American Jews on War and Peace

What Do the Polls Tell Us and Not Tell Us?

Introduction

Once again, a poll recently released by the American Jewish Committee (AJC)1 has confirmed that on some questions of major significance there are vast differences between the opinion of the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations and the mass of American Jews. On questions of the Iraq war, the escalation of US military forces in Iraq (the ‘Surge’) and military action against Iran, most Jewish Americans differ from the leaders of the Major American Jewish Organizations.

Most liberal, progressive or radical Jewish commentators have emphasized these differences to argue, “most American Jews resoundingly reject the Middle East militarism and GOP foreign policy championed by right-wing Jewish factions.”2 This progressive interpretation however avoids an even more fundamental question: How is it that a majority of US Jews who, according to the AJC poll (and several others going back over two decades) differ with the principal American Jewish organizations, have not or do not challenge the position of the dominant Jewish organization, have virtually no impact on the US Congress, the Executive and the mass media in comparison to the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations?

The issue of the ‘silent majority’ is questionable since all Jewish and non-Jewish commentators point to the highly vocal and disproportionate rates of participation of American Jews in the political process, from electoral campaigns to civil society movements. Nor is it clear that the progressive majority lacks the high incomes of the reactionary ‘minority’. There are some Jewish millionaires and even a few billionaires who hold views opposing the leadership of the major Jewish organizations. There are several probable explanations that account for the power of Jewish leaders in shaping US Middle East policy and the relative impotence of the majority of American Jews.

The Poll: A Re-Analysis

The poll results highlighted by progressive Jewish analysts point to the 59% to 31% majority of Jews disapproving the way the US is handling the ‘campaign against terror.” The problem with using the answers to this question to indicate progressive opinion is that a number of Zionist ideologues and their followers also oppose the ‘handling of the campaign’ because it is not sufficiently brutal, authoritarian and arbitrary. Other findings cited include a 67% to 27% majority currently believing that the US should have stayed out of Iraq, a 76% to 23% majority who believe the war is going ‘somewhat’ or ‘very badly’ in Iraq, a 68% to 30% majority believing that the ‘surge’ has either made things worse or has no impact.

Even more important, a large majority (57% to 35%) of American Jews oppose the United States launching a pre-emptive military attack against Iran, even if it were taken ‘to prevent (Iran) from developing nuclear weapons.” The progressive analysts then cite the polls finding that most American Jews are ‘some shade of liberal’ rather than ‘conservative’ (42% to 25%) and overwhelmingly identified as Democrats rather than Republicans by 58% to 15%. Most Jews believe that Democrats will make the ‘right decisions on the war in Iraq (61% to 21%). Finally, the progressives have very favorable views of the top three Democratic presidential candidates.

On the surface these polling results would suggest that American Jews would be at the cutting edge of the congressional anti-war movements, arousing their fellow Jews to join and resurrect the moribund peace movement. Nothing of the sort has occurred.

One reason for the gap between the ‘progressive’ polling results and the actual pro-war behavior of the major American Jewish Organizations is found in several of the opinions not cited by progressive analysts but emphasized by the 52 leaders of the major communal organizations (Daily Alert, December 13, 2007). Over eighty percent (82%) of American Jews agree that ‘the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel’. Only 12% of Jews disagree. And 55% to 37% do not believe Israel and its Arab neighbors will settle their differences and live in peace. On the key issue of a compromise on the key issue of Jerusalem, by 58% to 36% American Jews reject an Israeli compromise to insure a framework for permanent peace.

Given the high salience of being pro-Israel for the majority of American Jews and the fact that the source of their identity stems more from their loyalty to Israel than to the Talmud or religious myths and rituals, then it is clear that both the ‘progressive, majority of Jews and the reactionary minority who head up all the major American Jewish organizations have a fundamental point of agreement and convergence: Support and identity with Israel and its anti-Arab prejudices, its expansion and the dispossession of Palestine. This overriding convergence allows the reactionary Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations in America to speak for the Jewish community with virtually no opposition from the progressive majority either within or without their organizations. By raising the Israeli flag, repeating clichés about the ‘existential threat’ to Israel at each and every convenient moment, the majority of Jews have bowed their heads and acquiesced or, worst, subordinated their other ‘progressive’ opinions to actively backing the leaders ‘identity’ with Israel. Their franchise on being the recognized Jewish spokespeople intimidates and/or forces progressive Jews to publicly abide to the line that ‘Israel [sic] knows what is best for Israel’ and by extension for all American Jews who identify with Israel.

