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Mar 16, 2023, 7:01am EDT
politics

More Democrats now sympathize with Palestinians than Israelis, Gallup poll finds

Israeli protestors demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed judicial changes.
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
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The News

For the first time, more Democrats sympathize with Palestinians than they do with Israelis, according to new data released today by Gallup.

Forty-nine percent of Democrats answered that they sympathize more with Palestinians, an 11-point increase over the past year. Meanwhile, 38% said they sympathize more with Israelis and 13% don’t favor either side, both of which are lows for the survey.

Independents are also sympathizing more with Palestinians than ever before, while Republican views are unchanged since the last time the poll was conducted (78% of Republicans say they sympathize more with Israelis).

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While the findings on relative sympathies stands out, 68% of Americans still have favorable views of Israel overall, including majorities across party lines. Only 26% view the Palestinian Authority favorably, according to the poll.

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Morgan’s view

The survey shows a significant shift in Democratic sentiment over time, and particularly over the past year. It’s hard to pinpoint what is responsible, though people watching this space think it’s likely a combination of increasingly polarized U.S. politics and recent headlines that have in part brought renewed attention to violence on the ground in the long-simmering conflict.

“It’s always tricky to assign causality to things,” Lydia Saad, Gallup’s director of U.S. social research, told me, adding that the latest news offered “circumstantial evidence of what’s going on.”

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Recently, there have been headlines about controversial judicial reforms being pushed by Israel’s far-right government, including around the time the poll was taken in early February. Violence has surged in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks as well, with the Israeli military escalating raids, Palestinians responding with attacks, and Jewish settlers responding with reprisals of their own.

Saad also said that former President Trump’s pro-Israel rhetoric and friendly relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also clashed with President Obama, could have turned Democrats off.

Historically, Netanyahu has had a pretty low favorability rating among Democrats — it clocked in at a low of 14% in 2015 and has since hovered below 20%, per Gallup — but Saad said the decline in sympathy toward Israelis among Democrats since 2016 can be blamed more on Trump than Netanyahu.

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Another notable trend from the poll: There are substantial generational differences, with Millennials more evenly split on the sympathy question while older Americans tend to be more sympathetic towards Israelis.

Saad said that could be attributed to newer pro-Palestinian voices in the Democratic Party having an impact on younger voters. Progressives like Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. (who is the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress) have been vocal advocates for Palestinians’ rights and come under fire from Republicans for their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Netanyahu barred the congresswomen from making a trip to Israel back in 2019, after being egged on by Trump. President Joe Biden has faced criticism from progressives who have argued he should do more to pressure Israel on human rights issues in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Room for Disagreement

Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications at the liberal advocacy group J Street, which advocates for a two-state solution, objected to the wording of Gallup’s question on sympathy. He argued that it sets up an “unhelpful false dichotomy” by asking Americans to favor the Israelis or Palestinians in the conflict.

“It’s in the vein of ‘this is a conflict and you need to choose sides,’” Bayroff said. “That is the flawed thinking that has infected bad policy making both in the region and in the U.S.”

Bayroff agreed, though, that domestic politics as well as greater concerns about policies of Netanyahu’s government since the start of the year are likely influencing opinions.

“What I think you have is greater awareness that the situation in the region is headed in a worse and worse direction,” Bayroff said.

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Notable

  • Michael Bloomberg, a longtime political and philanthropic backer of Israel, warned in a New York Times op-ed that the current government’s push to transform its judiciary was risking a major breach with many of its longstanding supporters in America.
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