Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A feather in our cap

The American Jewish Committee has just released the results of their 2009 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion to the acclaim of David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC, in his Jerusalem Post blog. Slagging off ‘surveys sponsored by right-wing or left-wing groups...
These ideologically-driven organizations always magically find polling outfits, construct questions, and present data that somehow undergird their preconceived views...

Enter AJC's Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. No doctrinal axe to grind, no effort to tilt the questions, no desire to withhold "inconvenient" results.

Last year, the AJC reduced the sample size for their survey from 1000 to 800, implausibly claiming the same 3 percentage point margin of error. At the same time, they also reduced the question set from 38 questions to 15, unconscionably interrupting the time series I had so laboriously constructed for several questions.

This year, they have retained the reduced sample size but reintroduced some of the old questions, along with a few new ones. Lest anyone accuse me of cherry picking, I’d better go through all 21. I might just mention in passing, though, that both Harris’s blog post and the AJC press release claim that ‘there's little difference in attitudes towards Middle East matters among the various generational cohorts’. If they can disaggregate the responses by age, it’s a variable they must have collected, but have declined to report. So while there may be no desire to withhold inconvenient results, they have actually withheld some significant results, which can only make you wonder what else they have kept to themselves.

The poll begins with three new questions,
1. How would you characterize relations between Israel and the United States today? Are they very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, or very negative?

2. Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of US-Israel relations?

3. Do you approve or disapprove of the Netanyahu government’s handling of Israel-US relations?

Like so many questions in AJC and other opinion polls, whatever little information you may be able to extract is ambiguous, contingent upon how you believe respondents interpreted it. When the survey went into the field, 30 August to 17 September, it was already clear that Israeli PM Netanyahu had absolutely no intention of humouring Obama’s insistence on a freeze in settlement construction. In that context, some may have felt Israeli defiance was a positive development, some that Obama’s humiliating retreat was positive, some that it was positive that he put on a show of confronting the Israeli government in the first place. Others might have thought the very same things evidenced negative relations, whatever that means. A wide variety of other aspects of the relationship could have struck respondents as positive or negative, depending on factors they were not asked about. For what it’s worth, 81% said relations were positive, 54% approved of Obama, and 59% of Bibi.

A fourth new question was slightly less ambiguous than most AJC questions,
4. Do you agree or disagree with the Obama Administration’s call for a stop to all new Israeli settlement construction?

If we assume that respondents believe that new settlement construction has nothing to do with expansion of the matrix of control over the population of the West Bank and is simply an effort to provide accommodation for younger generations born in the settlements, then it’s possible that the 51% who disagreed just think it would be unfair to force the Jewish settlers to live in more crowded conditions than they’re accustomed to, or to move their young families into ‘Israel proper’. It goes without saying that the AJC neglected to ask how American Jews felt about the restrictions on issue of building permits to accommodate the natural increase among Palestinians in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, or in ‘Israel proper’, nor about the home demolitions and evictions.

Of course we know that settlement expansion is not just about natural growth. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics’s Statistical abstract of Israel 2009 (Table 2.4), 31% of the population growth in ‘Judea and Samaria’ of 14,000 in 2008, was due to migration – 700 immigrants and 3900 internal migrants. The ICBS itself attributes only 69% to ‘Natural increase’. In 2007, migrants accounted for 37% of the increase. Since the data don’t disaggregate the areas of the Jerusalem District occupied in 1967, I have excluded it.

Yet another new question asks,

5. As compared with one year ago, are you more optimistic about the chance for a lasting peace between Israel and the Arabs, less optimistic, or do you think the chance for a lasting peace is about the same as it was one year ago?

This is even less informative than a typical AJC question without considering it together with a question about how they felt last year. We don’t know what the 2009 sample thought about the long term prospects for peace last year, but we do know how the 2008 sample answered a question the AJC has been asking since 2006,
10. Do you think there will or will not come a time when Israel and its Arab neighbors will be able to settle their differences and live in peace?

It’s a different sample of course and it’s kind of bodgy to compare percentages of percentages, but since that’s all the AJC has given us to work with, it turns out that 38% last year said that they thought there will come such a time and 56% that it will not. Among this year’s sample, 43% said there will and 51% there will not. So 13% more of this year’s sample said there will come a time and 9% fewer said there won’t. So you might expect some 22% to say they feel more optimistic and 78% to say they felt the same. In fact, only 12% were more optimistic, 23% less optimistic, and 65% the same as one year ago. They are not the same people, but if the samples were truly as representative as the pollsters claim, it shouldn’t matter. Of course, it’s possible that people discerned that they were more optimistic, while still thinking peace unlikely, and vice versa. Ultimately, the two variables aren’t strictly compatible. It’s not that the answers are inconsistent with each other, it’s that the respondents can make very fine measurements of their level of optimism.

