The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Young Americans take a dim view of Israel’s actions

People take part in a rally in support of Israel near the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Monday. Speakers called for Americans, both Jews and non-Jews, to support Israel in its continued conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The United States is a politically polarized country. But when it comes to views of what's happening in Israel, partisanship has nothing on age.

A new Pew Research Center poll is the second in the past week to show a huge generational split on the current conflict in Gaza. While all age groups north of 30 years old clearly blame Hamas more than Israel for the current violence, young adults buck the trend in a big way. Among 18 to 29-year olds, 29 percent blame Israel more for the current wave of violence, while 21 percent blame Hamas.

Young people are more likely to blame Israel than are Democrats, who blame Hamas more by a 29-26 margin. Even liberal Democrats are split 30-30. The only other major demographic groups who blame Israel more than Hamas are African Americans and Hispanics.

The poll echoes a Gallup survey from last week.

Gallup asked Americans whether they thought Israel's recent actions were justified. While older Americans clearly sided with Israel, 18 to 29-year olds said by a two-to-one margin (51-25) that its actions were unjustified.

No other group was as strongly opposed to Israel's actions.

The resistance among young Americans to Israel's actions is somewhat new. Back in 2006, when Israel clashed with Hezbollah in Lebanon, 18-to-29-year olds blamed Hezbollah more than Israel by a 30-10 margin, according to Pew. And in 2009, in a previous conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, young American adults blamed Hamas more by a 23-14 margin.

So clearly, there is something different about the current conflict and young people.

The National Journal's Ron Fournier had this take on the demographic split: "'s a warning that Israel's decades-old public relations and political dominance is coming to an end unless the nation's leaders change the narrative and reset their strategic position with moderate Palestinians."

So does this mean that there is a generation of Americans prepared to challenge the United States' long-standing alliance with Israel? Not necessarily.

Just because young Americans are more suspect of what Israel is doing today doesn't mean they will be as suspect in a decade or two. It's well-known that Americans tend to become more politically conservative as they age; it's also quite likely that their views on Middle East politics will evolve.

In addition, young people are paying the least attention to what's happening in Gaza. Just 23 percent of 18 to 29-year olds say they have been following the Israel-Gaza situation "very closely," according to Pew. That's more than are following other major news stories -- including the downed airplane in Ukraine and the border crisis -- but it's still significantly less attention than other age groups are paying to the Middle East.

And finally, there's the fact that, even as young Americans question Israel in this instance, they are still much more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian. A Gallup poll from 2011 showed young Americans (this time those aged 18 to 34) generally sided with Israel over the Palestinians, 58-19. The oldest Americans were only nominally more pro-Israel, at 67-14.

Similarly, a Pew poll from two years ago showed Americans 18 to 29 sided with Israel over the Palestinians 38-15. That's not as strong as the oldest Americans, but it's still a clear and significant margin -- with little in the way of a pro-Palestinian bloc.

In other words, unless things have changed in a big way over the last few years, young people might not be happy with what Israel is doing today in Gaza, but their sympathies still clearly lie with one side more than the other, and it's not the Palestinians.

They aren't as pro-Israel as their older counterparts, but so far there is little evidence that the current conflict will have a lasting effect on what has been a long-standing American alliance with Israel.

Updated at 10:01 a.m.