Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Eye to eye

Last month, Zogby conducted an opinion poll of Jewish and Arab Americans on behalf of Americans for Peace Now and the Arab American Institute. Between 22 and 23 May, 501 American Jews were surveyed by telephone and 501 American Arabs were surveyed between 22 and 26 May.

Richard Silverstein, whose blog, Tikun Olam, alerted me to the poll, reckons

The poll also confirms what many of us have known for years–that American Jews diverge strongly from the views of their leaders and the Israeli government when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

His only reservation

One somewhat distressing finding was that only 34% of Jews believe that Arabs support a secure Israel, while in fact 88% do. This, of course, indicates the sorry, violent state of affairs in the Middle East today and also the drumbeat of negativity that is inculcated into American Jews by the local Jewish media and the Israel lobby.

At one level, he is probably right to suggest that a significant proportion of American Jews disagree with those who purport to represent them, like the Israeli government and AIPAC and the AJC. But, as always, it’s worth looking at what the survey actually asked.

First though, I checked out the methodology section of the report, Seeing Eye to Eye: A Survey of Jewish American and Arab American Public Opinion. There I learned that the samples had been selected ‘using Zogby International's list of Jewish surnames’ and of Arab surnames. So you’d kind of expect to find a range of demographic characteristics. But when you look at the table, it transpires that there is some very suspicious stuff going on there.

Perhaps American respondents can make sense of it, but the output categories for the variable Zogby seems to call ‘ideology’ are Progressive, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, Very Conservative, and Libertarian. I guess someone with my political orientation would have had to answer ‘Other’, but there doesn’t appear to have been a residual category for this particular variable.

I was surprised to find that a plurality of 40% of Jews and 33% of Arabs reported annual incomes in excess of US$100,000, which makes me wonder how representative the sample really is.

Another big surprise was that even though the Jewish sample was selected on the basis of surname, and not, say, synagogue records, 100% reported their religion as ‘Jewish’. I am not overly concerned that the count provided was also ‘100’ rather than the 501 you would expect, as this was probably a typo. ‘N/A’ has been entered in every other cell in the Jewish columns. Now if I had drawn a sample of 501 Jews and there was not one single atheist, agnostic, or Taoist among them, I think I’d start to worry.

Furthermore, when asked about attendance at religious services, only 21% of the Jews responded either ‘Attend on holidays only’, ‘Attend rarely’, or ‘Never attend’. This contrasts very markedly from my personal knowledge of American Jews, such as it is, which leads me to expect nearly 100% in these three categories. In comparison, a plurality of 43% of the Arabs reported attendance in this range.

The Arabs are much more religiously diverse, including 13% ‘Other/None’. Interestingly, just 24% of the Arabs in the sample reported their religion as Muslim. The plurality of 35% said they were Catholic, with a significant majority of 63% saying they were either Catholic, ‘Protestant’, or ‘Eastern Orthodox’. Jews were further classified into six separate ‘denominations’, some of which I never heard of and none of which seemed to accommodate Hassidism. In contrast, the Muslims were classified into ‘sects’ – Shi’a, Sunni, and Other. Now as the word is typically used, sect is derogatory. Sects are ‘sectarian’, obviously. They depart from the mainstream. But for Zogby, apparently, there is no Muslim mainstream – they’re all sectarians. Denominations in contrast, is about as neutral as you can get – just what you’re called. Doubtless Zogby has some perfectly reasonable explanation for this superficially racist distinction, but it’s not worth explicitly articulating it. Another curious thing is that there appears to have been no attempt to classify the Protestants and Orthodox. I assume that Zogby’s intention was that Catholic refer exclusively to Roman Catholics. But in light of the numbers and considering that 56% appear to have specified Lebanese origin, many of these may actually be Maronite, which I think might otherwise be considered an Orthodox rite. The point is that it would probably have been worthwhile probing for what kind of Catholic. In all honesty, though, the report does not provide the questions used to determine these characteristics of the sample, so maybe they did.

