Much quicker off the mark than me, within a day of the 11 December release of the latest AJC Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion (conducted 6-25 November 2007), Glenn Greenwald was writing in Salon on ‘How Unrepresentative Neocon Jewish Groups Are’, concluding,
One of the defining traits of war-loving neoconservatives is that their unrelenting and exclusive fixation on the
Manifestly, they are nothing of the sort. Even among American Jews, they comprise only a small minority, and their generally discredited militarism is widely rejected by most Jews as well. It is always worth underscoring these points, which are so frequently (and deliberately) obscured, and this comprehensive poll provides potent — actually quite conclusive — evidence for doing so.
The same day, Yoshie, citing Greenwald, concurred on his own Critical montages blog, as well as in a guest post on Lenin’s tomb ‘that neo-conservatives are a tiny minority at odds with a great majority of Jewish Americans they claim to represent’, observing further that ‘after all these years, Jewish Americans still largely lean to the Left’.
Eric Alterman remarks in the Nation that
it's news only if you haven't been paying attention. An examination of past AJC surveys as well as a number of other polls of American Jews demonstrates that Jews have remained remarkably faithful to the values of liberal humanism. These views, however, have been obscured in our political discourse by an unholy alliance between conservative-dominated professional Jewish organizations and neoconservative Jewish pundits, aided by pliant and frequently clueless mainstream media that empower these right-wingers to speak for a people with values diametrically opposed to theirs.
These observers are quite emphatic – ‘It is beyond dispute that American Jews overwhelmingly oppose core neoconservative foreign policy principles’, ‘values diametrically opposed’, ‘at odds with a great majority’.
To be sure, only minorities claim to adhere to some of the positions of the Zionist organisations. For example, while the AJC itself appears to be on a campaign to discredit the NIE and keep Americans in fear of the Iranian nukes imminently raining onto Isr
When I say, ‘the same as last year’, it is important to bear in mind that in a small sample like this, the ‘margin of error’ is three percentage points. So last year’s estimate of 35% could in fact be anywhere between 32% and 38%, as could this year’s. In other words, the same estimate could conceal either a rise or a fall of up to six percentage points, or more.
It might be worth reiterating that three percentage points is not the same as 3%. If, for example, we had an estimate of 50% of American Jews who claim to be members of synagogues, a margin of error of three points gives us a range of 47% to 53%. If the margin of error were 3%, 3% of 50% is 1.5%, so the range would be 48.5% to 51.5%. Quite a different kettle of fish. Furthermore, you would calculate the latter difference on the basis of the original absolute estimates, although in this case, it shouldn’t matter. The reason that these estimates may be off by more than 3 points either way is that there is a certain level of confidence that that is the margin of error, unstated in this case. It is definitely less than 100% for obvious reasons, and is probably about 85%.
In a 17 December article, ‘American Jews on War and Peace: What Do the Polls Tell Us and Not Tell Us?’, James Petras sets out to answer
How is it that a majority of US Jews who, according to the AJC poll (and several others going back over two decades) differ with the principal American Jewish organizations, have not or do not challenge the position of the dominant Jewish organization, have virtually no impact on the US Congress, the Executive and the mass media in comparison to the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations?
And I think Richard Silverstein has come up with a more pl
Petras has a grasp of the organized Jewish community but no grasp at all of unaffiliated Jews, who constitute just under half of the population. The AJC survey includes ALL Jews whether affiliated or unaffiliated. Unaffiliated Jews are much more likely to have views to the left of the "dominant Jewish organizations." The reason that unaffiliated Jews do not challenge the prevailing wisdom in the mainstream community is that doing so does not interest them. That's why they're unaffiliated. It's a vicious circle really. So to blame those who have essentially opted out of the program for the perpetuation of noxious attitudes among those who are still with the program misses the point entirely.
Blaming Jewish peace groups for not moving the Jewish agenda toward the left is wrong-headed. These groups attempt to work with both affiliated and unaffiliated Jews to move the prevailing consensus in a leftward direction. There are many reasons why they have not had more success (lack of funds and powerful leaders, lack of strategic vision, strength of their opponents). And I think that most members and staff of these organizations realize they need to do more. But to denounce them for this lack of success and blame the troubling AJC results on them is mean-spirited and just flat out wrong.
While admitting that ‘it is surprising, and disturbing, that the result is as close as it is’, Silverstein finds comfort in the 46% plurality saying they ‘favor the establishment of a Palesitnian state’, in comparison to the 43% opposed. As it happens, the AJC have asked the same question every year since 2000, and this year’s 46% support is the lowest it’s stood over that period, significantly falling by eight points from last year’s 54%. Similarly, the proportion opposing a Palestinian state has increased from 38% last year and the year before to 43% in 2007, the second highest level recorded over the eight year period. (It was 47% in 2002.) As the margins of error overlap, this may or may not be significant, but the stability of many of the estimates over time suggests that a five point increase could be.