Closely related to these two questions is Question 9, asked every year since 2000, except 2008,
9. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”
It is, I suppose, mildly encouraging that with 75% agreeing, this has fallen to its lowest level since 2001, seven points below the proportion who agreed in 2007 and below the 78% average over the nine observations. That means that 28% of the sample who believe ‘the Arabs’ aim to destroy Israel also think that they will someday settle their differences with Israel and live in peace. Anyone familiar with Zionist discourse will find contradictions like this unsurprising. Furthermore, as I mentioned in 2007,
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 Israel’s destruction, a second Holocaust. Again, we can’t really tell much about those who disagreed without knowing why they did so. But it’s pretty clear that those who agreed were prepared to accept those assumptions.

Just imagine a poll asking,
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Jews is not the establishment of a viable Palestinian state but rather the annexation of all of historic Palestine.”

The AJC would be among the first to excoriate the pollsters for their blatant antisemitism. And rightly so.

The last question concerning the prospects for peace, which has featured in the last three iterations of the survey, is,
11. Do you think that Israel can or cannot achieve peace with a Hamas-led Palestinian government?

The proportion saying Israel cannot achieve peace with Hamas has risen by 11 percentage points from 2008 to 79%, the highest level in the three years the question was asked.

I assume that the reference to a ‘Palestinian government’ is just lazy shorthand for a Hamas majority in the Palestinian National Authority, a strictly administrative body whose mandate under the Oslo accords to police designated areas of the West Bank on the occupier’s behalf was to have expired in 1999. Still, by calling it a government, the question invites the respondent to think of the PA as a separate country that can treat with Israel on the basis of some sort of equality. And it is an important component of Israeli propaganda to represent Israel and the Palestinians, who are always assumed to be just the minority of Palestinians who happen to reside in the West Bank and Gaza, as adversaries. When couched in these terms, liberals can comfortably demand evenhandedness in treatment of the two sides, recognise that each has hurt the other, that each has suffered at the other’s hands, and that each ought to be willing to make painful sacrifices and compromise in the interests of peace. Explicitly recognising that Israel is the coloniser and the occupier would undermine such conceits and raise the spectre of recognising the Palestinians’ right to resist.

By asking whether Israel ‘can achieve peace’, the question further demands that the respondent accept that peace is Israel’s objective, that it is something Israel aspires to and is exerting itself to bring to fruition. There’s no point in reciting the litany of offers of peace, including recent ones from Hamas, that Israel has ignored or rebuffed. I think it will suffice to mention the siege imposed on the suffering people of Gaza and the shower of white phosphorous and whatnot that Israel treated them to earlier this year with the explicit aim of annihilating Hamas and the ‘infrastructure of terror’, like schools, hospitals, prisons, government buildings, warehouses, factories, farms, orchards, mosques, houses, power plants, and so forth, to evidence just how hard Israel is trying to achieve peace with Hamas.

Harris writes that American Jews, ‘understand that if peace with the Palestinians is to be achieved, it will require two states’. Now understand is another one of those ‘factive verbs’, like recognise, that presuppose the truth of the content of the that clause. So if American Jews understand that ‘it will require two states’, then it must really require two states. Apart from deploying a slimy rhetorical trick, therefore, Harris reveals his own preconception and ‘doctrinal axe to grind’.

Four questions bear on the respondents’ view of the two state ‘solution’. The first, an old standby, but a casualty of last year’s cull, returns this year.
6. In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?

This year, 49% favoured a Palestinian state, three percentage points more than in 2007 and below the average of 52% over the eight years they were asked, while 41% opposed it, two points less than 2007 and just over the 40% average.

