The Jewish National Fund released survey findings this week that sent a chill down the spine of all those who favor bipartisan support for Israel. Surveying members of the “opinion elite,” pollster Frank Luntz found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans, by wide margins, to consider Israel a “racist” country, to assert that Israel has “too much influence” on U.S. foreign policy, and to say that they are “pro-Palestinian.”
“Israel has won the hearts and minds of Republicans in America, while at the same time it is losing the Democrats,” Luntz told The Times of Israel. Best known for working with Republicans, Luntz said the survey is not meant to shore up support for the GOP. “I’m right of center,” said Luntz. “But the Israeli government and U.S. Jews have to focus on repairing relations with the Democrats.”
The survey raises a question summarized in the title of an article by analyst Shmuel Rosner: Is “Israel losing Democrats, or Democrats losing Israel?” That is, has the Democratic party changed in a way that has eroded its members’ sympathy for the Jewish state, or have the politics of Israel — and the close ties of its government with the Republican party — turned off Democratic elites?
Rosner is skeptical of the idea that Israel’s policies alone are responsible for the partisan gap. It persisted, he writes, even when Israel withdrew from Gaza and was actively negotiating for peace. Instead, he suspects there is a “certain zeitgeist” among Democrats that “makes it fashionable to see Israel” in negative terms. The gap will narrow when Democrats change, he writes.
By contrast, Jonathan Rynhold of Bar-Ilan University argues that Israel can win back wavering Democrats through its own actions. “Israel needs to be credible about working towards a peaceful two-state solution,” he writes, because “a two-state solution is increasingly a threshold issue or acid test for Democrats.”
No matter who is to blame for the gap, Israel’s supporters in both parties need to work together to strengthen the U.S.-Israel bond — not just among lawmakers, but within the general public. Israel can’t afford to write off one of America’s two major political parties.