A second important factor in undermining progressive American Jewish activity against US-Israeli war policy in the Middle East (Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Palestine) is the influence of Israeli public opinion. A Haaretz report (December 9, 2007) documents a civil rights poll showing that ‘Israel has reached new heights of racism…’, citing a 26% rise in anti-Arab incidents (Association for Civil Rights in Israel Annual Report for 2007). The report cites the doubling of the number of Jews expressing feelings of hatred to Arabs. Fifty percent of Israeli Jews oppose equal rights for their Arab compatriots. According to a Haifa University study, 74% of Jewish youth in Israel think that Arabs are ‘unclean’.

Progressive American Jews, identifying with a racist colonial state, face a dilemma: Whether to act against their primary identity in favor of their progressive opinions or whether to back Israel and submit to its American franchise holders and recognized leaders.

Given these issues, a serious analyst clearly must distinguish between ‘opinions’ and ‘commitment’. While a majority of American Jews may voice private progressive opinions, their commitments based on their identity as Jews rests with the State of Israel and its principal mouthpieces in the US.

This probably explains the unwillingness of progressive Jews to criticize the principal reactionary Jewish leaders and their mass organizations, even worse to attack and slander any critics of the pro-Israel power configuration. Progressive Jews have subordinated their progressive opinions to their loyalty and identity with Israel. Organizationally this has meant that the majority of major American Jewish organizations are still led and controlled by pro-war, pro-Israel leaders. Progressive Jewish organizations are on the fringe of the organizational map, with virtually no influence in the Congress or Presidency and backers of a pro-war Democratic Party and Congress.

Progressive analysts who cite overwhelming Jewish support for the Democratic Party, its top three Presidential candidates and their preference for the liberal label as differentiating them from the leaders of the major organizations, commit an elementary logical and substantive fallacy. Liberals, like the Clintons, supported the wars against Iraq and are among the driving forces promoting a military attack on Iran. The Democratic majority in Congress has backed every military appropriation demanded by the Republicans and the White House. Being Democrat and ‘liberal’ is no indicator of being ‘progressive’ using any foreign policy indicator, from the Middle East wars to destabilizations efforts in Venezuela.

The apparent paradox of progressive anti-war Jews contributing big bucks to pro-war Democrats is based on the latter’s unconditional support for Israel which trumps any ‘dissonance’ that might exist in the head of progressive Jewish political activists.

With the American Pro-Israel Power Configuration leading the way to savaging the National Intelligence Estimate study, released in December 2007, on the absence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, progressive Jewish opinion is silent or complicit. Worse still, progressive liberal and radical Jewish peace activists have acted as gate-keepers in the anti-war movement — prohibiting any criticism of Israel and labeling individuals or citizen activists critical of the pro-war Zionist lobby as ‘anti-Semites’.

The AJC opinion poll on the high proportion of American Jewish with more progressive opinions than the leadership of all the major mainstream organizations would be officially welcomed if it led to something else besides private opinions compromised by Israeli identities.

  1. AJC 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion.” []
  2. Glen Greenwald, “New Poll Reveals How Unrepresentative Neo-Con Jewish Groups Are,” on salon.com []

James Petras is author of The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism's New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

19 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Robert Wilson said on December 17th, 2007 at 6:56am #

    One comment on an otherwise useful article: “progressive” Jews who hold racist views towards Arabs, or believe that a racially based notion of citizenship is acceptable for some people but not for others, or who put chauvinistic feelings ahead of humanistic ones, are not progressive. They are racists and/or chauvinists. Is that difficult to understand? Please consult a dictionary for the definition of “hypocrisy”.

  2. Deadbeat said on December 17th, 2007 at 12:13pm #

    I have to agree with Mr. Wilson. The article is extremely useful but clarity especially with regards to political designation is important. There has been a great deal of obfuscation among these charlatans who have co-opted labels such as “radical” and “progressive” in order to sow confusion of principles especially among the left. It is this extreme confusion and hypocrisies that has to be exposed and confronted in order to provide clarity. Without clarity there cannot be solidarity.

  3. gerald spezio said on December 17th, 2007 at 5:29pm #

    Breaking news; Another great Zionist success manipulating US foreign policy;

    http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/breaking/105895.html

  4. gerald spezio said on December 17th, 2007 at 5:45pm #

    No Merican protection of any kind for the Palestinians penned up in the Israeli concentration camp in Gaza.

    No kindly Mericans delivering food and water to Gaza.

    Too busy figuring out how to protect Israel from virulent Muslim anti-Semitism caused by the space aliens in Joshua Frank’s back yard.

    US bill to share ICBMs with Israel.
    http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/breaking/105895.html

  5. Sunil Sharma said on December 17th, 2007 at 11:20pm #

    Umm, Gerald . . . Josh Frank isn’t Jewish.

  6. jaime said on December 17th, 2007 at 11:56pm #

    “Umm, Gerald . . . Josh Frank isn’t Jewish.”

    That’s a good one.

