Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Across the Potomac

[Apology: I wrote of Phil Weiss's headline, 'I wouldn’t look too closely at his headline, by the way, as the ratio of those opposing expansion to those supporting it is actually 3:2. ' The proportion of the entire sample is 3:2, but what he wrote was 'Influential Jews are against settlement expansion 3 to 1' [my emphasis], which it is.]

When J Street released the results of its most recent poll last week, Richard Silverstein welcomed the survey’s findings on his Tikun Olam blog, headlining his post, ‘J Street Poll: American Jews Believe Gaza War Failed, Support Hamas in Palestinian Government’. Similarly, Phil Weiss, entitled the post on his Mondoweiss blog, ‘First the good news: Influential Jews are against settlement expansion 3 to 1’. While I’m sure there’s a place for a glass half full approach, I don’t think they’ve read the results closely enough and may have misrepresented the outcomes in crucial respects.

To begin with, the J Street poll follows on from the poll Gerstein Agne conducted for them last July. Gerstein writes,

Gerstein Agne Strategic Communications designed the questionnaire for this survey of 800 self-identified adult American Jews, conducted February 28-March 8, 2009. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent; the margin of error in the split samples is +/- 4.9 percent. Gerstein Agne contracted the research company YouGovPolimetrix to administer the survey by email invitation to its web-based panel, which is regularly updated and consists of 1.2 million Americans.

An internet poll removes the looming problem of ‘wireless households’ – those that don’t have a landline connection – but at the same time, it restricts the population just to those who use the internet.

Advances in technology and sophisticated web-based panel techniques have greatly helped researchers seeking to gain a trustworthy understanding of small populations, such as American Jews, and web-based panels are a rapidly growing method across numerous audiences that are difficult to reach by traditional land line telephone surveys.

I must confess, I’m dubious about this methodology. It seems to me that it would be impossible to calculate the probability that those responding display the same attitudes as those entirely outside the sample frame with no chance of selection with the same confidence that you can in a traditional random sample where each sampling unit has an equal chance of selection. Furthermore, Gerstein is not explicit about how YouGovPolimetrix identified Jewish respondents or constructed their panel, nor what proportion of those selected actually participated. Omissions like this do little to ameliorate my doubts. If the pollsters have developed some method of imputing the responses of those outside the population sampled and overcoming the bias that arises from non response, they’re not telling us how it works.

In their code for ‘Conducting market and opinion research using the internet’, ESOMAR World Research ‘the world organisation for enabling better research into markets, consumers and societies’, insist,

Users of research and the general public must not be in any way misled about the reliability and validity of Internet research findings. It is therefore essential that the researcher:

a. follows scientifically sound sampling methods consistent with the purpose of the research;

b. publishes a clear statement of the sample universe definition used in a given survey, the research approach adopted, the response rate achieved and the method of calculating this where possible;

Neither the Gerstein Agne nor the YouGovPolimetrix sites appear to provide this information.

As evidence of the poll’s reliability, Gerstein asserts,

It is important to note that the demographics (such as denomination, synagogue attendance, age, region) and political measures (party identification) in this survey reflect those in other surveys of American Jews, including the 2007 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the 2008 American Jewish Committee Annual Survey, and the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey.

The age profile of the population polled in March does not match the sample in the July iteration of the J Street poll, but is well within the margin of error for each age range. Discrepancies with the sample in the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), however, are more dramatic. Those aged 50-59 comprised 20% of the NJPS poll, but only 14% in the latest J Street poll, while 34% of the NJPS sample were 60 and over, compared to just 23% in this poll. It’s worth pointing out that the NJPS identified the Jewish population using a screening questionnaire that asks explicitly about religion, and not about ethnicity. To be honest, I don’t know how well this works. If memory serves, in the 2006 Australian Census, only 15,637 gave ‘Jewish’ as an ancestry, while 88,834 claimed to be Jewish in the religion question. On the face of it, it would seem that the vast majority of Australian Jews are converts, but more realistically, I suspect that Jews are using the religion question as a proxy for ethnicity. If NJPS respondents did that, then, bearing in mind that we have no idea how the J Street poll identified its population as Jewish, it’s conceivable that J Street and NJPS were sampling comparable populations.