But as I wrote in 2007, the last time they asked,

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 Jordan to the Mediterranean. Others may favour a series of disconnected bantustans whose borders, airspace, port, communications infrastructure, etc. are under Israeli control. Some of those opposed may prefer a single democratic secular state throughout historic Palestine, or the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza to Israel and the expulsion of the remaining non Jewish population. So it is not at all obvious that favouring establishment of a Palestinian state is necessarily a progressive view, or that opposing it is not. In fact, even if it were safe to assume that all respondents understood the question the same way, as something like the Geneva initiative, with a return to more or less the Green Line and a ‘symbolic’ gesture towards justice for the refugees, that is a long way from progressive. As I’ve discussed before, it entails accepting that ethnic cleansing and terrorism are acceptable nation building strategies, that territory can legitimately be acquired by force of arms, that refugees deserve permanent exile and statelessness, that it’s ok to privilege one group over another on the basis of religion or ethnicity, and other positions that are prima facie anti progressive.
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 Israel’s status as a Jewish state, whether a Jewish state can be democratic, the status of the Israeli Arabs, ‘targetted assassinations’, checkpoints, the boycott of Hamas and the siege of Gaza, the bypass roads, the future of the ‘large settlement blocs’, (In 2005, the last time they asked the question, 36% opposed dismantling any West Bank settlements, the highest ever and up seven points from 29% in 2004.), the construction and route of the wall (In 2006, 73% supported ‘the Israeli government's decision to build the security fence separating Israelis and Palestinians?’, up from 69% the previous year.), among other things. In particular, I’m interested in the proportion of US Jews who subscribe to views that I would define as Zionist, that is, who believe that a state that privileges Jews is acceptable. But I wasn’t really expecting them to ask that. I think it is clear from the phrasing of other questions, the ‘destruction of Israel’ question in particular, that those framing these questions simply assumed that it went without saying that all respondents do hold such views. It would be frightening, but not really surprising, if they are right.

Question 7 has been part of the AJC questionnaire since 2000, apart from last year.
7. In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?

This year, 37% said yes, one point less than in 2007 and below the nine year average of 40%, while 58% said no, above the average of 55%, and 6% weren’t sure.

As I wrote last time,
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 Israel to relinquish sovereignty, when not even the US recognises Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. Anyway, the answers to this question do shed a little light on the Palestinian state question.

Specifically, if all of the 41% who oppose establishing a Palestinian state and all of the 1% who weren’t sure and all of the 9% whose response the AJC has not tabulated, presumably refusals, also said Israel should not compromise on Jerusalem, that means that a minimum of 7% of those who favour a Palestinian state want that state to exclude any part of Jerusalem, suggesting that the Palestinian state they envision falls short even of the miserly Arab peace plan or the Geneva initiative.

The next question, which the questionnaire included from 2001 until 2005 and again this year, asks,
8. As part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?

As with the Jerusalem question, this one rests on the assumption that there is some conceivable permanent resolution to ‘the conflict’ that would leave Jewish settlers in occupation of a portion of the sliver of territory east of the Green Line. This is of course consistent with the principal partition proposals, which envisage land swaps to compensate the Palestinian state for the land Israel would annex in the West Bank for the facts on the ground.

A significant proportion – 37% — want to retain all of the settlements. To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these actually believe that position is consistent with establishing a Palestinian state. It’s virtually inconceivable that any of the 8% of American Jews who told the AJC that they were prepared to countenance dismantling all of the settlements were among the 41% who oppose partition. Another 52% said it would be ok to dismantle some of them. That’s a larger proportion than the 49% who said they favoured establishing a Palestinian state, so even if I’m wrong about the ones who would dismantle all the settlements, there are still some in the sample who think Israel should be willing to dismantle some settlements even though they oppose partition. Which makes you wonder why they want to dismantle settlements. I can only speculate that they may harbour some resentment towards some particular group of settlers, perhaps because they’re too secular, or not secular enough?

One of the ironies of positions that Israel should retain control of all of Jerusalem, or all or some of the settlements, is the assumption that after the UN allocated 55% of historic Palestine to the Jewish state in the 1947 partition resolution and after Zionist forces captured and annexed an additional 23% in 1948, it is Israel that would be compromising if it were to relinquish control of part of what it annexed in 1967. Those who, like Nobel Peace Laureate Barak Obama, say, ‘Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided’, are comfortable with Israel conquering territory by force and annexing it permanently.

