Americans trust Israel, not Arab nations, poll shows

News flash: Jews dislike Yasser Arafat.

While the above statement is not surprising, the notion that nearly nine out of 10 Americans feel similarly is.

According to a poll taken earlier this month by Gary Tobin's S.F.-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research, only 11 percent of Americans believe the Palestinian Authority president is ready to accept the existence of Israel.

"Eleven percent in this kind of survey research is about as low as it goes," said Tobin.

"Sharon and Bush's dealing with Arafat as somebody who's either irrelevant or a terrorist or both, if you ask the American people directly if [this is the right thing] they'd say yes."

A majority or high plurality of the 1,002 households polled believed Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are also not ready to accept Israel's existence.

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement "The goal of the Arabs is not the return of the occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel," 47 percent of Americans concurred, while only 25 percent objected.

Tobin said the numbers demonstrate that the American people have not been significantly moved to abandon support for Israel.

"In spite of the way many Jews may feel about the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is portrayed in the media or other things that make Jews worry about where the American people are, the American people are still solidly behind Israel," he said.

"Four out of five Americans believe Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are not doing enough to control terror. Only 4 percent believe Arafat is doing enough to control it, which is, again, like nobody."

Citing a recent American Jewish Committee survey, Tobin points out that 98 percent of American Jews feel Arafat is not doing enough to prevent terrorism, and 90 percent think current relations between the U.S. and Israel are beneficial.

"Sometimes we take a certain amount of debate in the Jewish community as an indicator of great divisiveness," he said.

"But on certain issues, bottom line, there is not much divisiveness at all."

While the poll's results are largely a breath of fresh air to the pro-Israel community, Tobin does note one concerning result.

When asked if Israel is a reliable ally in the war on terrorism, the percentage responding affirmatively is far lower among the young than the old. Among those 65 years or older, 73.9 percent gave a yes. But the percentage steadily drops until only 47.3 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds express trust in Israel.

On the other hand, an equal number or more young Americans trust France and Germany as reliable allies compared with their older peers, and, along with Israel, fewer young respondents trust Great Britain than older ones.

This prompts Tobin to ponder if, instead of a problem with Israel or Jews, "it's something about the age group."

"Somehow, France and Germany are going up. Something is going on with 18- to 34-year olds that is counter-intuitive," he said.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.