories they've been producing on the outgoing Obama presidency and the incoming Trump administration.

Even Israeli and American Jewish outlets initially paid less attention to the Pew finding than I would have imagined, probably for the same reason cited just above.

Hey, religion reporters. Why not pick up the slack?

This section from the Pew report spells out the story.

For the first time in Pew Research Center surveys, Democrats are about as likely to say they sympathize more with the Palestinians (31%) than with Israel (33%); 11% say they sympathize with neither, while 8% sympathize with both and 17% do not offer an opinion. The share of Democrats who say they sympathize more with Israel is down 10 points from April 2016. The share who say they sympathize more with the Palestinians is little changed from last April (29%), but is up significantly from July 2014 when just 17% said they sympathized more with the Palestinians.
By contrast, Republicans continue to overwhelmingly say they sympathize more with Israel (74%) than the Palestinians (11%). There has been little movement in views among Republicans in recent years, but the share who say they sympathize more with Israel is now higher than in the mid-2000s and prior. For example, in 2005, 57% of Republicans said they sympathized more with Israel in their dispute with the Palestinians.
As a result of these trends, there is now a 41-point gap between the shares of Republicans (74%) and Democrats (33%) who say they sympathize more with Israel. This is the largest party gap in views on this question in surveys dating to 1978.

But there's more. Which is:

Among liberal Democrats, a greater share now say they sympathize more with the Palestinians (38%) than with Israel (26%). Liberal Democrats are the only demographic or political group for which a larger share sympathizes more with the Palestinians than with Israel. By contrast, a greater share of conservative and moderate Democrats say they sympathize more with Israel (42%) than the Palestinians (25%). However, the share of conservative and moderate Democrats who say they sympathize more with Israel is down 11 points since April 2016.

The Washington Post did run an online piece. So did the Los Angeles Times.

JTA, the international news service that specializes in covering all things Jewish, ran this short, just the bare facts piece, though I suspect it will soon circle back and offer more in depth coverage.

The only other notice of the survey results I found in my web search was on secular left-wing and anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian web sites, and right-wing or Republican-oriented web sites.

Significantly, this latest Pew survey, dated January 12, was conducted following the Obama administration's decision not to veto the recent UN Security Council resolution that criticized Israel's continued construction of Jewish housing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The resolution's wording effectively included the Old City's Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, as occupied territory meant for inclusion in an eventual Palestinian state. The wording, resolution critics also say, additionally failed to adequately call out Palestinian violence against Israel and the Palestinians' constant demonization of Israel and Jews.

The Obama administration's failure to veto the measure enraged much of the American Jewish establishment and Israeli officials. This further eroded positive Jewish feelings toward Obama and the Democratic Party -- despite American Jews' ongoing strong support for the liberal domestic policies of the Democrats.

It's no secret that support for Israel has been slipping among all Democratic voters, but in particular millennials and other younger Democrats, for some time. A prime reason for this is the international community's perception that Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing policies are the major reason why peace talks have gone no where and continually hurt the Palestinians.

Yet the Democratic Party could always claim the voting allegiance of the overwhelming majority of American Jews because of their liberal preferences on domestic issues. This loyalty was particular strong in presidential contests.

Hilary Clinton received 70 percent of the Jewish vote in November. In fact, not since 1920, has a Republican candidate outpolled a Democrat in a presidential contest.

It's also no secret that American Jews and their Israeli brethren have grown apart politically. If you have the time, read this Moment magazine symposium offering a variety of perspectives on why this is happening.

Still, until now it's fair to say that the majority of those Jewish Democrats who strongly support Israel -- such as myself -- could be counted on to vote Democrat because the party at least gave lip service support to Israel (not to mention its concrete backing of military aid to Israel and its previous support for Israel at the UN and other international forums).

Might this change if rank-and-file Democrats continue moving left on Israel-Palestine? That's certainly a possibility in the context of an overall Democratic leftward slide as the Republicans move evermore rightward.

What if the Democratic hierarchy turns away from the likes of a Sen. Chuck Schumer to someone like Sen. Bernie Sanders -- two Jews with decidedly different opinions on how the U.S. should relate to Israel -- and then decides it's time to openly favor the Palestinians?

These are questions worthy of some journalistic elbow grease.

Never a dull moment these days, is there?

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