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(photo credit: AP [file])
American Jewish Democrats are breaking with the Obama administration over its policies in Israel, according to the results of a survey designed by a former pollster for president Bill Clinton.
The survey, initiated by pollster Dick Morris, found that the majority of respondents - some 58 percent - think President Obama is doing a good job promoting peace in the Middle East. But 55% said the president is "naive in thinking that the Palestinians would make peace" and that Palestinians "will just use the new land as a base to attack Israel like they did in Gaza."
Forty percent said they believe Obama is doing a good job in his effort to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The survey, conducted by Global Marketing Research Services from July 22 to 24, is based on responses from 500 American Jews who voted for Obama.
The poll was sponsored by the Traditional Values Coalition, an evangelical Christian group with 43,000 members. The findings have a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.
Among its findings: 92% of respondents have a favorable view of Israel, and 86% think it is important for Jews to have a country of their own.
Fifty-two percent of those surveyed endorsed the view that Arabs will never live in peace with Israel. Other findings show that 52% of respondents believe Israel should be allowed to build new homes in existing settlements.
"Democratic Jews in the United States strongly support Obama, but also strongly support Israel," Morris told The Jerusalem Post. But, "Asked explicitly to choose between Obama's position and that of the Israeli government on issues such as construction in the settlements, or the two-state solution, they back the Israeli view by more than two to one."
"To me," he added, "this indicates that the jury is still out and that a backlash may yet develop against Obama's policies."
David A. Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, rejected the poll's findings, saying he was suspicious of its origins and its wording.
"Whenever anyone shows me a poll from any interested party, from one side or another, I have questions about the veracity of that poll," he said.
"Based on the phraseology of the questions, they are misrepresenting the position of the Israeli government and the Obama administration," he added.
In particular, he cited a question asking respondents to choose which they preferred: the Obama administration's view that "if Israel could settle its dispute with the Palestinian refugees and give them a nation of their own, the Arabs would live in peace with Israel," or the Israeli government's view that "the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel and that giving them a nation of their own will just make them stronger."
"I don't agree with the supposition that that's either President Obama's view or Binyamin Netanyahu's view," Harris said. "It's comically mischaracterizing both the Israeli government's perspective and President Obama's perspective."
Asked to evaluate support for Obama among Jewish Democrats, Harris said there is "strong support" for the administration's Middle East efforts among Jewish leaders and rank-and-file Democrats.
"We do not see any significant weakening of American Jewish support for this administration," Harris said.
Morris said those who disagreed with his survey were entitled to their opinion. He said he was appalled at the lack of support for Israel and felt it was important to understand why it was happening.
He raised $25,000 to fund the survey, which was sponsored by the Traditional Values Coalition.
"The goal was to find out how Jewish Obama supporters feel about his proposals," Morris said.
A spokesman for the Traditional Values Coalition, Jim Lafferty, said the coalition "strongly supports Israel" and wanted to gauge whether Jewish voters "side with Mr. Obama or Mr. Netanyahu," according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
According to the poll, the majority of respondents affirmed their commitment to Israel.
The majority disagreed that "Israel has become a bully" in the region, and 70% rejected the notion that Israel is intolerant of its neighbors. More than half, 55%, rejected the idea that the IDF and Mossad have committed human rights abuses.
In broad strokes, the findings suggest that the majority of Jewish Democrats believe Arabs, not Israel, are to blame for the conflict. By a 60% to 20% margin, respondents agreed that "if Arabs lay down their weapons, there would be no more war."
By an 80% to 6% margin, they agreed that "if Israel were to lay down its weapons, the Arabs would destroy it."
In an op-ed published in the New York Post on August 7, Morris wrote: "Does the president realize he's at risk of a break with an important part of his base?"
Gary Ratner, the Zionist Organization of America's national executive director, said the results show the Obama administration is out of sync with the views of most American Jewish Democrats.
"It appears that the majority of American Democrats don't agree with Obama on specific issues as it relates to Israel, especially the pressure on Israel and the construction freeze, and also who's really more to blame for the conflict," he said.
Despite support for Obama on domestic issues, including health care reform, his Israel policy "is eroding the support for him on this particular issue."