Surveys say younger evangelicals and Democrats abandoning Israel. Crisis in U.S. Middle East policy?

Two recent surveys measuring Americans’ support for Israel -- one polling evangelical believers, the other comparing Republican versus Democratic support -- revealed attitudes that have the potential to overturn long-standing American Middle East policy.

In short, both surveys’ findings -- assuming the polls are accurate, and I have no reason to believe they aren't because they track with long-developing trends -- are bad news not just for the Jewish state, but for American Jewish voters as well.

I’ll get into the meaning, or possible consequences, of the findings below. But let’s start with the findings themselves, beginning with the evangelical survey, produced by LifeWay Research, itself linked to an evangelical organization.

The key finding is that younger evangelicals say they are much less likely than their elders to back Israel unconditionally. Here’s the top of LifeWays news release.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Older American evangelicals love Israel—but many younger evangelicals simply don’t care, according to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Three-quarters (77 percent) of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security and prosperity of Israel. That drops to 58 percent among younger evangelicals, those 18 to 34. Four in 10 younger evangelicals (41 percent) have no strong views about Israel.
Fewer younger evangelicals (58 percent) have an overall positive perception of Israel than older evangelicals (76 percent). And they are less sure Israel’s rebirth in 1948 was a good thing.
“For the most part, younger evangelicals are indifferent about Israel,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

That led The Washington Post, to publish a major piece that ran under the headline, “Long, uneasy love affair of Israel and U.S. evangelicals may have peaked.”

(Other than the Post, the rest of the elite media appear to have so far skipped this story, except for Newsweek, which beat the Post with this earlier piece.)

The Republican versus Democratic survey was produced by Pew Research Center.  Its press release carried the headline: “Republicans and Democrats Grow Even Further Apart in Views of Israel, Palestinians.” Here’s the top of it.

The partisan divide in Middle East sympathies, for Israel or the Palestinians, is now wider than at any point since 1978. Currently, 79% of Republicans say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27% of Democrats.
Since 2001, the share of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians has increased 29 percentage points, from 50% to 79%. Over the same period, the share of Democrats saying this has declined 11 points, from 38% to 27%.
The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Jan. 10-15 among 1,503 adults, finds that 42% say Donald Trump is “striking the right balance” in the situation in the Middle East, while 30% say he favors Israel too much (just 3% say Trump sides too much with the Palestinians; 25% do not offer an opinion).
At a similar point in Barack Obama’s presidency, 47% of Americans said he had struck a proper balance in dealing with the Middle East; 21% said he sided too much with the Palestinians, while 7% said he favored Israel too much.
The survey finds that while Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided in views of Israel, so too do they differ markedly in opinions about Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. Nearly three times as many Republicans (52%) as Democrats (18%) have favorable impressions of Israel’s leader.

Conservative -- which is to say GOP-leaning -- publications, such as the Washington Examiner, jumped on the Pew results, as you might expect. American Jewish and Israeli publications also gave it wide coverage.

Elite American media? Virtually no interest at all.

Perhaps that’s because both the evangelical survey and the Democrat-Republican divide have been highlighted before. Click here for an earlier Pew survey on younger evangelicals skewing more liberal -- and these days it's primarily self-identified liberals who are backing away from Israel. Click here for an earlier take on the Republican-Democrat divide, something Israeli and Jewish-American media have covered extensively and for some time.

To my mind, the fact that both these stories keep popping up in no way diminishes their value. Rather, the repetition, I think, confirms their basic accuracy -- and importance -- for the following reasons.

American evangelicals, as a group, are this nation’s most uncritical supporters of Israel, on a par with members of the American Jewish right wing. If that support drops precipitously in the coming years it could prompt congressional Republicans reliant on their party’s evangelical base to also back away, stripping Israel of the strong, and strategic, congressional backing its long enjoyed no matter who is in the White House.

On the second front, American Jews currently vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Over recent decades, the Jewish vote in presidential elections -- ranging from about two-thirds to three-quarters percent -- has gone to the Democratic candidate.

Should the Democratic Party officially abandon its pro-Israel platform as it moves further left in response to President Donald Trump's increasingly right-wing tilt, that would leave the majority of American Jewish voters -- who despite their political and religious differences with the current Israeli government and their liberal leanings still worry about the physical survival of the world’s only Jewish state -- in a gut-wrenching quandary.

All this bears mightily on future American Middle East policy. That's why these trends, should they stay on course, are important and bear repeated updates. Their potential to upset the current state of affairs are enormous.

One last thing.

The Democrat versus Republican survey, in particular, notes the alliance between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a critical factor in diminishing Democratic support for Israel. Both men, I’d say, engage in illiberal policies that have garnered great disdain from those to their left -- including younger Americans in general, including evangelicals and Jews.

Sooner or later both men will leave, or be wrestled off, the international stage. My question for journalists is, will the damage they’ve done to general American support for Israel then reverse, or will it be too deep to be undone?

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