The AJC’s Annual Survey of American Jews, conducted in September last year, which does not report age, found 39% were ‘Slightly liberal’, ‘Liberal’, or ‘Extremely liberal’, while only 33% of the J Street poll respondents said they were ‘Liberal’. If we include those identifying as ‘Progressive’ in the J Street poll as comparable to part of the ‘liberal’ spectrum in the AJC poll, the proportion would come to 50%. Or if the 17% identifying as ‘Progressive’ in this poll correspond to the ‘Extremely liberal’ category in the AJC poll, then the discrepancy is even starker, as they were just 4% of the AJC sample.

The proportion identifying their denomination as ‘Reform’ in the AJC poll was 30%, but 34% in this poll, while ‘Conservatives’ comprised 29% and 25%, respectively.

Some of these discrepancies are within the margin of error, but they do raise doubts about how representative the sample was. Still, I’ll assume they know what they’re doing and will take their results, including stated ‘margin of error’, at face value.

I never bothered trying to analyse the results of the July poll largely because the questions were so unwieldy that I didn’t think it would reveal much of interest. Granted, in an internet poll, where respondents can review the wording until they’re sure they understand the intent of the question, there may be scope for asking more complex questions. Still, demanding close reading of long and complicated questions exacerbates ‘respondent load’ and is generally considered bad practice. But more importantly, such questions make it difficult – sometimes impossible – to determine the respondent’s intent. Although the questions in this month’s iteration still leave a great deal to be desired, they are a big improvement over July’s.

Phil starts out,

First the good news. 60 percent of American Jews are against expanding the settlements and the same number say the Gaza war didn't gain anything. When you break out the subgroup of "political donors," i.e., influential Jews, the number who oppose settlement expansion rises to 72 percent.

Assuming these results really do reflect American Jewish opinion, it’s mildly encouraging that 60% are against settlement expansion, but it’s hard to get excited when 40% support expanding them, and they weren’t asked whether they supported dismantling them, which I think would be more informative. As Phil writes,

There's evidence of some obdurate attitudes among J Street's Jews. Look at my headline. It's just "settlement expansion." A good start, but we're not talking about occupation.

The 72% who oppose expansion are a proportion of the 44% who said they gave money to political campaigns. Far be it from me to criticise anyone for reading into survey questions, but since we don’t know whether they donated five cents or 5 million dollars, I couldn’t leap to the conclusion that this population is uniformly ‘influential’.

Speaking of sub populations, Gerstein reports that ‘Orthodox Jews [who] strongly support settlements (80 percent support)’. What’s interesting about this is that only 8% of the sample – 64 respondents – claimed to be Orthodox. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t expect anyone to mention such a statistic, as the confidence that such a small sample represents the population it’s supposed to represent would be extremely low.

Siverstein writes,

57% believe that in George Mitchell’s role as Israel-Palestine envoy he should be an honest broker, rather than an Israel partisan.

Only 25% agreed with the second of the two options offered to half the sample in Question 44:

The new United States envoy to the Middle East, former Senator George Mitchell, should act as a fair and impartial broker in order to achieve a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.


The new United States envoy to the Middle East, former Senator George Mitchell, should side with Israel during peace negotiations in order to protect America's democratic ally Israel.

Bear in mind that the margin of error claimed for questions to a split sample like this is ±4.9%. What I found most interesting about this question was that 8% replied ‘Both’, and 10%, ‘Neither’. The two options offered do not exhaust the possibilities – they could have asked whether Mitchell ought to side with the aggrieved party. By omitting possible responses, the pollsters introduce an additional layer of bias into the survey, which is unconscionable. But while it doesn’t mitigate the bias, 10% at least had the opportunity to specify, ‘Neither’. Still, we don’t know whether these respondents answered as they did because they thought the US negotiator should side with the Palestinians, or because they didn’t agree that the US should be involved in negotiations (12% ‘oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict’), or that it should be George Mitchell.

