Americans Support Israelis, Not their Government

2 May 2019

There has been much concern of late over the future of American support for Israel. Our American Jewish community has poured tremendous resources into shoring up American support for Israel—and sometimes this support is framed as support for the policies of Israel’s government. Meanwhile, much ink is spilt, and hands wrung, over the growing divide, especially, between Israel and progressive Americans.

But the truth is, Americans support Israelis – and in large numbers. They just disapprove of Israel’s government and its policies. That’s what we learned from this years’ Pew survey on American opinions about Israelis and Palestinians, the major annual poll widely considered the bellwether for US public opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week the Pew Research Center published its annual survey. This year, the survey asked several new questions aimed to measure Americans’ opinions of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples – and to see whether these differed from their views about their respective governments. The survey found that Americans have a much more favorable view of both Israeli and Palestinian people than they do their governments. In fact, 64 percent of Americans were found to have a favorable or somewhat favorable attitude toward Israelis—in contrast to just 41 percent who held similar attitudes toward its government. (The partisan divide is more stark. 61 percent of Republicans hold favorable views toward Israel’s government, while only 26 percent of Democrats do. 57 percent of Democrats hold positive attitudes towards Israelis.)

That makes a lot of sense.

We have seen the direction Israel’s government is leading its people. And so do Americans.

Americans see an increasingly authoritarian and illiberal government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, leading Israelis further away from a vision of a just and equitable society. Americans see policies that each year drive Israelis and Palestinians further away from peace, and leaders who undermine its democratic institutions and target and marginalize minorities, political opponents and civil society organizations.

Americans understand fundamentally the difference between a government and the people. We understand that Israelis and Palestinians want more than what their leaders are offering—and that there are Israelis who are working hard to build a more just, free, and equitable and democratic society.

We speak about the shared values which unite our two countries in a special relationship. But as Israel drifts increasingly towards illiberalism and authoritarian populism — and away from liberal democracy and civic equality – more and more Americans are asking themselves, “Which values, precisely?” The values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence? Or the values of “Make Israel Great Again?”

The New Israel Fund is here to show that there is another way. Supporting Israel doesn’t mean blindly supporting its government, no matter what reckless path its populist leadership is leading down. No — it means supporting the Israeli people standing up for democracy and equal rights for all. That is the work of NIF.

The New Israel Fund will continue to lift up the voices of Israelis fighting for a more just and equitable and democratic society. We will continue to invest in the Israelis working to build the basis of a truly inclusive, multiethnic democracy for all Israelis. And that is an idea that we know he vast majority of Americans can believe in.