  7. Mukarji said on December 18th, 2007 at 4:26am #

    The term “progressive” indeed needs to be redefined. Supporting the Democrat party and “liberal” ideas does not make you progressive. I think these polls serve a purpose in defending the community from charges that it is the Jewish support for Israel via their leading organizations, as well as via the media and think tanks that has pushed for war.
    Petras is right. Support of Israel and the connection to Israel defines their identity. We have seen how it works even within the anti war movement, and how this loyalty to Israel has prevented a proper assessment of the Middle East policy. Until the “belief” in translated into actions, or distancing themselves in every way from the racist genocidal policies of Israel the polls are meaningless.

  8. gerald spezio said on December 18th, 2007 at 5:09am #

    Jaime, why then did you make several posts stating that Joshua was Jewish, and that he was being persecuted for being Jewish?

  9. gerald spezio said on December 18th, 2007 at 6:54am #

    After triangulation comes cubism – the “fourfold path” to a terrific career in peeyar, including great Bree, a perfect Cabernet, Jamaica in January, and solidarity with the peoples of the world.

  10. sk said on December 18th, 2007 at 9:46am #

    Somewhat off topic, but the whole notion of Liberal Imperialism needs to be squarely dealt with by “progressives” in this part of the world.

    FYI, link to an audio discussion on how the dominant discourse of feminist and gay rights activists in the West vis-a-vis the Rest has made things worse for those the former are supposedly interested in helping. (esp. worthwhile between minutes 41-53).

  11. jaime said on December 18th, 2007 at 10:04am #

    At the end of the day it shouldn’t really matter whether someone is Jewish or Buddhist or Wiccan. I seem to vaguely recall Josh posting something to effect that he was Jewish, but I’m not about to go looking for it.

    I’m sure I would have pointed out the irony of him being reviled for his Jewishness, or PERCEIVED Jewishness, which really amounts to much the same thing. In the name of human rights…of course!

  12. gerald spezio said on December 18th, 2007 at 10:47am #

    On December 5th jaime stated;

    “One of the most curious things to appear here lately was to see how Joshua Frank has been treated. Josh, who happens to be Jewish, shares editorial management here with Kim Petersen, who happens to maniacally antisemitic. One wonders how that partnership sustains itself.”

  13. gerald spezio said on December 18th, 2007 at 10:55am #

    jaime said on December 3rd, 2007 at 9:08 am #

    First time I’ve seen someone giving a hard time to our other editor for being Jewish.
    Maybe Joshua will learn something important by it.
    Maybe the lesson is similar to the one that Norm Finkelstein just had…
    You can hang with antisemities, terror-lovers and rat bags of every description, and even try to become like them in hopes of being accepted.
    But sooner or later you’re going to get called a “dirty Jew” no matter what you do.

  14. jaime said on December 18th, 2007 at 12:57pm #

    Thanks for that GS. You did good. I may recommend your secretarial services to the Zionist Power Configuration Council, which meets next on Dec. 25th. Goyim are paid less, but you expected that anyway.

    BTW There’s a typo in the Dec 5 posting. I meant it to read :

    “..Kim Petersen who happens to BE maniacally antisemitic…”

  15. gerald spezio said on December 18th, 2007 at 1:32pm #

    Joshua Frank made a boneheaded statement and exposed his precious essence, but if Joshua will not submit to the ethical training by Chief Seattle in Spokane, he (Josh) probably won’t be cured by space alien bloggers either.

    So, I do not know what to do about matzos, cannoli, or lutefisk.

  16. Joseph Anderson said on December 19th, 2007 at 10:31pm #

    MORE ON 5TH COLUMN ZIONIST PROPAGANDA & “PROGRESSIVE” POLITICAL MYTHMAKING

    Given that all (or virtually, if not literally, all, allowing for that one Dem I might not know about) current (especially major) Democrat politicians — whether conservative or “liberal” — whether Hillary the hawk, Barak the backdoor warhawk, or even Barbara Lee the liberal-progressive (who has also taken her fealty trips to Israel to kneel, bend over and kiss ‘the Zionist ring’, and who had heartily congratulated the late *Ariel Sharon*, that “Great Man of Peace”, *TWICE* on his, then, election to Israel’s prime ministership) — FALL ALL OVER THEMSELVES and the Republicans in one-upping each other ON THEIR UNDYING SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL, what feat of mighty dissent is there in (according to the alleged statistics) the majority of the Jewish-American community supporting Democrat politicians?