Although Gerstein’s question departs from standard practice in failing to provide an exhaustive set of possibilities, it does adhere to the practice of ensuring that the possibilities offered are mutually exclusive. Clearly Mitchell can’t ‘act as a fair and impartial broker’ at the same time as he sides with Israel. Yet 8% said they thought he could. How could this have come about? One possibility is that respondents read the question inattentively, if at all, an aspect of ‘non sampling error’ that would undermine the entire survey. From what we know of the selection of the sample, however, I consider this implausible. Another possibility is that those 32 or so respondents are just hopelessly confused and really can’t tell when two options contradict each other. Again, in a sample 85% of whom claim at least some tertiary education, that would seem unlikely, although when one of America’s most prestigious universities can confer a degree on a candidate with the reasoning skills of George W Bush, I couldn’t rule it out. What strikes me as most probable is that American Jews perceive Israel as a good thing, while ‘the Arabs’ are an irrational horde who want nothing better than to drive ‘us’ into the sea. From this perspective, applying a different standard to Israel than to anyone else may seem like evenhandedness. Although inherently preposterous, this is exactly the position espoused by the hasbara establishment – terrorism is evil, but the Irgun and the Stern Gang were good; ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity, but ‘the Arabs’ have so many countries of their own, why don’t they just go live there and leave ‘us’ in peace…you know the sort of thing.

In the same vein, Silverstein reports that

Jews are willing to see Pres. Obama crack heads, if necessary, to achieve those ends. 86% are in favor of an active U.S. role if that means publicly stating disagreements with the parties. 66% favor an active role if it means publicly disagreeing with ISRAEL. 64% support an active role if it means exerting pressure on Israel. 77% support naming the party responsible for blocking an agreement. Almost half would support reducing Israeli military aid if it is such a party. Those are surprisingly robust numbers considering the questions allowed for quite strong criticism and pressure on Israel if it was the recalcitrant party.

That is not how I would read the results. First of all, apart from Q66 on reducing military aid, none of the questions say anything about ‘strong criticism and pressure’. In the context of US-Israel relations, of course, a harsh word might be perceived as such.

No fewer than nine of the 41 questions ((Q32-36, 39, 43, 44, 46) not counting responses categories as separate questions) canvassing views on political issues are specifically about ‘the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict’. These questions all assume that the US, which has underwritten Israel’s oppression of Palestinians for decades and has committed itself to provide US$3 billion in military aid per year until at least 2017, including the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to raze houses and the 1000lb bombs for extrajudicial executions, can now serve as a dispassionate mediator. It’s not just that the US can turn on a dime and reverse these policies, as Uri Avneri hopes. It’s that it can arbitrate between two parties while arming one to the teeth and exerting itself to prevent any means of self defence from reaching the other. They also assume that there is some sort of parity between the coloniser and the colonised, that each is aggrieved by the other and must make painful compromises, etc.

The 86% who said they’d tolerate ‘stating disagreements with the parties’ were a proportion of half of the 88% of respondents who had already agreed that the US should help the parties reach agreement, i.e. out of 354 respondents. What’s interesting is that the proportion who would countenance the US stating disagreement with Israel is so much lower.

In Gerstein’s analysis,

Not surprisingly, support for America playing an active role drops off considerably if it means disagreeing only with Israel (support drops 88 to 58 percent) or pressuring only Israel (support drops from 88 to 57 percent). These findings underscore how strongly Jews want the U.S. to assert itself to achieve peace, but also how much more effective it is when America is even-handed and addresses both sides instead of just one side.

Bearing in mind that these two options were presented to separate halves of the 88% supporting US involvement, what it suggests is that a significant minority are unprepared for the US to criticise Israel no matter how obstructive it is to achieving a peace agreement. Furthermore, I suspect that many, perhaps most, of those 86% who said it would be ok to criticise either party don’t really expect that the recalcitrant party will be Israel. After all, isn’t it Israel that has always bent over backwards to extend the hand of friendship?

Similarly, the 64% who would allow pressure on a refractory Israel, also based on a split sample, contrast with the 81% who favour ‘exerting pressure on both the Israelis and Arabs to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace’.

The ‘almost half’ (49%) who ‘support reducing Israeli military aid if it is such a party’ – reducing, mind you, not eliminating – contrast with the ‘more than half’ who oppose it. Note that 59% supported reducing ‘humanitarian aid for the Palestinians if they block the agreement from being reached’ [my emphasis] and 75% support the blockade of Gaza under such circumstances. Curiously, Gerstein didn’t ask respondents to consider a blockade of an intransigent Israel. These questions (Q64-69) were only asked of the 76% who supported a particular form of two state agreement, specifically,

Q.62 Eight years ago, Israeli, Palestinian, and American negotiators came very close to reaching a final status peace agreement, but ultimately fell short.

