'Changing public opinion takes time'

US Jewish leaders react to 'Post' poll showing Israelis wary of Obama.

Malcolm Hoenlein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Malcolm Hoenlein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – American Jewish officials cautioned that additional time was needed to assess the affect of US President Barack Obama’s recent outreach to Israelis, after a Jerusalem Post-commissioned poll found their attitudes toward him hadn’t changed.
The poll reported that just 10 percent of Israeli Jews said Obama’s administration was more pro-Israel, compared to 46% who said it was more pro-Palestinian and 34% who said it was neutral.
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The survey of 515 Jewish Israelis, with a 4.4-percentage point margin of error, was conducted last week following Obama’s warm welcome of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House and his first interview for Israeli television.
Yet the results of the Smith Research poll were just a few percentage points different – 9%, 48% and 30% respectively – from those reported to the same questions in March, at a point of deep tension between the two countries.
“Public opinion doesn’t change overnight. It takes time,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Despite the results, “people have seen the last visit in very positive terms,” he said.
But he added that a public skeptical on a range of issues, including politicians’ intentions, were also waiting to see what Obama did next.
“People will look to see how policies and positions are implanted.
That’s the real measure,” according to Hoenlein.
"Israel opinion will improve when Obama visits J'lem"
Another Jewish organization leader, who asked to not be named, said the recent White House overtures to Israel – while welcome – still hadn’t fully registered. He also said, though, that relations between the two countries had been so strained it would take some time to recover.
“At the very least it’s going to take a while if those attitudes are going to change, because the shock to the system was quite pronounced,” he said.
National Democratic Jewish Council president David Harris contended that Israeli opinion would improve more dramatically once Obama visited Israel.
“As the Israeli people get to know the president better – including when the president has an opportunity to visit Israel in the future – I have every confidence that they will be as strongly supportive of him as the American Jewish community has been,” Harris said. “The fact is that as Israel’s leaders have noted repeatedly, President Obama has demonstrated that he is unshakably committed to Israel’s security, and he’s gathered an unprecedented global coalition to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
Other Democratic Jewish activists, including strategist Matt Dorf, charged that the poll was flawed.
“One should not draw any conclusions about President Obama’s standing in Israel from this poll,” he said. “This is like asking, ‘Did you ride the bus or buy your lunch?’” Dorf argued that surveys asking whether Israelis approve of Obama’s job performance and whether his policies are enhancing Israel’s security would provide accurate assessments of public opinion.
“This question [the poll’s] is designed to elicit a negative response,” he said.
The White House declined requests from the Post for comment.