'US Jews back Obama's Mideast path'

J Street poll: American Jews would also like US to deal with Hamas.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, WASHINGTON ­
March 23, 2009 22:50
3 minute read.
'US Jews back Obama's Mideast path'

Obama side on 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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A new J Street poll finds that large majorities of American Jews support US President Barack Obama's active engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if that means exerting pressure and publicly disagreeing with Israel. American Jews would also like the US to deal with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas in pursuit of a peace agreement, a position at odds with current US and Israel policy shunning Hamas. The poll, commissioned by the dovish pro-Israel lobby and released Monday, also reports that American Jews are evenly split between those who support a US military attack on Iran if it is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and those who oppose a military attack in those circumstances. The finding mirrors a similar result in an American Jewish Committee poll last year. Relating to the recent elections in Israel, the survey also asked about Avigdor Lieberman, who is likely to become Israel's next foreign minister. With 62% name recognition, the poll found that Lieberman has only a 27 percent favorability rating in comparison to 74% for Obama, 58% for incoming prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and 53% for current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. They also found that 69 percent disagreed with Lieberman's views in which he "has previously called for the execution of Arab members of Israel's parliament who met with Hamas and whose main campaign message called for Arab citizens of Israel to sign a loyalty oath to the Jewish state in order to prevent their citizenship from being revoked." Additionally, 32% said him becoming a senior minister in the government "weakens my personal connection to Israel because Lieberman's positions go against my core values" while 58% said it would not affect their feelings towards Israel and 10% said it would strengthen them. The poll was conducted among 800 adult American Jews between February 28 and March 9 using e-mail invitations to a web-based pool of respondees, with a +/-3.5% margin of error. The survey reflected the demographics of the Jewish community, with approximately 8% of participants Orthodox Jews, according to the pollsters. Leaders of other Jewish organizations, however, questioned some of the findings and questions concerning Lieberman. One pointed out that his position on the loyalty oath - which would have been required of all Israelis and not just Arabs - had virtually no chance of becoming part of a Netanyahu¹s government policy. Another argued that the question was misleading, reciting his negative policies rather than emphasizing his support for civil marriage and a two-state solution, positions many American Jews welcome. "If they asked the question a different way they'd get a different answer," the official charged. "J Street has a set of agendas…and they're trying to show the American Jewish community is unified behind their objectives, so they conducted a push poll showing American Jews are against Lieberman." Jim Gerstein, the Washington-based pollster who conducted the survey, defended the questions about Lieberman. He explained, "We asked the question based on what he is known for here [in America] and what defines him here. If we were going to ask a question about Netanyahu, we wouldn¹t ask about his position on the environment." The poll found that American Jews approved of the US playing an "active role" in the peace process by a margin of 84 to 16. Those numbers changed only slightly, to 81-19, if the active engagement included pressuring Israelis and Palestinians, and down to 66-34 if it meant the US would publicly criticize both side. Additionally, 69% of American Jews supported the US working a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas "to achieve a peace agreement with Israel" as opposed to 31% opposed to such outreach. Israel has strongly opposed contacts with Hamas, and so far the Obama administration has continued a policy of not engaging with the militant Islamic group.

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