The details of that agreement include: a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; internationally recognized borders that include some land swaps allowing for most Jewish settlers in the West Bank to be inside Israel while the Palestinians get comparable land areas in return; Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem become part of the new Palestinian state while Israel retains control of Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; international forces to monitor the new Palestinian state and border crossings; and financial compensation for Palestinian refugees while allowing some refugees to return to Israel if they meet specific family reunification criteria and the Israeli government approves.

Silverstein describes this as ‘a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement along the lines of the Geneva Accords’, which is true enough, but in the context of the wording about ‘eight years ago’, Phil describes it more accurately as ‘a peace deal along the Clinton parameters’. According to all accounts, the famous generous offer of eight years ago was nowhere near reaching agreement. Indeed, even abu Ammar could never have sold its take it or leave it provisions to Palestinians. Whichever version of the two state ‘solution’ Gerstein’s description resembles most closely, there is no question that it can or could deliver a just peace. It strips the refugees of their right to return and leaves the rump Palestinian state at the mercy of their predatory neighbour, protected only by ‘international forces’ who have been so effective in protecting Lebanon from Israeli incursions. And the cynical land swaps, as I’ve written before,

Land swaps are part of every proposal for partition of Palestine, in recognition of the ‘facts on the ground’ that Israel has created over the last four decades with the intent of establishing a ‘matrix of control’ over the Palestinians living in the West Bank and ultimately annexing the whole area. As I’ve argued somewhere before, to countenance land swaps is to provide retrospective legitimation for the whole settlement project, sending the unambiguous message that under ‘international law’ if you hold out long enough, you can get away with anything.

Furthermore, when Gerstein asks about ‘comparable land areas in return’, I’m pretty confident he doesn’t intend, and respondents don’t expect, that for every Israeli road transecting the West Bank, there will be a Palestinian bypass road interrupting Israel’s territorial contiguity; for every strategic hilltop settlement in the West Bank, there will a Palestinian outpost in ‘Israel proper’; for every precious aquifer annexed to Israel…well, you know what I mean.

It would be nice to comfort myself with the knowledge that 24% of respondents rejected such a ‘peace plan’, but I suspect most of those who did so had nothing like a just solution in mind.

Silverstein is disappointed that 75% approved (47% ‘strogly’) ‘of the recent military action that Israel took in Gaza’, but is consoled that

69% believe Israel’s response to Hamas rockets was “disproportionate.” 56% believe Israeli military actions that involve killing civilians “create more terrorism.” 65% believe that Israel’s siege against Gaza and the notion of collective punishment is wrong.

I suppose it’s worth reiterating that to ask whether ‘Israel's response to Hamas' attacks was disproportionate’ is a trick question, as it invites the respondent to presuppose that Israel’s ‘military action’ was a response to Hamas rockets, when in reality the rockets were the response to Israel’s 4 November incursion. In any case, 69% agreeing with this statement means that at least 45% of respondents approved the massacre even though they thought it was disproportionate. Similarly, at least 31% approve even though it ‘creates more terrorism’, and 40% even though they disapprove of collective punishment. Small consolation, indeed. In a response to a comment to the post, Silverstein is also heartened that

there is a rise of 4% or so regarding issues related to treatment of the Gazans, lifting the siege, and openness to talking to a Palestinian gov’t including Hamas. It’s not an earth-shattering change, but is noteworthy nonetheless.

But since the questions he refers to were asked of a split sample, a movement of 4% is well within the claimed margin of error, and unlikely to be noteworthy at all.

In this connection, Silverstein reckons, ‘Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any polling of Jewish support for the 2006 Lebanon war. I’d be interested in comparing the two’. It’s kind of surprising that he’s not aware of the AJC’s 2006 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, which asked four questions about this very issue. When asked whether they ‘approve or disapprove of the way the Israeli government has handled the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon?’, 55% approved.

Reporting on the survey results, Gerstein effuses,

The survey also probed deeply into Jewish perspectives of this winter’s military action in Gaza. The results demonstrate complex attitudes among American Jews, who are torn between support for Israel at a time of war and doubts about the effectiveness of military action that results in large civilian deaths…It is very clear from this survey that American Jews have a sophisticated approach toward the Middle East and the challenges Israel faces, which contrasts sharply from conventional wisdom and the hawkish or hard line characterization of Jewish attitudes often suggested by some Jewish organizational leaders.

