WASHINGTON – If the results of a recent focus group and polls are any indication, the gap is growing between Congress and young Americans when it comes to support for Israel.
Polls conducted in late July by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that support for Israel is weaker among younger Americans and Democrats than among Americans generally. Add to that the results of a recent focus group culled from 12 congressional staffers – a small but very influential cohort – and pro-Israel activists are worried about the long-term sustainability of broad U.S. support for Israel in Congress.
Last Friday, a select group of Jewish institutions was sent a confidential summary of the staffers discussing the recent Gaza conflict. The tone of the summary, which was obtained by JTA, was one of alarm.
“Congress is supposed to be our fortress,” wrote authors Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, the founder and a former top aide, respectively, at The Israel Project. “While Israel faces Hamas tunnels, it appears that the negativity and lack of support among young people is tunneling its way into congressional offices, even while the congressmen and senators remain steadfast on the surface.”
Several JTA interviews with staffers for pro-Israel lawmakers suggested the Mizrahi report’s conclusion is on target.
“On the Hill and with some people with whom I have spoken who are robust Israel supporters, people are concerned if not angry,” one of the staffers, a Democrat, told JTA. All the staffers spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the sensitive subject.
They cited a combination of factors alienating the once solid pro-Israel base among Democrats, including the distance from Israel’s era of crises in the 1960s and 1970s, anger at how the Netanyahu government has handled its relationship with the Obama administration, weariness of a decade of U.S. involvement in wars and the plain orneriness of younger people.
The Mizrahi report was distributed on the final day of a week of pro-Israel initiatives on Capitol Hill.
Late that day, 20 minutes short of 10 p.m. Friday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives headed to the floor for a roll call on $225 million in extra funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
In other pro-Israel actions last week, the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously passed non-binding resolutions condemning Hamas for firing its missiles from among civilians, and the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the UN Human Rights Council for launching an inquiry into Israel’s conduct in the war. The measure had bipartisan backing of the Senate leadership.
Meanwhile, the results of the Mizrahi focus group and recent polls suggested that support for Israel during the war was far weaker among younger Americans and Democrats.
In a Gallup poll conducted July 22-23, two weeks after the launch of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip, older Americans were much likelier to say Israel’s actions were justified: 55 percent of those over 65; 53 percent of those aged 50-64; 36 percent of those 30-49; and 25 percent of those 18-29. Just 31 percent of Democrats said Israel’s actions were justified; 49 percent said they were not.
In a Pew poll conducted July 24-27, 29 percent of adults aged 18-29 held Israel more responsible for the conflict and 21 percent blamed Hamas. Liberal Democrats were evenly divided, with 30 percent each assigning blame to Israel and Hamas.
For now, one Democratic staffer told JTA, the influence on Capitol Hill of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, guarantees traditional levels of support for Israel in the foreseeable future.
The key, veteran Democratic pollster Mark Mellman says, is educating younger Democrats.