The last question about the partition agreement is brand new,
12. Should the Palestinians be required or not be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement?
On the face of it, you’d think this was evidence of Harris’s assertion that the AJC has ‘no desire to withhold "inconvenient" results’, because this requirement, supported by a whopping 94% of the sample, is a true showstopper. And yet, when he writes in his blog
The most decisive response: 94 percent of those surveyed believe that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the context of a final peace agreement.

you’d think he didn’t even realise that this requirement was a serious, probably insuperable, obstacle to any kind of agreement with the Palestinians. Not that it’s contentious or anything – it was, after all, one of the principal demands of The Quartet whose Road Map peace plan has enjoyed so much success. Furthermore, as I’ve argued before, partition of Palestine actually presupposes the existence of a Jewish state because ultimately the whole point of creating a separate Palestinian state is to preserve the Jewish character and Jewish majority in Israel.

But to recognise Israel as a Jewish state implies accepting the legitimacy of Israel’s foundation as such, which required the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous inhabitants to establish the required sustainable Jewish majority, effectively relinquishing the refugees’ right to return. It is certainly not out of the question that some unrepresentative quisling Palestinian administration, like the current Abbas regime, might be prepared to humiliate itself even further by selling out the refugees and the Palestinian Israelis to retain control of some rump Palestinian state and the lucrative perks that go with being the big fish in a small pond. But that’s not a position widely favoured among Palestinians.

The 29 September AJC press release announcing the results of the survey quotes Harris,
“AJC surveys have consistently shown that American Jews yearn for Arab-Israeli peace, and back compromise through negotiations, but remain skeptical of Arab intentions, and disheartened by a tough environment in the Middle East, especially with Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s very legitimacy,” Harris said.

In reality, the questions in this year’s survey, as in previous iterations’, provide evidence for only one of these assertions – that American Jews are sceptical of Arab intentions. If you assume with Harris that establishing a Palestinian state has some prospect of delivering peace in historic Palestine, then all we can say with any confidence is that less than half of American Jews favour that, and most of them wouldn’t even go that far if it doesn’t involve the humiliation of the Palestinians by forcing them to accept the legitimacy of their dispossession. And many don’t yearn for peace enough to support withdrawing from the territory conquered in 1967. I think what he means is that they yearn for ‘calm’, the media euphemism for a situation where Israel persists in building settlements, restricting movement, demolishing homes, shooting protesters, committing extrajudicial executions notwithstanding ‘collateral damage’ and Palestinians don’t react. Their yearning for peace extends to Israeli Jews. And if that’s what he thinks, he may be right, but the AJC survey hasn’t asked any questions that would support it.

Only 8% of the sample, the lowest proportion in the six years they’ve asked, were prepared to compromise to the extent of dismantling all of the settlements, which can only mean that they reject withdrawal behind the Green Line. Over the six years they’ve asked, the average proportion was 11%, peaking at 15% in 2005. As in each of eight previous surveys, a majority won’t even consider ‘compromise’ on part of Jerusalem, with an average of 55% rejecting it. And hardly any of them would compromise on recognition. So it’s not at all obvious how he arrives at his conclusion that American Jews ‘back compromise’.

In 2000, 59% said they supported the Israeli government’s handling of ‘negotiations with the Arabs’. Between 2001 and 2004, majorities of between 60% and 63% agreed ‘Regardless of their individual views on the peace negotiations with the Arabs, American Jews should support the policies of the duly elected government of Israel’. Then in 2007, 55% said they thought ‘negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cannot lead to peace in the foreseeable future’. And that’s all we know about American Jews’ views on negotiations from the Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. On this basis, I couldn’t claim that ‘AJC surveys have consistently shown that American Jews back compromise through negotiations’ without significant embarrassment.

On the whole it would appear that David Harris is unconcerned with presenting data that somehow undergirds his preconceived views. His preconceived views are independent of and impervious to his own data.

Moving right along, the survey goes on to ask three questions about the most pressing issue for American Jews, for Israel, and well, for everybody,
13. Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue?
A plurality of 49% approve, 35% disapprove, and 15% aren’t sure. As usual, there’s a hidden agenda. To answer the question requires respondents to accept that there is some Iran nuclear issue. The Iran nuclear issue is not that Iran has built uranium enrichment facilities, including one it has just announced it is constructing near Qom, in strict accordance with their obligations as a party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, that the IAEA and the US ‘intelligence’ community can find no evidence of any intention to develop a nuclear weapons capability despite the most intrusive inspection regime anywhere and despite imminent threats of attack by both the global and the regional superpowers. No. That wouldn’t be it. The Iran nuclear issue is that the fanatical mullahs, determined to exterminate all Jews even at the price of their own obliteration, are on the verge of producing two deliverable nuclear warheads with the inadequately enriched uranium it has stockpiled. It goes without saying there is no India nuclear issue and no Pakistan nuclear issue, at least not yet, much less an Israel nuclear issue or a US, UK, or France nuclear issue.