What’s interesting about the question, however, is not the numbers, but the wording, ‘In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?’ Without additional information, the answers to such a question don’t tell us very much. Some respondents may favour establishment of a Palestinian state from the
To understand what the opinions about the establishment of a Palestinian state mean, I would have liked to see answers to questions about the refugee issue, about Isr
A couple of questions touch on my concerns, if tangentially. When asked,
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? "Caring about
69% agreed, 28% disagreed, and 3% weren’t sure. Now you can spin this question so that I could honestly agree. Indeed, caring about what
How close do you feel to
is the nearest thing they ask to a measure of Zionist sentiment, as I define it. Still, without knowing respondents’ motivations – without asking why – we don’t know whether those who feel ‘very distant’ from Isr
Returning to the issue of the Palestinian state, what we do know from the survey is how respondents answered
In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should
Like most of the questions in the AJC survey, there are problems with the wording. To begin with, it rests on the assumption that ‘a permanent peace with the Palestinians’ is conceivable without a capital of the Palestinian state, whatever its configuration, in al Quds. And that already betrays further assumptions – that ‘the Palestinians’ means the PA; that anyone purporting to represent ‘the Palestinians’ could negotiate sovereignty over Jerusalem, that ‘peace’ means simply the end of all resistance. Furthermore, the question assumes that it would be a compromise for
A majority of 58% said that
At one level, it would be nice to have access to the raw data and run some cross tabulations. Then we could have estimates of the proportion, for example, who both favour a Palestinian state and think
According to the AJCommittee survey for 2007, 42% of Orthodox respondents identified themselves as Democrats, while 30% identified as Republicans.
Since only 8% of the AJC sample identified as Orthodox, that is, between 75 and 84 of the 1000 respondents, the margin of error would be very high, or what amounts to the same thing, the confidence that the margin of error is three percentage points would be much lower than 85%, or whatever it is for proportions of the entire sample. The figures do, however, appear to coincide with those asserted by the Orthodox Union, however they were collected.
Notwithstanding the small consolation Silverstein finds in the possible plurality favouring a Palestinian state,
The remaining answers are flat out unnerving and make me realize how much work remains to be done if there is ever to be a realistic understanding of the IP conflict among American Jews. As a group we have swallowed hook, line and sinker some of the worst prejudices and ignorant attitudes toward Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole.
Most of the questions that concern him resemble the ‘How close’ question in that an affirmative response is more meaningful than a negative. For example,
Do you think that negotiations between Isr
The 55% who answered ‘Cannot’ may comprise those who don’t think there will ever be peace under any circumstances; those who think there will be peace, but not in the foreseeable future; those who think there will be peace in the foreseeable future, but not as a result of the negotiations; those who don’t agree that those two parties are negotiating; etc. Those who said, ‘Can’, on the other hand probably all share at least a desire to appear optimistic, and may actually believe that Olmert and abu Mazen both enjoy sufficient credibility among their purported constituencies and with each other to be able to negotiate in good faith, that their common objective is peace in the foreseeable future, and the other profoundly impl
What is rather alarming is the 82% majority agreeing
...with the following statement? "The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of
What this question does above all else is invite the respondent to buy into racism. By refusing to specify whether ‘the Arabs’ are ‘the moderate Arab states’, the PA, the Palestinians in general, Arabs in general, or whatever, the question’s framers force the respondent to accept the racist presupposition that ‘the Arabs’ are of one mind. They are duplicitous in pretending to demand the return of the territories occupied in 1967, but in reality, they are bent on
Several of those writing about the poll have made much of the high proportion of American Jews identifying as ‘liberal’ and Democrat. On this, Petras is spot on.
Progressive analysts who cite overwhelming Jewish support for the Democratic Party, its top three Presidential candidates and their preference for the liberal label as differentiating them from the leaders of the major organizations, commit an elementary logical and substantive fallacy. Liberals, like the
The question asked is,
I’m going to read you a list of political views that people might hold. They are arranged from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Where would you place yourself on this scale?
Moderate, middle of the road
When designing a question like this with a number of response categories among which the respondent must select just one, it is imperative to ensure that the response categories exh
Some of the other questions may shed some light on just how liberal American Jews really are. This year, 43% claimed to be either ‘Extremely liberal’(4%), ‘Liberal’(23%), or ‘Slightly liberal’ (16%), a little above the average for 2000-2008.
It’s true that 57% opposed ‘...the
‘Looking back,’ 67% said they thought the
This year, 59% said they were ‘very concerned’, and another 33% ‘somewhat concerned’, ‘about the prospect of
In 2002, when 37% said they were liberal – not necessarily different from this year’s 43%, taking the margin of error into account – 57% approved ‘...of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power?’
In 2001, with 42% claiming to be liberal, 91% favoured ‘...the United States taking direct military action in
On domestic issues, I agree with Petras that identification with the Democratic Party is not an indicator of liberalism. But a couple of questions may touch on the matter. When asked how serious a problem illegal immigration was, 79% said it was ‘somewhat serious’ or ‘very serious’, a probably insignificant one point higher than in 2006; 95% said it was a problem both years. In answer to the question about policy, 15% said they should all be deported, one point more than last year, and 67% said they should be allowed to stay if they meet certain unspecified requirements. None of the response categories seems to accommodate the population who prefer open borders and the free movement of labour.
On the whole, the AJC Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion is a disappointment. Professional survey development involves study of focus group responses to the questions and runs pilot tests to determine whether the questions collect the intended concepts. I would like to give Synovate the benefit of the doubt, but it’s frankly hard to imagine that questions as conceputally suspect as these would have survived rigorous testing. Through carelessness or cynicism, Synovate (formerly Market Facts), ‘a leading survey-research organization’, has framed questions that beg other questions and delivered results that are in many cases ambiguous.
Assuming that neither Synovate nor the AJC has actually tampered with the results – and I do assume that, what they seem to indicate is that a plurality of American Jews like to think of themselves as liberal. On the question of whether the
Alterman nails the reason for the apparent disconnect between mainstream Jewish opinion and the organisations that purport to speak for American Jewry.
In large part the trouble lies with the antidemocratic structures of these organizations and the apathy of most Jews with regard to organized Jewish life. Major Jewish groups respond to the demands of their top funders and best-organized constituencies. Most American Jews, however, have little or nothing to do with these groups. [my emphasis]
In other words, who pays the piper calls the tune. AIPAC and the other principal pro