Americans are divided on President Donald Trump’s approach to U.S.-Israeli relations. But there’s at least one group outside the United States that overwhelmingly supports the embassy move, finds Shibley Telhami: Jewish Israelis. This piece originally appeared on Politico.
The Trump administration on Monday celebrated moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the capital city of Jerusalem. But ever since the move was announced in December, it has been condemned in the Middle East and around the world. The Arab League called the embassy relocation a “blatant attack on the feelings of Arabs and Muslims” and a “grave violation of the rules of international law” that could destabilize the region. British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We disagree with the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement.” Meanwhile, at the Gaza border, tens of thousands of Palestinians protested the embassy move—and Israeli fire killed dozens of them and wounded hundreds.
Americans, for their part, are divided on President Donald Trump’s approach to U.S.-Israeli relations. But there’s at least one group outside the United States that overwhelmingly supports the embassy move, according to a new University of Maryland poll: Jewish Israelis. Overall, 73 percent of them support moving the embassy, including the timing of it.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem surprising that Israeli Jews would agree on this matter. But in fact, they are a group deeply divided on many domestic and foreign policy issues, including the path forward on Palestinian relations. And since Jerusalem has both religious and political significance, one would expect variations across the religious/secular divide within Judaism. On the embassy issue, however, Jewish Israelis seem to have banded together to support Trump’s move—to the point that they also strongly support the U.S. president himself, in contrast with most Americans and indeed most people around the world, who hold unfavorable views of Trump.
Of course, Arab citizens of Israel—who constitute about one-fifth of the Israeli population—view the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the U.S. Embassy move much differently from Jewish Israelis. In the poll—conducted among a representative sample of 650 Israeli Jews from May 6-9—my colleagues and I chose to focus on Jewish Israelis because we wanted to find out if there are substantial differences among Israeli Jews, including on the embassy issue. Where Israeli Jews diverge, according to the poll, is on how much sovereignty Israel should hold over East Jerusalem, the largely Arab part of the city that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and that Palestinians would claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state. That disagreement, at least, suggests that a large segment of Jewish Israelis might be open to ceding parts of East Jerusalem to a Palestinian state if a peace agreement ever materialized (keeping in mind that all of East Jerusalem is occupied territories in the eyes of the United Nations).
On the question of the U.S. Embassy move, the poll found that only 5 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose the decision. Even among secular Israeli Jews, only 8 percent oppose the move. In addition to the 73 percent of Israeli Jews who support moving the embassy, including the timing of it, another 20 percent support the move but would have preferred that Trump had waited until he unveiled his plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For the record, the poll was fielded by phone by Statnet; the margin of error of was 3.92 percent.)
Another key finding: Israeli Jews’ love for the U.S. president. Fifty-nine percent of Jewish Israelis have a favorable opinion of the president, including more than 70 percent of Haredi Jews and non-Haredi religious Jews. Even among secular Israeli Jews, 45 percent have favorable views of Trump, and 30 percent have unfavorable views. It’s important to keep in mind that as this poll was being conducted, Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, a move the Israeli government has strongly pushed for; that may have since made Trump even more favorable to Jewish Israelis.
On the question of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, Israeli views are more complicated. Israeli Jews strongly agree that Israel should have sovereignty over Jewish holy places and the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem (83 percent agree, 11 percent disagree) and the walled old city (74 percent agree, 19 percent disagree). But they are somewhat more divided on the issue of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods (51 percent agree that Israel should have sovereignty, 42 percent disagree). While those identifying themselves as non-Haredi religious Jews are the strongest advocates of Israeli sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods (74 percent), a majority of secularist Jews (56 percent) do not agree with such a move. If a deal remains possible at all for an independent Palestinian state, this divide on sovereignty over Arab sections of Jerusalem suggests a possible openness among the Israeli public to sharing sovereignty over the city.
In addition to the influence of some of the presidents’ Israel advisers—Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman—it has been reported that evangelical Christians supporters of the president played a key role in his decision to move the embassy. Jewish Israelis are a little less certain about this aspect of Trump’s embassy move. While 14 percent of them are not familiar with evangelical Christians, only 26 percent have favorable views of evangelicals; 43 percent are neutral, and 16 percent have unfavorable views. In previous polling, I conducted in the United States, evangelical Christians were found to be more supportive of the Israeli government and more admiring of its prime minister than other Americans. This newer poll suggests that the feelings are not mutual. And that is even before it was announced that the evangelical pastor leading prayer at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem would be Robert Jeffress, who claims that Jews “are going to hell.”
As I wrote on the eve of Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move the embassy there, it’s hard to see how this move could advance the cause of peace. Since the decision was announced, the Palestinians have stayed out of any U.S.-led mediation efforts, and Palestinian protests have only grown, with casualties rising. Still, it’s not as though peace was about to break out had it not been for the embassy move. The poll shows that Trump’s move has won him Israel’s love, but this has come at the expense of driving the Palestinians away. As Israelis—perhaps more than any other people on the planet—celebrate Trump, Palestinians have lost faith in the White House’s willingness and ability to mediate an equitable peace settlement.
The crux of [America's China] strategy is to advance interests, uphold values, and strengthen cohesion with allies and partners. One hopes that the Biden administration will be able to move discussion from questions of toughness to measures of effectiveness in delivering tangible results.