Latest poll: Jews still stand behind Israel, against Arafat

After months of continued bloodshed in the Middle East, Americans' support of Israel remains steadfast, according to a new survey conducted by the S.F.-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

Seventy-five percent of those polled said they agreed that Israel is justified in doing whatever necessary to find and destroy terrorists who threaten its citizens; 14 percent disagree, saying it is not.

"Seventy-five percent is a huge majority," said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute. Noting that the numbers were down a few percentage points from a poll conducted in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Tobin said it was insignificant. He surmised that it could be "a result of continuing bad press coming out of Israel about the [targeted] assassinations and other issues."

Another finding was that the American public continues to have a negative impression of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, with 46 percent of those surveyed believing that he has ties to Al Qaida. Twenty-four percent said no. When the same question was asked in a survey immediately following Sept. 11, 47 percent said yes, and 27 percent said no.

"Arafat's reputation continues to be as bad as can be among Americans," said Tobin. "When you have more than half saying that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are directly related to those who attacked the U.S., it's a huge condemnation."

Tobin said that based on his statistics, it seemed that every time there was a terrorist attack in Israel, Arafat's credibility declined even further.

"I would say that American public opinion tends to follow the administration, and the fact that President Bush has had it with Arafat helps to re-enforce those opinions."

Sixteen percent of those surveyed said they saw the conflict in the Middle East as reason to distance the U.S. from Israel. But 28 percent said it was reason to develop closer relations with the Jewish state. The largest percentage favored the status quo on this question, keeping the relationship the same.

Tobin did not find any of these results out of the ordinary, but what did surprise him, was that 44 percent of Americans believed that Saudi Arabia, a country that is considered an ally of the U.S., supports terrorism.

Twenty-nine percent said they do not believe Saudi Arabia supports terrorism, and 27 percent had no opinion.

Tobin surmised that many people believed Al Qaida received financial support from Saudi Arabia, and that the kingdom was also supporting radical Islamic schools.

Furthermore, a higher percentage of women than men had a negative impression of Saudi Arabia.

"In the wake of all the press about the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan, it's not significantly better in Saudi Arabia," said Tobin. "It's a completely repressive society."

A gender gap existing in such data is unusual, Tobin pointed out.

The sample for this survey included 1006 adults selected at random from around the country for interviews between Feb. 6 and 10.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."