The maddening thing about the American Jewish Committee’s Annual Survey of Jewish Public Opinion – this year’s edition was released yesterday – is that the list of questions seems to get shorter each time around as the answers get more interesting. (Read the Jewish Week story on the poll here, and an editorial here).
The shrinkage has an obvious cause – polls are extremely expensive, the AJC is pinching its pennies in these trying times and the list of potential questions is pretty much endless.
Still, this year’s survey once again begs for further analysis.
Take question 4: “Do you agree or disagree with the Obama administration’s call for a stop to all new Israeli settlement construction?”
You have to admire the way the question is constructed: no frills, no padding meant to skew answers one way or the other, no loaded terms.
But what, exactly, are the factors behind the surprisingly high 51 percent who disagree?
Some Jewish leaders are already saying it shows polls by Mideast advocacy groups – they really mean J Street, but don’t come out and say it – are bunk. J Street officials have argued their data shows that the Obama administration has considerable latitude in pushing Israel toward the negotiating table.
But there isn’t enough information in that single question to draw many conclusions. How much of that 51 percent is motivated by sympathy for settlers, or a belief that Israel’s security would be jeopardized by new pullouts? How much by resentment over the WAY the administration pushed Israel without seeming to push the Palestinians, not the fact it was pushing?
Speaking of Obama, there were strong indications of a growing skepticism about his Mideast policies, but not a single question revealing his overall standing with Jewish voters. Yes, 51 percent disagree with his settlements tactics and 32 percent disapprove of his handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, but those numbers don’t necessarily mean his overall support in the Jewish community is slipping, since in most presidential elections domestic factors outweigh Israel ones in Jewish presidential voting.
If Obama was running again tomorrow, would he get the 78 percent he won last November? 70 percent? Or 51 percent? The AJC poll offers no clues, although I’m sure that won’t stop the Republicans from spinning a story of impending disaster for the Democrats.
There are interesting contradictions in the data that deserve further study.
American Jews seem to be more dubious about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; 23 percent say they are less optimistic about the chances for lasting peace than a year ago, while only 12 percent say they are more optimistic (1 percent say they are “not sure.” How can you be not sure on a question like this, when “no change” is also an option?).
But other questions reveal a steadily, if not dramatically, growing optimism that a permanent settlement can eventually be achieved, (question 10) and a decline in the percentage to believe the ultimate goal of the Palestinians is the destruction of Israel, not the return of territory (question 9).
The most fascinating number and the one most reporters glommed on to is in question 14: “Would you support or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons?”
I like the sparseness of the question; none of this “would you support military action against the radical leaders in Iran who have repeatedly threatened Israel with annihilation” stuff.
56 percent said they’d support a military strike, 36 said they wouldn’t, and the numbers were a complete reversal from 2007.
Why the huge change? Does it mean plummeting confidence in sanctions? Does it reflect the work Jewish leaders have been doing to alert the community to the dangers? Does it reflect broader public opinion in America? On that last point, the survey data is contradictory.
And as someone strongly interested in Jewish involvement in domestic matters, I was disappointed not to see questions about the current debate over health care. I don’t have a clue what the Jewish community is thinking on this one, just the hyperactive spin by advocates on both sides of the debate.
Oh yes, there was one question I didn’t get to in this week’s story: party affiliation.
No big shifts here but the continuation of a longstanding trend: the Republicans are making very small gains, the Democrats are experiencing somewhat greater losses – and the number identifying as “independents” seems to be on a sharp upward course.
That’s been going on for a while now – but it appears most of those new “independents” are mostly voting Democratic.
The “Cash for Clunkers” experiment has come and gone, but what was intended for car owners to benefit from increasing their vehicles’ fuel efficiency could be applied to improve Jewish life as well.
The premise would be the same - a valuable voucher or reward going to folks who trade in something less efficient for something on the next level - but our community could make use of it by having consumers of Jewish practice and education be rewarded for stepping up their commitment.
What if some prominent individual or group started holding press conferences to declare that the Earth is flat, or that it is stationary while the sun revolves around it?
Would scientists rush to debunk this theory, publishing papers and holding conferences, or just shake their heads in disbelief and return to their work?
I'm not suggesting the odious, politically charged hate crime of denying the Holocaust is as benign as making spurious scientific claims. But I do think the response to it ought to be along the same lines as the scientists who shake their heads.
On Thursday Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Neytanyahu, came to the United Nations General Assembly bearing detailed plans of Auschwitz, and cited President Barack Obama's recent visit the Buchenwald. "Was President Obama paying tribute to a lie?" asked the prime minister. And, he added, are the thousands of Jews who still bear the tatoos of concentration camp numbers perpetrating a lie?
He asked these questions because on the previous day the thug who leads Iran offered up some of his usual tripe about the Holocaust being a hoax. The comments are worthy of condemnation, but the detailed response of Netanyahu and others come too close to creating a debate on the subject, something the small legion of crackpot deniers worldwide desperately wants.
Whether in academia, political discourse or popular culture, there is no serious discourse about whether the Nazi war against the Jews took place. The detailed accounts of eyewitnesses, photographic and scientific evidence and, most significant, the records of the Nazis themselves, who never sought to cover up their crimes are readily available to any inquiring minds.
While Ahmadinejad may have convinced himself there are some questions about about the scope and scale of the atrocities, it's hard to imagine even he seriously believes the Nazis did not perpetrate genocide 60 years ago. Rather, he knows it's a sure-fire way to push buttons in the West, and to expose pro-Jewish sentiment among western leaders that he can use to muster allies who hate America and Israel.
Engaging this blowhard in any kind of serious debate only plays right into his hands.
Friday, September 25th, 2009
Yesterday Jewish Week editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt published a blog item asking an important question: why, at this week’s rally on Iran at the United Nations, was the Jewish community so thinly represented?
Young Families, Singles Flocking to Upper East Side; ‘The Memory Is In Their Taste Buds’: The Lure of Sephardic Food; Safra Synagogue Rabbi’s Growing Empire; Sephardic And Egalitarian at B’nai Jeshurun; Giving Voice to Sephardic Music.