In their yearning for peace, only 56% support ‘the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons’ (Q14) and just 66% support Israel doing so (Q15).

The next two questions seem designed to undermine confidence that the respondents possess any grasp on reality whatsoever.
16. Do you think that anti-Semitism around the world is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?

Ninety-nine percent said they thought antisemitism was a problem, 56% a ‘Very Serious problem’. Now there are cases in the US of nazi hooligans attacking Jews, and doubtless of landlords refusing tenants and employers refusing jobs to Jews because they were Jewish. But I doubt if there’s been a case of the police harassing anyone because they were Jewish in living memory. Nor of denying admission to university or any of the other manifestations of racism.

According to the Anti Defamation League’s 2008 annual audit of antisemitic incidents, they had declined for the fourth consecutive year, and the vast majority of incidents involved remarks or graffiti. And the ADL has a very low threshold for perceiving antisemitism. They were impelled, for example, to write to Garry Trudeau on 1 June to complain about his 31 May cartoon, where a child uses the expression 'moneylenders' in a conversation about the Bible with the vicar.

I assume, without much confidence, that Abraham Foxman’s noxious ADL excludes expressions of antizionism and mild criticisms of Israel from their enumeration of ‘incidents’, as Britain’s Community Security Trust claims to in its reports on antisemitic incidents. Of the 1352 incidents their audit enumerates, 37 involved actual assault, that is, if we accept the ADL’s claims that these were unambiguously racially motivated, about 1 assault for every 162,000 Jews in the US.

And as if that weren’t ample evidence of profound and delusory paranoia,

17. Looking ahead over the next several years, do you think that anti-Semitism around the world will increase greatly, increase somewhat, remain the same, decrease somewhat, or decrease greatly?

Only 10% expect antisemitism to decrease, while 45% anticipate an increase, 15% greatly, despite the ADL’s claims that it is declining.

The survey then asked about party affiliation and religious denomination.
18. In politics as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?

Sixteen percent of the sample claimed to be Republican, 53% Democrat, 30% Independent, and 1% Not sure.

19. Do you think of yourself as . . .
Orthodox               9
Conservative       24
Reconstructionist 2
Reform               27
Just Jewish         36
Not sure                1

Without the original dataset, you can’t crosstabulate these with any other variables, so I don’t find them especially interesting. In any case, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, crosstabulating variables with a sample of 800 results in very high margins of error. Or to put it another way, you have to be less confident that the estimate really represents the population it’s supposed to.

For example, Harris claims,

The gap in perspectives between self-identified Orthodox and Reform Jews is astonishingly wide. For instance, while 59 percent of Reform Jews approve of the Obama administration's handling of U.S.-Israel relations, among Orthodox Jews the figure drops to only 14 percent.

Only 9% of the sample – 72 respondents – said they were Orthodox, and they are supposed to represent the views of all the Orthodox Jews in the US. I suspect that the margin of error – the confidence that 14% of American Orthodox Jews have the same views as those ten respondents – is higher than the estimate itself. If Harris were honest, he would mention something about that. If you think crosstabulations like this are of any interest, the press release reports some.

Not to leave anything out,

20. How important would you say being Jewish is in your own life?

Although I don’t really know what the question might have meant to respondents, 84% said it was important, a slim majority of 51%, very important. Those estimates are lower than the averages over the six years they’ve asked of 88% and 55%, respectively. The 15% who said it wasn’t very important represent the highest level so far.

Finally, what struck Harris as ‘The saddest figure’,
21. How close do you feel to Israel?

As I wrote in 2007,

...without knowing respondents’ motivations – without asking why – we don’t know whether those who feel ‘very distant’ from Israel oppose any discussion of dismantling settlements and favour immediate forcible transfer of all Palestinians from ‘Eretz Yisra’el’, or object to the existence of a Jewish ethnocracy...

Encouragingly, the proportion who felt Very distant remained steady at 8% since last year, although the 22% who felt fairly distant represented a one point decline from 2008, but 30% distant is well above the ten year average of 26%.

