American Public Opinion and the Special Relationship With Israel
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has just released a major study of how the American public thinks about foreign policy. It is based on a survey of 2500 Americans, who were asked a wide variety of questions, some of which have bearing on Israel. Their answers make clear that most Americans are not deeply committed to Israel in any meaningful way. There is no love affair between the American people and Israel.
This is not to say that they are hostile to Israel, because they are not. But there is no evidence to support the claim that Americans feel a bond with Israel that is so strong that it leaves their leaders with little choice but to forge a special relationship with Israel. If anything the evidence indicates that if the American people had their way, the United States would treat Israel like a normal country, much the way it treats other democracies like Britain, Germany, India, and Japan.
Consider some of the study’s main findings:
Finally, only 33 percent of those surveyed feel that Israel is “very important” to the United States, while 41 percent said it was “somewhat important.” It is also worth noting that on the list of countries that were said to be “very important” to the United States, Israel ranked fifth behind China, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. Of course, all of those countries have a normal relationship with the United States, not a special relationship like the one Israel has with Washington.
The data in the Chicago Council’s study is consistent with the data that Steve and I presented in our book and in countless public talks. The story remains the same.
The bottom line is that the lobby is largely responsible for America’s special relationship with Israel, which is harmful to both countries. Alan Dershowitz was spot on when he said, “My generation of Jews … became part of what is perhaps the most effective lobbying and fund-raising effort in the history of democracy.”
John Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.