When I read this kind of self aggrandisement, I’m embarrassed for the author, but I suppose that’s what you have to do if you want to make it on J Street, although Jim Gerstein turns out to have a place on J Street’s advisory council. Anyway, as I read them, the questions did not probe deeply at all. They were leading questions that provided erroneous context: ‘With Hamas launching rockets into southern Israel that killed many Israeli civilians…’, ‘With hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis resulting from a month of no electricity and clean water throughout Gaza…’,’Israeli military actions that target terrorists, but kill Palestinian civilians…’, ‘Israel has the right to defend itself…’ [Q53-56] As for the ‘complex attitudes’ and ‘sophisticated approach’, it looks a great deal more like confusion to me.

Phil Weiss reckons,

These Jews are for peace. 72 percent are for the U.S. putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to bring about a peace. 69 percent are for the U.S. talking to a unity government that includes Hamas. 76 percent are for a peace deal along the Clinton parameters.

But as I’ve written, with ongoing military and moral support for Israel, US pressure is a cynical exercise, at best. Talking to a unity ‘government’ that includes Hamas is just a means to an end, and the end of a ‘peace deal’ like the one outlined (not ‘a very detailed description’, as Gerstein avers) in Question 62, can only deliver peace as in ‘peace and quiet’, not a peace that provides justice to the Palestinians. Phil Weiss has proclaimed himself antizionist and from what I read on his blog, I see no reason to doubt this, so it’s a little alarming that he interprets these numbers as he does. Of course not everyone reads opinion poll questions the same way I do, and I readily concede the possibility that Phil’s reading may correspond more closely to how respondents read them. Still, I don’t see how anyone can reconcile support for partition with support for peace.

Phil writes, ‘J Street's doing good work, and it can work with those numbers. (Richard Silverstein echoes my view here.)’, which begs the question of what work J Street is doing.

J Street represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own - two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

Leaving aside the racist crap about ‘the Jewish homeland’, J Street, as I understand it, aims to serve as a counterweight to AIPAC. Part of their agenda is to demonstrate that American Jews are much more ‘liberal’ than the mainstream Jewish organisations that purport to represent them, even on issues pertaining to Palestine, and that J Street can claim to be more representative than their rivals across the Potomac. The Gerstein Agne polls are an important element of this project and they construct their surveys in pursuit of that objective.

On the whole, J Street is getting what it wants. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that J Street was Gerstein Agne’s only client, but apparently the connection is somewhat looser than that. The finding that 88% support ‘the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict’ conforms closely with J Street’s stated mission:

J Street was founded to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israel conflicts peacefully and diplomatically.

At the same time, it reveals that 100% of American Jews, at least those polled – whether they supported or opposed the US role, whether ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ – are prepared to accept J Street’s assumption that the US is in a position to play such a role.

On the other hand, while 72% approve ‘of the way Barack Obama is handling the Arab-Israeli conflict’, 76% said they thought he supported Israel, which suggests that a large proportion approve of his ‘handling’ of the ‘conflict’ because he supports Israel. That, too, is probably close to J Street’s position, although I sometimes get the feeling that they would prefer to appear more evenhanded. A frightening 97% said they themselves supported Israel, 85% specifically for bizarre ideological reasons (‘I am Jewish and Israel is the Jewish homeland’ – 35%; ‘Israel is an American ally in the Middle East and strengthens our national security interests’ – 31%; ‘Israel is a democracy which shares my values’ – 19%). To give credit where credit’s due, this is the first survey I’ve seen that actually offers respondents the opportunity to say, as Phil and 3% of the sample did, ‘I don't support Israel’.

What this shows is that a huge majority of US Jews can somehow reconcile themselves to the basic assumptions that underlie support for Israel, among other things:

  • That Jews are a ‘people’ for the purposes of exercising the ‘right to self determination’
  • That to achieve that right, Jews were entitled to engage in terrorism and ethnic cleansing to achieve the desired Jewish majority
  • That in exercising that right, it is acceptable to privilege Jews in terms of land tenure, national symbols, public holidays, language, etc.
  • That it was ok for Israel to annex territory beyond that stipulated in the UN partition resolution (181) by force in 1948.

And that’s the case for those who support Israel within the Green Line, without cynical land swaps. The 76% who supported Gerstein’s outline peace plan also assume that:

  • Refugee rights are negotiable, and may only be exercised to the extent permitted by Israel
  • It’s fair, reasonable, and viable to leave an unarmed Palestinian state at the mercy of the most heavily armed state in the region
  • Acquisition of territory by force in 1967 and consolidated through cynical settlement ‘facts on the ground’ is legitimate.

