As President Obama presses to reach an accord with Iran on its nuclear program by the end of the month, he can count on strong support from what might seem like an unlikely segment of the population: American Jews.
Jewish backing of the administration’s efforts to strike a deal suggests that American Jews aren’t heeding the alarms being sounded in Israel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He warns that any deal that leaves Iran with an enrichment program constitutes a mortal danger to Israel.
Strong Jewish support for a nuclear deal that limits, but doesn’t completely stop, Iran’s uranium enrichment abilities was a surprise finding of a telephone poll of Jewish voters who took part in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The poll, commissioned by J Street – the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Washington lobbying organization – also found strong support for an active US role in efforts to forge Arab-Israeli peace. At the same time, the survey found strong support for Israel’s handling of Operation Protective Edge, this summer’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza that resulted in strong international criticism of Israel over the heavy civilian toll.
But it was the findings on Iran and the implication that American Jews would be comfortable with Iran retaining a nuclear program that stood out.
The survey found that 84 percent of American Jews would favor either strongly or somewhat a deal with Iran that would alleviate tough sanctions on the Iranian economy in exchange for Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear program to civilian purposes and accept inspectors at its nuclear facilities.
The United States and five other world powers face a Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a deal with Iran. Mr. Obama said Wednesday that the nations in talks with Iran have presented Tehran with a “framework” that would “allow them to meet their peaceful energy needs,” but he said he wasn’t sure if a deal could be reached by the approaching deadline.
The strong Jewish backing for a deal actually mirrors the level of support for a diplomatic solution with Iran among Americans in general, say political analysts at J Street.
“The American public generally is supportive of giving diplomacy time to work,” says Dylan Williams, J Street director of government affairs. “I don’t think Jewish Americans are different from where the general American population is on this.”
American Jews “have accepted that some level of uranium enrichment will be part of a viable deal,” Mr. Williams says. Now, he adds, the key to acceptance of a deal – by Jews and the general public alike – will be “a robust verification and monitoring regime” that blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.
The survey registered a strong sense of connection to Mr. Netanyahu among American Jews, even though its results suggest they don’t support his policies. Asked to gauge on a scale of 1 to 100 their feelings of warmth toward various leaders and personalities, respondents gave Netanyahu a 61 – higher than Obama (49) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (57).
“The prime minister is personally popular with American Jews,” says Jessica Rosenblum, J Street communications director. “The difference here is that they have deep concerns about the policies he’s pursuing.”
The survey also found that American Jews continue to support by a wide margin Democrats over Republicans. This is despite repeated predictions over recent years from conservative Jewish pundits that US Jews – because of Obama’s push for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state settlement, his overtures to Iran, and his frosty relations with Netanyahu – are on the verge of a wholesale shift to the Republican column.
“It’s comical how every two years the small segment of our community that leans conservative says, ‘This is the year that Jewish-Americans will vote for more hawkish politicians and policies,’ and it never happens,” Williams says.
In Tuesday’s elections, American Jews voted for Democrats over Republicans by a decisive margin of 69 to 28 percent.
And on that “feelings of warmth” gauge, they gave the Democratic Party a 51. The Republican Party got a 28.