Top US political consultant says Netanyahu-Obama spat endangers support for Israel

“The growing division between the two governments could have horrific consequences on what Americans think of Israel."

February 24, 2015 05:52
2 minute read.
Netanyahu and Obama

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Barack Obama meet in the White House. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The ongoing dispute between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have long-term consequences that could harm the future of the State of Israel, respected American political consultant Frank Luntz warned Monday in Jerusalem.

Luntz has monitored Israel’s image on American college campuses for 13 years.

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He revealed the findings of an extensive survey he took on top American campuses to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors and to Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum.

Luntz told The Jerusalem Post that the American public supports Israel’s policies, especially on Iran, but not the style by which they are being communicated in the United States. He said the pressure Israel is placing on the US government is hurting not only Israeli-American relations, but also Israel’s future support in the US.

“The Israeli government and elites need to understand that the growing division between the two governments could have horrific consequences on what Americans think of Israel,” Luntz warned. “We may not be able to count on the next generation of American leaders. A loss of American elite support, if it’s not turned around, is a real possibility going forward.”

Luntz said he purposely intends to be “alarmist,” because he has seen the problem on college campuses getting worse. He conducted interviews with more than 800 students at 60 of America’s top universities, including Harvard, Cornell, and Northwestern, an increasingly problematic university whose student government passed a boycott Israel motion last week and whose administration opened a campus in Qatar and started a fight with its campus rabbi.

In findings Luntz described as “frightening,” he found that 37 percent of students believe anti-Semitism is a problem on their campus, one third believe their campus is hostile to Israel, and one quarter believe the situation for Jews on their campus is getting worse. He found that too many Jewish students do not want to advocate for Israel.

“Such numbers would have been inconceivable 20 years ago,” he said. “My sense is that we’re losing the battle, and if we’re not careful we’ll lose the war for the hearts and minds of the next generation of American leaders. All our efforts are being swamped by Palestinian and Muslim groups and outsiders, particularly on the Left to delegitimize Israel, and I dare to say it but delegitimization is beginning to work.”

Luntz stressed that he does not believe there is currently a problem between the Israeli and American people, only politicians. He expressed optimism that with effort and goodwill on both sides, the US-Israel relationship would improve in the post-Obama era.

“The Israeli and American people are overwhelmingly on the same side,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem that way because the politics get in the way. The politics are undermining the policy and that is what is dangerous.”

Luntz has not worked for an Israeli party or politician since then-Yisrael Ba’aliya leader Natan Sharansky in 1996. He said he had not expected Netanyahu to hire Republican consultant John McLaughlin as his strategist after he failed to bring about the reelection to Congress of former House majority leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary in Virgina in June.

“I am surprised Netanyahu would hire someone whose polling has been the most inaccurate in the history of the US,” said Luntz, who is considered a polling expert. “But I don’t get involved in Israeli politics.”

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