While on the subject of religion, I couldn’t help noticing that there were no Druzes reported. As only about 20,000 of the reported 3.5 million Arabs in the US are Druze, however, this should come as no surprise. Still, there are plenty of empty cells in the table (‘African-American’, for example), and the absence of a Druze category suggests that respondents may not even have been asked.

So before even looking at the substantive questions, I already have serious reservations about how representative the sample is and the kinds of biases the developers may be bringing to bear on the data.

A small majority – 55% of each population, give or take 4.5% - claimed that they ‘follow the situation in the Middle East’ ‘very closely’ and another 37% of Jews and 38% of Arabs follow it ‘somewhat closely’.

Then it starts getting more interesting. Question 4 asks, ‘Concerning the Bush Administration’s efforts at pursuing peace in the Middle East, which of the following statements do you feel is most accurate?’ In other words, to answer the question at all, you have to share the assumption of the question’s framers that the Bush Administration is in fact making efforts at pursuing peace in the Middle East. Now little could be more obvious than that the Bush administration is absolutely committed to pursuing a strategy of war in Iraq and sabre rattling hostility to Syria and Iran. If Afghanistan counts as the Middle East, then they are real keen on war there, too. The Bush administration is pouring weaponry into Lebanon right now and evidenced a strong desire to avert a ceasefire in the Israeli war on Lebanon last year. But we know that they don’t mean the Middle East as a whole. They really mean just Israel and the occupied territories, as they did in the previous question. And again, the level of military aid to Israel, explicitly at the expense of non military aid, which has been winding down now for a decade and will reach zero next year, suggests that pursuing peace is not where the Bush administrations efforts are directed. The recent adventure in arming and training elite Fatah militia with the specific aim of attacking the ‘military’ of the PA also suggests an agenda at variance with peace as usually understood. If these respondents are prepared to accept the bogus assumptions that underly the question, it already casts doubt on their honesty when they claimed to be following events closely.

Having bought into the assumption, 41% of the Jews and 59% of the Arabs said the Bush administration was leaning towards Israel. Another 17% of Jews and 15% of Arabs said they were steering a ‘middle course’, and 34% of Jews and 21% of Arabs said the US was ‘disengaged’. Now it happens to be the case that Israel receives some US$3 billion per year in untied military aid. Since the election of January 2006 that resulted in a Hamas victory, the PA has received effectively nothing. It’s hard to imagine anyone following events closely and failing to notice this fairly glaring evidence of partiality on the part of the Bush administration. There’s plenty of other, less tangible evidence. Without reciting the whole sorry litany, I might just point out this one thing. One of the only UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to Israel that the US has neglected to veto is the famous Resolution 242, the gist of which is ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ and calling for ‘Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’. Yet in his letter to Sharon of 14 April 2004, US president Bush, presumably speaking for the Bush administration, wrote

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations [sic] centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…

A cynical acceptance of the very ‘facts on the ground’ Israeli governments of every political hue had established for precisely this reason – to make it ‘unrealistic’ to relinquish territory acquired by war. To me this looks exactly like taking sides with Israel. So again, it looks like the 59% of Jews and 41% of Arabs who missed this point are not assessing their attention to the region accurately or honestly.

The real guts of the survey comes in questions 9, 10, and 14.

9. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that Israelis have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own?

10. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that Palestinians have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own?

At this point, I think I’ll refrain from opening the can of worms concealed beneath the innocent phrase, ‘have a right’.

To answer question 9, one of the things you have to assume is that there is such a thing as Israeli nationality and this simply is not the case. In a famous ruling the Israeli Supreme Court determined that to acknowledge the existence of such a thing would undermine the Jewish character of Israel and that therefore all Israelis would be identified as of ‘Jewish nationality’ or some other ‘nationality’, such as ‘Arab’. So the question, as worded, really doesn’t make any sense to anyone who actually follows developments in the region at all closely.