In those respects, J Street and the majority of American Jews do not depart from AIPAC’s position. Where J Street departs from the mainstream Jewish organisations is in preferring a kinder, gentler image of Israel, a velvet curtain for the iron wall.

J Street supports diplomatic solutions over military ones, including in Iran; multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution; and dialogue over confrontation with a wide range of countries and actors when conflicts do arise.

But it turns out that only 39% preferred negotiation with Iran to sanctions, by a margin of two percentage points, well within the 4.9% margin of error. Similarly, while 41% said the US should not attack Iran ‘if they are on the verge of developing nuclear weapons’, 40% said they should, and it goes without saying that Gerstein didn’t ask about Israel’s nuclear arsenal. As mentioned, even though 69% thought the massacre of Gaza was disproportionate, 59% said it didn’t make Israel ‘more secure’, 65% said Israel ‘should avoid collective punishment’, and 56% said killing civilians ‘create[s] more terrorism’, 75% approved of the slaughter, 47% ‘strongly’, while only 9% strongly disapproved. So perhaps American Jews are not as dovish as J Street would prefer, after all.

But then, J Street isn’t all that dovish itself. In answer to the cynically worded FAQ, ‘Was Israel justified in attacking Hamas?’, J Street writes,

Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from short and long-term threats, such as rocket attacks – including taking military action designed to address the specific threat.

It does differ from AIPAC, however, on tactical issues. Where AIPAC has nothing but praise for Israel’s restraint, J Street reckons

The more relevant question is whether Israel’s attack on Hamas will accomplish its security goals…We think escalating the conflict will prove counter-productive and only deepen the cycle of violence in the region. This attack will deepen animosity between the Palestinian and Israeli people.

Similarly, while they seem to oppose Israel’s siege of Gaza, or at least its severity, this too is on strictly practical grounds tied to their perception of what best serves Israel’s ‘security goals’.

Had Israel eased the blockade, it would have created deeper incentives for Hamas and the Palestinian people to renew the ceasefire, giving civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that they had more to lose in a military confrontation.

‘The ceasefire’, by the way, ‘was 6 months but began to unravel in November’!

There is a real difference between AIPAC and J Street. Even though the J Street website evidences no acknowledgement that Palestinians are real people with real needs and real grievances, rather than an obstacle to Israeli security to assuage, I have little doubt that if the US and Israeli governments adhered to their prescriptions, it would perceptibly mitigate the immediate material circumstances for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But a just peace is not on their agenda.


  1. I want to thank you for your work on examining and commenting on polls.

    I also want to thank you for not fishing for results that you would like to hear.

    Keep it up.

  2. Thanks, edwin. It's a dirty job, but I suppose somebody has to do to it. I'll try to keep it up.

  3. Seconding edwin, thanks for the great analysis.

  4. Thanks, christian h. Nice to see you here again. Note that there was a stupid error in my great analysis, now corrected and apologised for.

  5. Despite the lack of evidence for a groundswell of US support for the Palestinians, the amount of international interest has increased from several years ago. The conversation has changed; even if controversy over the Israel-Palestine Territory still is subject to skewing by pro-Israeli interests, the internet is too wide to lock down in all respects.

    I searched for several hours regarding details of what Israel deployed in Operation Cast Lead
    and what I got as a response was numerous articles regarding the Israeli view of the I/P conflict. All possible variations of words for munitions and materiel invariably brought up Kassams and HAMAS, references
    to the hullabaloo over white phosphorous plus links to last fall's US aide package and this spring's delivery of weaponry to Israel from the US.

    (Which is not to say that my list of alternative words is exhaustive; I didn't check out synonyms>)

    I didn't find the Harretz article I remembered.

    What did you think of the UCB Journalism statistics?

  6. Ernie, thanks for this thorough analysis and critique.

    The most telling polls are those which ask questions directly comparing attitudes to Israel and Palestine or which are at least symmetric. For example,
    Economist and BBC global survey.
    These give one a better feel for absolute numbers.

    I don't think anyone expected that opinion in the US was going to shift so radically that Obama would be able to act as an impartial mediator. (That's not a qualification I would apply to George Mitchell in his role.)
    The struggle obviously has some distance to run and what is useful in the US context is measures of shifts in opinion. In that respect I think the J Street surveys are useful. J Street is also seeking to shift opinion, not to cement it. In that respect I can understand the slant of their questions, although as you have explained this makes drawing solid conclusions problematic.