It might be kind of interesting to go through Harris’s blog post in detail, refuting every claim, but I’ll confine myself to two more points. The 29 September AJC press release announcing the results of the survey quotes Harris,

While ideologically-driven Jewish groups of the left and right assert that a majority of American Jews share their views on the Middle East, it just isn't true. The AJC survey results reveal very clearly that, in fact, the bulk of American Jews hold largely centrist views, at times tilting to the left, at other times tilting to the right. [my emphasis]

It may provide some insight into what he means by ‘left’ and ‘right’ to consider a couple of paragraphs from his blog post.

The problem for the right: A plurality of American Jews, by a margin of 49 to 41 percent, supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in the current situation.

In addition, a majority of American Jews, 54 percent, supports the Obama administration's handling of U.S.-Israel relations. 32 percent do not.

Clearly, there are American Jewish organisations, like the Zionist Organisation of America, so far to the right that Obama’s insincere and ineffectual pleas for negotiations offend them.

If Harris reckons a 49% plurality of American Jews supporting some kind of Palestinian state is a problem for the right, he must consider it some kind of left wing position. Since, as I mentioned before, the main rationale for partition of Palestine is to preserve Israel as a Jewish state, it takes a long stretch to perceive supporting it as left.

In any case, the AJC survey doesn’t really provide scope for respondents to express unambiguously left wing positions. They could, of course, say they felt very distant from Israel, but we can’t be sure of the extent to which that category may be polluted by ZOA supporters and their ilk. Surely the positions majorities adopted on Jerusalem and recognition of Israel and settlement construction and bombing Iran and, perhaps above all, the Arabs’ goal, do not betoken centrism – these are extreme positions. Beyond that, insofar as the sample truly represents the views of American Jews, they are deeply confused if they think, as some do, that a Palestinian state that accommodates Jewish settlements and foregoes all of Jerusalem is a recipe for peace. And whether the paranoia about antisemitism is clinical, or arises from their uncritical consumption of ADL fear mongering, it strongly suggests we accept their opinions cum grano salis.

Harris expresses contempt for the ‘ideologically-driven Jewish groups of the left and right’ and the polls they’ve conducted. I surmise that ‘the ideologically-driven Jewish groups of the left’ must be J Street, whose National Survey of American Jews I analysed in April. And the only group I know of to the right of the AJC, if you can imagine such a thing, and has conducted any recent polling is the ADL.

I have to concur with Harris that those are pretty ordinary, ideologically driven and rather bodgy polls. The ADL survey results only appear to be available in the form of a little slideshow. The J Street poll is full of loaded and complex questions that by and large can only tell you anything about those who give affirmative responses.

But it takes considerable chutzpah to criticise others’ polls for the same things your own is guilty of. Anyway, it transpires that, to the extent that they are comparable, the results are not that different. For example,

  • 54% of the AJC sample approved of Obama’s handling of US-Israel relations, as did 72% of the J Street sample; 55% pf the ADL sample approved Obama’s handing of ‘US policy towards Israel and the Palestinian Territories’.
  • 62% of the ADL respondents were as optimistic as last year about prospects for peace; like 65% in the AJC poll, well within the margin of error.
  • 49% of the AJC sample support establishing a Palestinian state, like 61% of the ADL sample and 76% of J Street’s.
  • 74% of the ADL sample approved the ‘military action that Israel took in Gaza’, as did 75% of the J Street sample.
  • 66% in the ADL survey and 69% in the J Street poll thought the ‘military action’ was not disproportionate.
  • 49% of the AJC sample, 55% of the ADL sample, and 40% of the J Street sample support a US attack on Iran.
  • 58% of the ADL sample and 66% of the AJC sample support an Israeli attack on Iran.

The results of at least two of the three surveys are close on several measures, and where they depart, it’s not always in the expected direction. So if the ADL is spinning results to support a right wing agenda, how does it come to pass that the ADL reports a much larger proportion than the AJC supporting the purportedly left wing position on establishing a Palestinian state? Or that the ‘left wing’ J Street admitted that more of their respondents supported Israel’s pogrom in Gaza than even among the ADL’s?

So it would seem that Harris talks out the wrong orifice. He is prepared to make assertions about what his own poll found that are inconsistent with the very results he’s presenting and promoting. He lampoons those he seems to perceive as his competitors for the same gaffes he makes even as he does so. He seems to imagine that he can compensate for his ignorance and hypocrisy with arrogance and bluster.

And guess what! A few weeks back, the American Jewish Committee boasted,
David Harris, AJC’s executive director, has been elected a Senior Associate Member of Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College for the academic year 2009-10. He will also be a Member of the college’s European Studies Centre.