    The majority of Jewish Americans certainly didn’t support Israel lobby-targeted and ousted Earl Hilliard, of Alabama, or Cynthia McKinney (including the white lesbians she always supported), of Georgia –or, earlier, politically iconic white Democrats who were ousted by the lobby– who called for at least just a *smidgen* of justice, and at least a *semblance* of balance, in U.S. foreign policy for the Palestinian people. Rather, while there were always some morally courageous Jews who still supported Hilliard & McKinney, the majority of Jewish Americans who sent money to either side in Hilliard’s and McKinney’s last election campaigns sent, by far, MAJOR MONEY to, respectively, Hilliard’s or McKinney’s*come-from-nowhere*, *nobody* OPPONENT! — and, in America, money usually wins. Most of the Jewish “progressive” lecture circuit icons and pundits specifically *DENIED/EXCLUDED* any mention of the Israel lobby, but instead reinforced the Zionist propaganda cover story that Hilliard’s and McKinney’s loses had *primarily* to do with other (pundit’s cooked-upped, magnified and sometime racially stereotyped) reasons.

    This is, as a cover story, like the leftist promulgated cover story that the U.S. went to war in Iraq over (just) oil — and at the behest of the ever eeevillle oil companies [who’ve *never* worked that way before in the Mideast]. Funny, though, that story *clearly* doesn’t fit for Iran (and we see that the imminent Iranian nukes and WWIII pretext was as phony as the Saddam WMD pretext that the neocons and Israel cooked-up and pushed).

    However, former Iraq weapons inspector Scott Ritter had the GUTS to admit that the U.S. went to war in Iraq significantly for *ISRAEL* — and GUESS WHO(!!) first publicly asked him that question?…: moi! — and in the U.S. at the Israel lobby’s mightily pushing the war in Iraq as well as, they hope, in Iran too. For a helluva good page turner, see Jeffrey Blankfort’s “A War for Israel”, online. Note, in particular _”The Clean Break”_ paper reference within — the Jewish Zionist neocons’ and Israeli govt’s Mideast right-wing equivalent of the PNAC goal for the U.S..

    And, speaking of “identity politics” and eternal “self-victimization”, why don’t those Jewish “progressives” and pundits who attack (and stand by and let others, like Todd Gitlin, constantly attack) African Americans as chronically engaging in that habit, ever look at themselves?

    (Excellent points, Robert Wilson et al. Please note my comments re Chomsky –closet apologist and 5th column Zionist– under the equally excellent points in the DV article, “Palestine Park”, by J.A. Miller.)

    Joseph Anderson

    Berkeley

  17. gerald spezio said on December 20th, 2007 at 7:35am #

    Joseph, any man who can see the Zionist mad dog with his fangs embedded in Supernation’s political arse, can’t be all bad.

    May I suggest as your humble servant, a less obtuse delivery for your valuable comments.

  18. Richard Silverstein said on December 22nd, 2007 at 2:39am #

    I think this essay poses a profound challenge to truly progressive Jews who wish to move the community to the left on the IP conflict. But I agree with the earlier commenter who noted Petras’ imprecision in calling “progressive” Jews who support a pro-war position or unconditional support for Israel.

    I agree with Petras that Jewish peace groups haven’t done enough to move the community’s agenda leftward. But I profoundly disagree that these groups are “fringe” or have no impact on Congress. Two major AIPAC legislative initiatives were stalled by the nascent Jewish peace groups in Congress. True, groups like Peace Now, Brit Tzedek, & Israel Policy Forum are underfunded and outgunned in some ways. But the answer is not to kick them in the shins. The answer is to figure out how to do more.

    Since Petras provides neither proof nor even anecdotal evidence that progressive Jews have stifiled criticism of Israel within the anti war movement, it’s hard to credit this accusation. But given the content of some of the comments here it’s easy to see that the left contains precisely those shrill, demonizing elements that many Jews would label as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic.

    Further, Petras has a profound lack of understanding of the makeup of the American Jewish community. Nearly half of American Jews are not affiliated. So to blame them for not pushing back against the rightward shift of the Israel lobby constellation of groups completely misses the point. Unaffiliated Jews have no interest in fighting this battle. If they did they would be affiliated. And these unaffiliated Jews are precisely those who are far more liberal than the trogdolytes who run the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, etc.

    I’ve written a more detailed critique at my blog. The post is linked to this comment.

  19. Daniel Ascerescu said on April 30th, 2009 at 11:30am #

    In the Journal of Contemporary Asia in 2006, Dr. Petras defends the Cultural Revolution as an attempt by students to subvert capitalst elements which remained in the Party after 1949, and which failed because of the unfortunate death of Mao, allowing Capitalist Roaders (He uses this exact term, not me) to take over and destroy the living standards of the majority of the Chinese people by introducing Capitalism. He also claims that the problems of the Great Leap Forward were merely a result of the regime “overestimating their capacity” and erroneously investing in production goods (such as Health Care, he writes), and not consumption foods. (Such as food). I am not sure how seriously we need to take anything else he says after that…