A larger number of Democratic voters in the United States than ever before view Palestinians more favorably than they view Israel. This first-time ever shift in preference is a shocker.
Here are the numbers in a Gallup poll: 49% to 38%. That means 49% of the 1,008 Democrats, polled by telephone between February 1 and February 23 viewed Palestinians as better than Israelis, and 38% viewed Israelis over Palestinians.
These hard truths are difficult to conceive, and even more difficult to understand.
How could Democrats value Palestinians over Israel?
For Israelis, this new reality is nothing short of earth-shattering. All the good, all the contributions that Israel makes to the world – and especially to the US compared to the Palestinians, is minimized, discounted, discredited and even ignored.
How could these voters, these Americans, be more favorably inclined to Palestinians than they are to Israelis? In truth, these numbers were inevitable. The arrival of this day was predictable. It was simply a matter of time before Gallup, or another pollster, would deliver the bad news.
The good news is that all is not lost. While 49% of those polled may favor Palestinians over Israelis, 56% of Democrats still view Israel favorably.
The better news is that when Republicans were asked about Israel, a whopping 82% responded that they view Israel favorably. And overall, Americans have a 68% favorable view of Israel.
Over the past year there has been a massive drop in favorability of Israel in the eyes of Democrats. Last year, it was nearly even 40% for Israelis and 38% for Palestinians. This year there is an 11-point spread. A decade ago, the spread was 55% to 19% in favor of Israel.
Speaking defensively, there are still those who claim that voters aside, Democratic leadership is still in Israel’s court. I do not deny that claim.
But we are witnessing deep-seated, anti-Israel sentiments from many of those who are very comfortable in the Democratic party. Even more, because the move away from Israel is so predominant and widespread among millennials, aka our future, one cannot but worry about what that favorability quotient will be a decade from now.
There is a reason for this popularity gap. Loyalties are changing because Israel is changing, and because America, too, is changing. The portrayal of Israel in the US media during the past four months has been extremely negative.
Despite the great things that Israel does – like the international life-saving measures Israelis undertake to save even their enemies, those are not the stories played out in the media. There are two news stories emanating from the Jewish state that have captured US media attention and careen across headlines: an extremist Israeli government and judicial reform.
Both story lines, whether actually true or not, portray Israelis as breaking down the democratic fabric of Israel. Neither depicts Israel as responding adequately to these issues. Neither mollifies images of Israel. If anything, the Israeli leadership has thrown oil on the fire.
Israeli leadership has fueled the perception that the country is moving toward extremism and that Israel is eroding the foundations of democracy. And that democracy includes minority rights; it includes the rights of Palestinians and the rights of the LGBTQ community.
MEDIA IN the US portrays the government of Israel as being influenced by anti-democratic forces, with members of that government publicly announcing that entire Palestinian cities should be destroyed; where the minister in charge of the police fires a police commander for not quelling political demonstrations against him; where the attorney-general says this is all illegal, and then the minister calls for her firing.
It does not take too much imagination to see how this scenario plays out in the US. And it’s not just in the US; it’s in Europe too. During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s state visit to Germany, these accusations plagued him at nearly every stop.
There is cause – good cause, for worry; about the extremism; that if the Supreme Court is neutered, extremists will gain more power; that if extremists gain more power, Israel the democracy will move toward Israel the authoritarian regime.
For a long time, loyalty to and support of Israel was a bipartisan issue in America. There was wall-to-wall support. The balance was always a see-saw, but it all balanced out. There was a time when Republicans were more skeptical about Israel and Democrats were over-the-top in love with Israel. And then it would shift, but never to this extent, never like this.
Never would I have imagined that Israeli leaders would be advocating and articulating ideas that are so antithetical to the Israel of yesterday; so antithetical to Israel the beautiful.
Stable democracies change very slowly. Fast change signals revolution.
My advice for Israeli leadership is to be careful of dramatic change. Think moderation. Follow the Maimonidean and Aristotelian principle of the middle road, the “Golden Mean.” That’s when Americans and Europeans will once again see the real Israel. That’s when Israel will, once again, be favorably viewed.
The writer is a social and political commentator. Watch his new TV show Thinking Out Loud on Jewish Broadcasting Service.