Ali Abunimah Activism and BDS Beat 5 May 2016
Hillary Clinton’s hardline support for Israel has never been more out of step with the base of her Democratic Party. US Embassy Tel Aviv
If you look at the headline numbers, Israel should not have too much to worry about: 54 percent of Americans sympathize more with Israel, while 19 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians.
About 17 percent say they stand with neither or equally with both.
Strong public support is seen by Israel backers as an essential guarantee that the US will remain Israel’s biggest financier and arms supplier long into the future.
These numbers come from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center.
According to Pew, the number of Americans sympathizing with the Palestinians has gone up by five percentage points since July 2014 – the beginning of Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 people, including 551 children.
Pew calls that a “modest” increase – though across the country it would represent millions of people changing their views.
But dig deeper into the findings and it is apparent that Israel’s support is eroding in key sectors of the US population.
Virtually all of the increase in sympathy for Palestinians “has come among Democrats, especially liberal Democrats,” Pew states.
Fewer than half of Democrats now say they are more sympathetic to Israel (Pew Research Center)
The number of liberal Democrats sympathizing more with the Palestinians has nearly doubled over the past two years, from 21 to 40 percent.
And within the Democratic Party, it is clear that Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the more pro-Israel wing: 47 percent of her supporters say they sympathize with Israel more, while 27 percent lean toward the Palestinians.
Among the supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, however, a plurality – 39 percent – are more favorable to the Palestinians, while just a third stand with Israel.
Clinton’s backers are clearly more pro-Israel, but it is still remarkable to note that this group is under 50 percent – an indication of how much opinions about Palestine and the Israeli question are shifting within the support base of the Democratic Party.
The Pew survey confirms the extent to which Israel has become a partisan issue.
Overall, just 43 percent of Democrats are more sympathetic to Israel, while 29 percent back the Palestinians.
In contrast to the Democrats, “overwhelming shares of [Republican] voters side with Israel, regardless of which candidate they support,” Pew states.
Republican support for Israel – at around 75 percent – varied little among supporters of former presidential candidates Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich compared with those of presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
Just seven percent of Republicans were more favorable to the Palestinians.
“We’ve been tracking this question since the 1970s and this gap is relatively new, of Republicans being more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats,” Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of research, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Thurdsay. “The gap is now as wide as we’ve ever seen it – it’s almost 35 percentage points.”
Younger and more pro-Palestinian
Generation gap: support for Palestinians has risen fastest among Millennials. (Pew Research Center)
The findings also confirm that support for the Palestinians is rising fastest among the young – the so-called Millennials born after 1980.
“Currently, 43 percent of Millennials report sympathizing more with Israel, while 27 percent are more sympathetic to the Palestinians,” Pew states.
“The share sympathizing with the Palestinians has risen significantly in recent years, from nine percent in 2006 to 20 percent in July 2014 to 27 percent today” – in other words it has tripled.
Among Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – 61 percent are more pro-Israel, while just 14 percent back the Palestinians.
These findings bode well for supporters of Palestinian rights.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for her party’s presidential nomination, has adopted some of the most extreme anti-Palestinian rhetoric heard in recent years.
This may work well with her generally older supporters, with pro-Israel billionaires who bankroll her campaign, as well as with Republican voters she will be hoping to lure if she faces Trump in the general election, but the numbers show she’s more out of step than ever with her own party’s base.
Her repeated denunciations of BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – are likely to alienate even more of the younger generation who believe that fighting for social justice everywhere includes Palestine.
Whatever happens in the 2016 presidential election, the United States has never been more fertile ground to build support for Palestinian rights.