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Is it true that American support for Israel is waning?

File: An Israeli soldier stands guard under an Israeli national flag during a tour made by Israeli parliament members in the Jordan Valley near the Jewish settlement of Maale Efrayim January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The enduring friendship between the American public and Israel is legendary, and something that often bewilders and infuriates critics of Israel's policy in the Middle East. With this most recent Gaza conflict, however, and the remarkable scale of destruction (and, thanks to new technology, the wide reach for images of that destruction), some are beginning to wonder if this could be about to change.

For example, in a post titled "The Shifting Israel Debate," Andrew Sullivan makes a convincing argument that the debate is changing for the media, and a poll published Tuesday by Pew and picked up by our colleagues at The Fix appears to show that young Americans are increasingly skeptical of Israel's politics.

But what evidence is there of a broader, permanant shift? Here's the short answer: Not much.

Take this Pew Research Center Poll conducted between July 24-27. It finds that just one in four Americans believes Israel has "gone too far" in this recent conflict: That's a remarkably similar number to the 2009 Gaza War and the number in 2006, when Israel was targeting Hezbollah in Lebanon:

(Pew Research Center)
(Pew Research Center)

Another poll from Pew, conducted on July 8-14 before the Israeli ground invasion began but after aerial strikes began, found that 51 percent of Americans said they sympathize more with Israel than Palestinians, and only 14 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians. This was virtually identical to the results of the same poll in April.

A different poll, conducted by CNN/ORC poll between July 18-20, paints a slightly more complicated figure. It found that positive views of Israel had fallen since February, from 72 percent with a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of Israel to 62 percent. The poll also found a relatively high support for Israel's action in Gaza, with 57 percent of respondents saying they supported it.

"Attitudes toward Israeli military action have been extremely stable over the years," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said in a statement. "In 2012, an identical 57% thought that Israel's actions against Hamas in Gaza were justified. And in 2009, the number of Americans who felt that way was only a few points higher, at 63%."

A different take comes from Gallup's polling from July 22-23, where Israeli actions are deemed justifiable by just 42 percent of respondents – with 39 percent saying they were not. This difference could be a result of the later date, or the way the question is worded. Even so, it seems to be countered by another result from the survey: 70 percent of respondents felt that Hamas’ actions were unjustified, while just 11 percent see them as justified.

Even if the tide is actually turning for Israeli support, it still has a long way to go down. This chart from Pew, released on July 15, shows that American support for Israel is an a historical high:

(Pew Research Center)
(Pew Research Center)

A graphic released by Gallup in March 2013 shows a similar conclusion:


What's more, even if the trend among young Americans noted in the latest Pew poll isn't a conclusive sign of a shift: Who is to say that these people's viewpoints will stay the same as they grow older? As my colleague Aaron Blake points out:

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.

This doesn't mean that there isn't some kind of change happening in American's view of Israel, and it certainly is notable that big pro-Israel names are shifting. But, so far, the evidence that would confirm a wider fall in support of Israel just isn't there.

The Post's polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this post.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.



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