    Although all surveys indicate continuing broad support for Israel among US Jews it is much harder to gauge the depth and strength of it. Public debate and discussion of these issues is severely constricted. Even against that background there are indications (such as turnouts for pro Israel demonstrations during the Gaza atrocities) that support is thinning.

    One thing you can be absolutely certain of is that people are not going to get more ignorant. I am convinced that many, including and perhaps especially US Jews, would not be offering their support for Israeli policy if they knew what egregious behaviour that support crucially enabled. Whatever survey results one looks at today are going to shift inexorably as people become better informed. Change is certain, it's just a question of patience and persistence.

    The logic of your analysis is correct, but arguably so is the sentiment of Richard and Phil's.

  7. Thanks for coming around and commenting, Miles.
    I remember the 2007 YouGov poll the BBC reported and the 2006 Pew Global Attitudes survey reported in the Economist that you link to. But neither sheds any light on the attitudes of American Jews.
    As you're probably aware, and has Chomsky repeatedly points out, public opinion as expressed in polls has never determined US policy, or that of any other country I'm aware of. No US president can mediate impartially between Israel and anyone else, because the US has unequivocally taken the side of Israel. Obama has himself enunciated a very extreme position on the status of Jerusalem. And Mitchell, as a US envoy, has exactly the same problem.
    Unfortunately, the J Street poll doesn't really provide a basis for gauging shifts in opinion, although, as Richard suggested, it is instructive to compare support for the slaughter of Lebanon in the 2006 AJC poll – 'only' 55% - with that for the massacre of Gaza J Street reports at 75%. I think you are right that the J Street poll is at least as much about forming as measuring opinion – a fatal flaw, in my view. If truth be told, I'm not altogether confident that Gerstein really gave the slant of his questions the kind of scrutiny I do. I think the reason the questions make assumptions is because they are his assumptions and the kinds of alternatives that would allow better measurement never even occurred to him.
    I wish I shared your optimism about people becoming better informed. The information is readily available, sometimes even in the mainstream press. Certainly nobody who gets their news from tv could be in any doubt that Israel showered populous neighbourhoods with white phosphorous. The problem isn't ignorance per se. It's wilful ignorance – 'My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts' is quite literally what I hear from the American Jews I talk to. Even more than that, it's a failure of reason and a willingness to adopt a double standard with respect to Israel. You don't actually need to know a great deal about the situation to twig that the proposed land swaps reward Israel's intransigence, or that the right to return is not contingent on whether the refugees were expelled by force or not. Under the circumstances, I'm not so confident that more information will have the impact you expect.

  8. The total deconstruction of J Street's position as opposed to AIPAC's is one that was very enlightening. I have had mixed feelings about the emergence of J Street, and although there definitely is a need for an "alternative" lobby out there, this really seems to be jockeying for numero uno on who really speaks for American Jews. I never researched further on J Street even though I have expressed support on a few of their proposals without making a denser inspection of what they mean. But what I did know is that their scope was so limited as to the crises for Americans Jews and only American Jews only, that this conflict is an aberration of Judaism and it is a pitstain for those who practice this religion and those who support Israel, like there really is a "good and decent" way to support Israel without accepting many fundamental errors that happens with Israel and this conflict. I never knew that they never make a mention of the Palestinians (until now) but I do know that they were very much silent on Gaza.

    But they are attempting something that could break what seems so unbreakable. I wouldn't call it courage (real courage would be unequivocal) but someone (or something) had to start somewhere. This may not be totally to my liking but J Street is doing something that they feel won't alienate people by taking a huge stand for Palestinian rights (because Palestine is such a bogey for American Jews that they are cowed every time into mainstream thinking all the time). I understand their approach to the "middle road" but I am fair from optimistic that this is the way to go.

  9. I am linking to this post on mondoweiss and Tikun Olam - someone justed posted the original article on both in comments.

  10. 'My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts' is quite literally what I hear from the American Jews I talk to."I believe that this is not correct. I think that what we are up against is more difficult. It is - 'I am apart of Israel and the force for good that represents. This is who I am and how I see myself. This is my world view.' It is not so much don't confuse me with the facts, as 'my entire world view will come crashing down upon my head and I will become the monster I have projected onto others. So instead I will believe absolutely anything, no matter how facile in order to avoid this.'

