Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protesting across the street from a pro-Israel rally in Chicago, July 28, 2014. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (JTA) – If the results of a recent focus group and polls are any indication, the gap is growing between Congress and young Americans when it comes to support for Israel.
Polls conducted in late July by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that support for Israel is weaker among younger Americans and Democrats than among Americans generally. Add to that the results of a recent focus group culled from 12 congressional staffers — a small but very influential cohort — and pro-Israel activists are worried about the long-term sustainability of broad U.S. support for Israel in Congress.
Last Friday, a select group of Jewish institutions was sent a confidential summary of the staffers discussing the recent Gaza conflict. The tone of the summary, which was obtained by JTA, was one of alarm.
“Congress is supposed to be our fortress,” wrote authors Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, the founder and a former top aide, respectively, at The Israel Project. “While Israel faces Hamas tunnels, it appears that the negativity and lack of support among young people is tunneling its way into congressional offices, even while the congressmen and senators remain steadfast on the surface.”
Among the statements the dozen congressional staffers agreed on: “Israel attacked Gaza in a wild overreaction.” “It’s Groundhog Day every 18 months, perennial conflict, doesn’t seem like anyone wants peace anymore.” [The Israeli government is] “not peace loving.”
Several JTA interviews with staffers for pro-Israel lawmakers suggested that the Mizrahi report’s conclusion is on target.
“On the Hill and with some people with whom I have spoken who are robust Israel supporters, people are concerned if not angry,” one of the staffers, a Democrat, told JTA. All the staffers spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the sensitive subject.
They cited a combination of factors alienating the once solid pro-Israel base among Democrats, including the distance from Israel’s era of crises in the 1960s and 1970s, anger at how the Netanyahu government has handled its relationship with the Obama administration, weariness of a decade of U.S. involvement in wars and the plain orneriness of younger people.
The Mizrahi report was distributed on the final day of a week of pro-Israel initiatives on Capitol Hill.
Late that day, 20 minutes short of 10 p.m. Friday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives headed to the floor for a roll call on $225 million in extra funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
It was the end of the session, time to head home for the August recess. Last trains had gone, flights were missed, aides were busy booking Saturday travel, but few Congress members would dare miss a critical pro-Israel tally. The appropriation passed 395-8 at 10:03 p.m.
Earlier in the day, down the hall in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans set aside partisan differences and stripped away wish-list amendments from their own versions of the Iron Dome appropriation to pass it as a stand-alone. …read more