If you follow American-Jewish discourse, you might conclude that when it comes to America and Israel, the sky is falling: College campuses are BDS superspreaders. In Congress, the Squad is angling to mount a charge to cut aid to Israel. Zionism is being condemned as just another form of European colonialism. And the rightward arc of the Netanyahu government is scaring everyone.
Yet a survey released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals a much milder climate. In general, Americans like Israel, according to “How Americans view Israel, Netanyahu and U.S.-Israel relations.”
That’s good news.
Pew found that 55% of Americans like Israel. The survey, conducted in 2022 and 2023, also found that Americans like Israelis better than they like the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu turns out to be the dark cloud in the Pew results — aided, we suspect, by his worrisome partnering with right-wing idealogues and religious fanatics as part of his governing coalition, and his ongoing legal battles which feature his own Justice Ministry questioning his honesty and integrity. A quarter of those polled said they never heard of Israel’s longest-serving leader. Of those who have, 42% said they have no confidence that he will do the right thing in world affairs, while 32% expressed confidence.
As Netanyahu has come to be seen as Israel’s Republican prime minister, more Republicans expressed confidence in him than Democrats did. But Republican support was only 49% (versus 17% for Democrats). In Israel, meanwhile, Pew found that Israelis viewed Netanyahu slightly more unfavorably (52%) than favorably (47%). But the overwhelming majority of Americans polled — 74% — said that relations between the U.S. and Israel are good, with Republicans being a hair more upbeat.
Pew also asked about one of the pro-Israel community’s ongoing concerns: Is the Biden administration favoring Israel or the Palestinians too much? Sixty-two percent said they didn’t know. Perhaps this reflects that the Biden administration has scaled back its direct involvement in the region even as it has stayed active on the margins and in the pursuit of expansion of the Abraham Accords. It may also be a result of the moribund state of the peace process, which has relegated reports concerning developments in Israel to a lesser level of interest in the press.
None of these findings is really a surprise. We already know that younger people have a darker view of Israel than older people and that conservatives — especially white Evangelicals — view Israel more favorably than liberals and “nones” — Pew-speak for people who don’t identify with organized religion. But as we read it, the message this latest Pew snapshot is sending to American Jews is: Calm down. America isn’t turning on Israel. A few dissidents in Congress aren’t the tip of any iceberg. And Israel’s standing and reputation are not in free fall.
A 55% likeability rating is a very impressive statistic in the political world. That number will likely go even higher once Israel figures out how to get its own house in order. ■