  11. Joshua,

    Thanks for your comment. When you write, ' J Street is doing something that they feel won't alienate people', it seems to suggest that you suspect them of harbouring ulterior motives – they really favour a just peace but are deliberately concealing their agenda to market it more effectively to a hostile audience. And of course, this is much like what a lot of people have said and continue to say about Obama – he really supports the kind of hope and change we believe in, but has to be cagey about it to get elected/to implement his real policies.

    Maybe it's just my naivete, but I take people at their word. When J Street write, 'The two-state solution should not simply be a lofty rhetorical refrain. It is critical to empowering our friends, reducing the opportunities for our adversaries, and enhancing American credibility...', or '...agreed reciprocal land swaps, allowing Israeli incorporation of a majority of settlers, as well as Palestinian viability and contiguity...', I assume that's their real position. Even if it doesn't make any sense. It still amazes me that anyone can speak of territorial contiguity for Palestine that comprises the West Bank and Gaza, which are separated by 30km of inviolable Israeli territory.

    Anyway, if they are really as cynical and duplicitous as you seem to think, that's hardly grounds for supporting them.


    '...This is my world view' sounds to me like a particular instance of 'My mind is made up', and '...I will believe absolutely anything...' of 'Don't confuse me with the facts'. I agree that the problem is actually more difficult, because it goes well beyond just establishing the facts. That was the point I was trying to make.


    Thanks for linking to my post. But the threads you posted them in are about a different survey. I should have a look at the Zogby poll.

  12. Ernie,

    I do suspect that there other ulterior motives but that should be a no-brainer since this is another organisation aiming to influence people's opinion and as a body that wants to out-AIPAC AIPAC. J Street has always been from my understanding a new bloc to speak for those who are now feeling disgusted at Israel and how US policy is so shifted towards its hardliner status, or simply put it is the Dove Lobby whereas AIPAC is the Hawk Lobby. They co-mingle and from time to time they overlap since both need the public face to make it seem that they are moderate, that they understand and care for the Palestinians and that they are committed to giving them rights. In a sense, they are both cut from the same kith as they both propose to keep Zionism and to keep their human rights too.

    The use of the "middle road" really isn't meant to test new waters but search for feelers, as that's what birthed J Street and its master plan to be the good lobby here. Also, they do not address to the likes of myself who is not Jewish and who already is well informed about this topic. This merely is to rally troops against those who are unhappy with the way AIPAC is working, not necessarily because the results have been paltry for the Palestinians but because it is making Israel look like a bad place to be. The careful language is more politicking than useful commentary (my view naturally) as they are well aware that there is a constituency out there who don't feel represented (that is dovish American Jews who dislike AIPAC) and J Street is one to capitalise on it. It plays on the sympathies of American Jews who have that natural affinity with Israel but has grown weary of the conflicts that shames themselves. Sometimes a mention of the Palestinians will be issued but most of the time it will deal with a Jewish question. (I did say earlier that this was not enough.)

    (I have read a few who are members of J Street and they have left me no doubt that they are for a just peace. They have to give the impression that they are able to win battles. Constantly losing to AIPAC will only destroy the tiny base it has now and they will only venture to other places to be more divisive.)

  13. Joshua,

    Sorry about the delay in responding to you. I've been experimenting with Linux and consequently haven't been checking the email account that gets notification of new comments, or the blog itself. I might add that it's turned out rather unsatisfactory and I'm in the process of reverting to Windows. It's still too geeky for someone like me. I had to tamper with code just to restore my backup from .rar archives!

    Everyone says they favour a just peace, yet 76% of J Street's respondents agreed with the 'peace plan' outlined in Q62, which I think I've demonstrated to be manifestly unjust.

    J Street seeks to position itself to the left of AIPAC and appeal to the apparently large number of US Jews who 'just want the violence to stop' but think Israel is a good thing and possesses the unique 'right to exist'. I think they are experiencing some success with this, but ultimately, when you examine their stated policies, their stance is not all that different from AIPAC's except on tactical issues about how the US can best position itself to improve its image. If the ulterior motive is to gradually move their base to a principled anti racist position – repatriation of the refugees, relinquishing Israel's ethnocratic nature, etc., they appear to be off to a bad start.