“This is a big feather in our cap,” said Richard Sideman, AJC’s president. “It is yet another sign of the esteem in which our staff is held around the world. For AJC, it means, above all, precious exposure to the world of thinkers and ideas affecting the environment in which we work. This, in turn, will further strengthen the agency’s ability to fulfill its ambitious mission.”

Needless to say, my first thought on reading of this was, ‘What an embarrassment for the fifth greatest university in the Oxford needs its very own Dershowitz’. But it turns out that a Senior Associate Member is not such a big deal.

Senior Associate Members are normally visitors to the College and the University for periods of up to a year who are pursing [sic] a specific research objective of their own. They or their academic work must be known to the Governing Body Fellow who is acting as their Sponsor.

If St Antony’s know about the honour they’ve proffered to the AJC, they’re not doing a song and dance about it, because Harris’s name appears nowhere on their site.


  1. hello,

    I have been doing some blog surfing, sort of wondering how others think about israel and politics.
    I noticed your blog from a thread on Hasbara Busters blog, and thought it most enlightening.
    you were debating whether or not it was all jews who were responsible and you attempted to point out that all were not to blame.
    he said germany is collectivly accountable for the holocaust, of course i don't agree, most germans today were not alive then, its wrong to blame them.
    of course hasbara buster maintained it was about jews not zionists, and even the existance of groups like J Steet, tikkun olum, peace now, did not deter him.
    it was illuminating more than anything I have read to understand its not really about palestinian rights, its not about making any distinctions.
    if you are a are to blame...doesn't matter.
    very interesting to see that admitted.

  2. btw, I am callie, I saw hasbara buster on elder of ziyon's blog, he is also a regular there...I decided to see what I could find out, I often wonder if some zionist blogs are too cynical about the views of anti israel people...but I see, that maybe from what I have seen they are correct.

  3. Thanks for your comments, callie.

    It took me quite a while to find the thread you were referring to on The hasbara buster blog ( The point I was trying to make there was that you can’t hold all members of a group culpable for the actions of some members of the group, even if they claim to be acting on behalf of the entire group and even if most members of the group and all avowed ‘leaders’ of the group approve because:
    • For one thing, that is exactly the position that the Zionists take. When you criticise the Israeli military for bombing a hospital in Gaza with white phosphorus, they say it is antisemitic – that you are blaming all Jews for it.
    • For another, if you can say ‘All Jews are responsible for bombing that hospital’, then it would be hard to reject the analogous assertion, ‘All Palestinians/all Arabs/all Muslims are responsible for setting off that Qassam rocket’.
    • Thirdly, assigning collective responsibility implies endorsing collective punishment, and I reject both on principle.
    • Finally, and I think most importantly, blaming a group for the actions of some members entails essentialising the group – turning the group into a ‘race’ that has some inherent characteristics, like bombing hospitals, poisoning wells, or shooting off rockets, or indeed, being intelligent, or having ‘rhythm’, or what have you. It’s all racist crap and we buy into it at our peril.

    I think if you check out their website, you will find that J Street is not actually against settlements. They advocate partition with a ‘land swap’ that allows Israel to keep some of the settlements established on the West Bank since 1967. See

    NiMN’s position ( is more nuanced, but they are an affiliate of Jewish Voice for Peace, whose position (, at least as an interim measure, appears to be that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 ‘border’, which was of course established by way of a shady deal with King Abdullah after conquering substantial territory beyond what the cynical UN partition resolution allocated to the Jewish state. JVP explicitly calls for the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to be ‘balanced’ by the right of ‘nations’ to self determination. After 62 years in exile, it seems the refugees’ rights are always negotiable.

    If by ‘Tikkun Olum’ you mean Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun magazine, his position is very close to JVP’s.

    All of these adopt a moralistic and legalistic approach to the Palestine issue. They say they are for peace, and with the probable exception of J Street, I believe they are sincere. But ultimately, their calls for peace really oppose legitimate resistance. They equate the violence of the colonised and oppressed with the violence of the colonist and oppressor. From my perspective, such an approach is counterproductive. Those who are really serious about peace can’t just say, ‘Stop it, both of you!’, as if that would solve anything. You can’t call on the oppressed to refrain from resistance as a condition to stop their oppression. The oppression causes the resistance – when the oppression stops, then the resistance will stop.