What Zogby probably meant to ask was whether the respondent agreed that Israeli Jews in particular had this right. And the rest of the question is also in code. A more open and honest wording of the question that I’m quite confident the respondents thought they were answering would be something like, ‘Do you agree… that Israeli Jews are entitled to a country in historic Palestine where they can extend special rights and privileges to Jews and be free from the annoyance of violence carried out in the name of anybody else’s national liberation?’

Notwithstanding the similarity in wording, Question 10 presents a slightly different picture. Since there is no actual State of Palestine, we don’t know what Palestinian nationality would entail. But the expression Palestinian is used in two ways. I always insist, correctly in my view, that Palestinian denotes the Arabic speaking people who inhabited the area known as Palestine administered by the British League of Nations Mandate from 1923 to 1948, in other words from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and their descendants. Specifically, that would include the 1948 refugees in the diaspora, the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and those now inhabiting the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli occupation. Since Oslo, however, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the term has come more and more to denote just this last group, in common parlance. So which Palestinians have this right to a secure and independent state of their own?

What the question is really asking is whether the respondent agrees that a state ought to be established on all or part of the West Bank and Gaza to be a national homeland for the Palestinian ethnic group. To my mind, this is rather a meaningless question in the absence of a specific position on the status of the Palestinian Israelis. I think it is fair to take it as read that the intention would be for this tiny overpopulated microstate to absorb as many of the 5 million or more refugees as decide that six decades is long enough to live in exile.

As for whether such a state can realistically be secure or independent, I think it is rather obvious that the answer is no. I suppose you can make a case that the Palestinians, somehow delimited, possess such a ‘right’, but that would pry the can of worms open. The real point is that Israel has a very strong military and great and powerful friends. In an unprecedented move, the occupied population was boycotted by the entire international community because they voted for representatives that the occupiers found objectionable. No campaign, no union meetings, no incremental implementation was required. In one fell swoop, the PA was cut off completely. And to my knowledge not a single Harvard Law professor ‘has threatened sanctions to "devastate and bankrupt" those acting against’ the PA. With a neighbour that has for over a century demonstrated a real commitment to their destruction, denying their existence, committing wholesale ethnic cleansing, can anyone honestly claim that security and independence are a realistic prospect for the state of Palestine?

Neither question addresses the little issue of borders. I’m sure a lot of people answered them on the assumption that the borders would be roughly the Green Line, with ‘mutually agreed adjustments’ to take account of ‘facts on the ground’. In other words, the Israeli Jewish-only conurbations constructed precisely to gain permanent control of the most fertile lands and the aquifers in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel, as intended, and in compensation, the Palestinian state would get, as Jonathan Cook wrote recently, ‘a land swap scheme that would force up to a quarter of a million Palestinian citizens (but hardly any territory) into the Palestinian ghettoes being crafted next door…The Bedouin in the Negev are being reclassified as trespassers on state land so that they can be treated as guest workers rather than citizens.’ Quiet ‘transfer’ – disarming the ‘demographic time bomb’.

14. Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose a negotiated peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that included the establishment of an independent, secure Palestinian state alongside an independent, secure Israeli state, and resolved final status issues of Jerusalem, refugees, and borders?

Much of the discussion of Questions 9 and 10 applies directly to Question 14. What is new here is the issue of negotiations and the explicit mention of the ‘final status issues’.

Who negotiates on behalf of ‘Israelis’ is not problematical. It goes without saying that the Israeli government has to power to claim to negotiate on behalf of ‘Israelis’, although there are certainly grounds for disputing it. I surmise that Palestinians is here being used in the sense ‘the PA’. In my view, as the PA is not a state, as Israel absolutely is, like it or not, it does not have the power to make that claim. In particular, there isn’t even a pretence that the PA represents Palestinian Israelis or the refugees, although these groups will be directly and immediately affected by any negotiations. Beyond that, it appears to be universally accepted that Israel can decide who represents the Palestinians – Israel refuses outright to have anything whatsoever to do with the very people the Palestinians in the occupied territories have elected for the very purpose of representing them. Anything whatsoever, that is, apart from shell, shoot, and arrest them. To offer any answer to this question therefore requires that the respondent buy into the fiction that there is some entity, presumably the PA, but not the elected representatives of the Palestinian Legislative Council, that can legitimately negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians.

