Is support for Israel becoming a partisan cause? According to a new brief from the Pew Research Center, public opinion is moving steadily in that direction:
Views of Israel and the Palestinians have become more ideologically polarized. In early September 2001, just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there were only modest partisan and ideological differences in Israeli-Palestinian sympathies. But since then, and especially over the past decade, the share sympathizing more with Israel than with the Palestinians has increased among all ideological groups, with the exception of liberal Democrats.
While overall support for Israel has actually grown over the past several decades, the distribution of that support has changed, with critics of the Jewish State increasingly concentrated in the Democratic Party, and its champions increasingly concentrated in the GOP. The fact that Israel policy has grown more polarized and contentious probably makes the conspiratorial “Israel lobby” thesis more attractive to liberals living in echo chambers. They have lost cultural contact with the mass of Americans who are strongly supportive of the Jewish State, so the idea of a Jewish cabal pulling strings behind the scenes seems like a rational way to explain the special bond that the two nations still enjoy.
Israel-Palestine is still a relatively marginal issue in American elections, and the changing partisan dynamics won’t translate directly into policy shifts. After all, the Democrats are on the cusp of nominating a candidate who is by all accounts more hawkish on Israel-related issues than the current president, and the Republicans have nominated someone who seems personally indifferent to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and who has excited the traditionally anti-Israel (and worse) “America First” wing of the GOP. Still, in the long run, the trend is a cause for some concern for the U.S.-Israel bond, which has been able to thrive in part because of the Jewish State’s bipartisan appeal. The latest polling trends—if they persist—could make the relationship more fractious and unpredictable.