Republicans more pro-Israel than Democrats

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Here's an interesting poll, conducted for the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News. Its main finding: Republicans are much more likely to back Israel over its attackers than Democrats are.

Should the United States continue to align itself with Israel, adopt a more neutral posture, or align more with Arab countries? By a 50 to 44 percent margin, respondents said we should stick with Israel rather than take a more neutral posture; only 2 percent want us to side more with Arab countries. But there's a big difference between respondents of different parties. Here's a table showing the results, including independents.

Reps Inds Dems
Continue with Israel 64 46 39
More neutral posture 29 49 54
Side with Arabs 1 2 2

We see a similar split on assessments of the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The poll asked whether Israel's action was justified and not excessively harsh, justified but excessively harsh, or unjustified. Here 43 percent thought it was justified and not excessively harsh, 16 percent said it was justified but excessively harsh, and 28 percent--a pretty high number, considering that Israel was responding to armed attacks across its border--said it was unjustified. The good news for Israel: 59 percent think it's justified, and 28 percent think it's not. The bad news for Israel: 43 percent thought it acted properly, while 44 percent thought it acted improperly, that it should not have responded or responded too harshly. Let's break these numbers down by party identification.

Reps Inds Dems
Justified and not too harsh 64 37 29
Justified but too harsh 11 15 20
Unjustified 17 33 36
Israel acted properly 64 37 29
Israel did not act properly 28 48 56

Let that sink in: A majority, 56 percent, of Democrats think Israel did not act properly, while an even bigger majority, 64 percent, of Republicans think Israel did act properly. That's a pretty sharp difference.

These numbers would have been astonishing 50 years ago and surprising 20 years ago. In the 1940s and 1950s, Democrats were much more supportive of Israel than Republicans were. Israel, after all, was a conspicuously socialist republic, whose creation initially was supported by the Soviet Union. The Democratic Party had a much more philosemitic image than the Republican Party. And remember that it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who stepped in and shut off Israel's offensive in the 1956 war. And Democratic President Lyndon Johnson who sped support to Israel in the 1967 war.

Now we see a turnaround. Left-wing anti-Israel sentiment is not confined to a few odd corners of the academic world; it has become a mass constituency in the Democratic Party. Nor is the view that the Palestinians and Hezbollah are virtuous and deprived Third World victims while Israel is a First World oppressor limited to old media (see CNN, BBC, large parts of the New York Times, etc., etc.). It's also the view of a mass constituency in the Democratic Party.

American Jews, of course, continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic--only 25 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. But not all American Jews care deeply about Israel, and not all Americans who care deeply about Israel are Jews--not even most of them, I think. Orthodox Jews are more pro-Israel surely than Reform and secular Jews, and they are more likely to vote Republican. But evangelical Christians, who vote heavily Republican, are much more likely than average to be pro-Israel. It seems that support for Israel is highly correlated with having strong religious and moral beliefs, while opposition to or strong criticism of Israel is correlated with moral relativism. If you don't think one moral values system is necessarily better than any other, then you're not likely to care much about Israel.

Just as you're not as likely to favor responding forcibly to attacks on civilized nations and their people. Surely, this kind of thinking goes, there's some way to compromise, some things to negotiate, some concessions to be made. Surely, it's just too crude, too unsophisticated, too unnuanced, to respond with military force. That attitude is, of course, familiar to those who have read the history of the 1930s. I've been reading Donald Cameron Watt's pointillist history of the diplomacy between the Munich agreement of September 1938 and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, How War Came: The Immediate Origins of World War II.

How people then yearned to avoid war! And for good reasons: War is indeed terrible, and the war that broke out in September 1939 was far more terrible than what we seem currently to face. But then how do you deal with Hitler? And how do you deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly said that Israel must cease to exist? Negotiation, as Neville Chamberlain realized after Hitler tore up the Munich agreement and occupied Czechoslovakia, was not enough. Diplomacy--the construction of alliances to deter Hitler--proved not to be enough either, especially after the Soviet Union made its nonaggression pact with Germany on Aug. 23, 1939, one of the most evil dates in history.

Cameron Watt's 1938-39 is not today, but like today it was a period of shifting alliances, slippery negotiation partners, evil dictators intent on the destruction of decent societies--and a period of no easy choices for the forces of good. Today we see the forces of democracy struggling in Iraq against terrorists and insurgents who may be no more than young males bent on mayhem; we see the Arab nations at least temporarily more troubled by Hezbollah and Hamas than by Israel; we see those who urged Israel to give up land for peace having to confront the fact that Israel gave up land and the people there sent rockets back to Israel. In that setting, it's important for those who care deeply about Israel to remember which American party's constituency shares their views and which American party's constituency, increasingly, doesn't.