The mention of ‘final status issues’ really makes it quite explicit that this is what’s going on. In principle, only the refugees, individually, can negotiate on their status. And as I’ve written before, for them to exercise their rights in a meaningful way actually presupposes that many of these questions are already settled. It matters to the refugees whether they exercise their right of return into a Jewish state, whether Israel is empowered to determine which ones get to exercise that right, and so on.

The other strange property of the question is that it speaks of ‘resolved final status issues of Jerusalem, refugees, and borders’ without suggesting that it may matter specifically how they are resolved. Obviously, that would be an outcome of the negotiations. And yet, when Israel asserts that such and such an issue is not negotiable, for example return of refugees en masse to ‘Israel proper’, or anything that might compromise the Jewish ‘character’ of the Jewish state, the ‘international community’ just accepts that that issue is not negotiable. When Israel declares that such and such a party is not a suitable partner for negotiation, the ‘international community’ just accepts that the party is not suitable. Imagine that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh were to declare, the Israeli government is not a suitable party to negotiate with. It is, he might justifiably claim, a terrorist state. A rogue state. A serial violator of ‘international law’. How, indeed, could anyone trust such a state to negotiate in good faith? Obviously, that would just be a joke. Imagine he agreed to negotiations, stipulating that in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which Israel promised to implement as a condition of its admission to the UN, each and every refugee and their descendants would be entitled to choose whether to resume their property in Israel proper or to accept fair compensation for its expropriation. Again, nobody in their right mind would take that seriously. So when respondents say they support ‘a negotiated peace agreement’, it is not obvious that they mean a just agreement negotiated on fair terms between two entities on equal terms.

Richard Silverstein’s assertion is that the poll result ‘…reinforces the absolute divorce between the views of average American Jews and their leadership and the leadership of the State of Israel’. [my emphasis]

What the poll report says with regard to Question 14 is

Support for a negotiated two-state solution which resolves final status issues of Jerusalem, refugees, and borders is strong in both communities with 87% of Jewish Americans and 94% of Arab Americans pledging support.

Looking at the websites of AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), it is not obvious what their own positions are. There is no ‘What we stand for’ page. AIPAC writes approvingly, in its ‘issue brief’ on ‘Israel’s search for peace’, ‘The United States is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. I surmise that that is the official AIPAC position.

The AJC’s pamphlet, Israel’s quest for peace approvingly quotes the last three Israeli Prime Ministers, including this November 2006 statement by Ehud Olmert,

In the framework of this dialogue, and in accordance with the Road Map, you will be able to establish an independent and viable Palestinian State, with territorial contiguity in Judea and Samaria—a State with full sovereignty and defined borders.

So it would seem that on this central question the views of 87% of American Jews and those of two of the principal organisations purporting to lead them, as well as the incumbent Israeli Prime Minister, are not quite so irrevocably estranged as Richard makes them out to be.

Underlying any partition of Palestine is the assumption that one of the states must be specifically a Jewish state. For a Jewish state to be a meaningful concept, it must privilege Jews or Judaism in some way. Otherwise, everybody would just welcome the refugees and give equal rights to all the inhabitants within historic Palestine and the matter would be settled. In correspondence with Richard, he conceded that it would not suffice for the Jewish state just to make Hebrew one of the national languages and celebrate Jewish holidays. But I couldn’t get him to be more specific than that.

And if the sample was as representative as it purports to be, it would certainly seem that there is consensus between the vast majority of American Jews and the Israeli and American Jewish leaderships on the more fundamental issue that a Jewish state in some meaningful sense ought to exist.

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