Some 44% of Democrats believed that Israel is an apartheid state as compared to 20% of Republicans, according to a new survey published by the University of Maryland.
The university released its Critical Issues Poll on Tuesday. The poll, carried out by Shibley Telhami and Stella Rouse, reported on “American Public Attitudes on Israel/Palestine”. Telhami prefaced the report by describing the intense political backdrop of mass protests against the judicial reforms proposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. This coincides with “a spike in violence in the occupied Palestinian territories”.
“Although the protests have largely ignored Israel’s military rule over millions of Palestinians, they drew attention to threats to democracy even within Israel’s pre-1967 borders,” Telhami wrote. It is hard to know if these protests have had any impact on the way Americans perceive Israel, and if they did, in what direction.”
“While these protests may have drawn attention to the right-wing government’s autocratic ambitions, they may have also highlighted the existence of a free environment, at least for hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, to protest freely and reject the government’s plans. Do Americans see Israel as a vibrant democracy or as something far less?”
The question was very simple: “In your opinion which of the following is closer to describing the way Israel looks to you?”
The survey offered four options: a flawed democracy; a state with restricted minority rights; a state with segregation similar to apartheid.
Overall, 56% of the respondents answered that they “did not know”. 56% of self-identified Democrats did not know as compared to 64% of Republicans.
“This number of people saying they didn’t know is usually reserved for questions about which one would expect a lack of familiarity,” Telhami noted. “Typically, on matters of opinion, respondents often answer even when they don’t fully know the issue. All this suggests that there is a level of discomfort among respondents in answering this question.”
When the “I don’t know” respondents were excluded, only 9% of respondents believed that Israel was a vibrant democracy. Among Republicans some 24% felt this was true as compared to 3% of Democrats.
Some 13% of the respondents believed Israel was a flawed democracy. In this case, 16% of Democrats believed Israel was a flawed democracy as compared to 9% of Republicans.
Some 7% described Israel as “a state with restricted minority rights.” 8% of Democrats believed this was true as compared to 4% of Republicans.
Some 13% of respondents believed that Israel is “a state with segregation similar to apartheid.”
Apartheid is a political concept with many definitions that vary considerably. While Israel has been accused of being an apartheid state, many compelling arguments to the contrary have been made. At the same time, Israeli law mandates equal rights for all its citizens. Arabs who live in Judea and Samaria are citizens of the Palestinian Authority and their rights are determined by the PA.
The results reflect the partisan nature of Americans’ perception of Israel. A similar percentage of Democrats (44%) believe Israel is an apartheid state as compared to Republicans (41%) who believe it is a “vibrant democracy. A total of 94% of Democrat respondents believed that Israel is, at best, a flawed democracy. This compares to 67% of Republicans who believed that Israel is, at worst, a flawed democracy.
This partisan chasm is also apparent in the responses to, “What role do you want the United States to play in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” where 47% of Republicans felt the US should lean towards Israel as compared to 12% of Democrats. Some 25% of independents felt this to be the case. Some 2% of Republicans felt the US should lean towards Palestine, 6% of independents, and 14% of Democrats. Some 49% of Republicans felt the US should not favor either side, as compared to 68% of independents and 72% of Democrats.
When asked about the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, a plurality expressed that they had no opinion. 65% of all respondents were either unfamiliar with the subject or had no opinion. When these respondents were excluded, 41% of Democrats supported BDS while only 7% of Republicans supported the boycott. Some 65% of Republicans opposed BDS while only 20% of Democrats opposed BDS.
Telhami concluded that this poll represented an overall decline of support for Israel.
“It is clear that public attitudes about Israel are shifting,” he wrote. “The term ‘apartheid’ appears to have become a common term among many Americans, especially Democrats, and even the BDS movement, which has faced considerable obstacles in the American mainstream, seems to have sizable support among Democrats who expressed their opinion. A recent Gallup poll found that, for the first time in their years of polling on Israeli-Palestinian issues, more Democrats sympathize with the Palestinians than with Israelis by a margin of 11 percentage points. And while about half of Republicans continue to say they want the United States to lean toward Israel, that support is diminishing among young Republicans — 32% in the current poll — and, as other research has shown, support for Israel is declining even among young evangelical Christians.”
The poll was conducted March 27-April 5, 2023, among 1,203 respondents by Ipsos probabilistic KnowledgePanel (margin of error 3.2%).