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Fewer than one percent of US Democrats view Israel as top ally, poll finds

UK, Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan, South Korea, and China all rated higher among Democratic voters, according to University of Maryland survey
Protesters in Washington rally in support of Palestinian rights on 15 May 2021.
Protesters in Washington rally in support of Palestinian rights on 15 May 2021 (MEE/Umar Farooq)
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Washington

Fewer than one percent of Democratic Party voters identify Israel as one of the United States' top two allies, behind eight other countries, according to a new poll published on Wednesday.

The poll, conducted by the University of Maryland (UMD), found that 0.5 percent of Democratic respondents saw Israel as the first-choice US ally, while 0.9 percent found Israel a second-choice.

The UK, Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan, South Korea and China all rated higher among Democratic voters, according to the survey.

The poll showed that more Republicans, 20 percent, see Israel as their top ally, as do four percent of registered Independents.

Shibley Telhami, director of the UMD's Critical Issues Poll, said the results showed evidence of a growing gap between elected Democrats and their constituents.

"The results are significant in two ways: First, they show the vast difference between Republicans and Democrats on Israel, while Republicans place Israel second only to the UK as a most-important ally, well ahead of key Nato allies, Democrats hardly mention Israel either as a first choice or a second choice and place below eight other countries including South Korea and even China," Telhami told Middle East Eye.

"Second, the results highlight the gap between Congressional Democrats who continue to speak of Israel as a key ally and their constituents who obviously don't see it that way."

Democrat lawmakers have often touted Israel as being one of the country's closest allies.

"The United States has no better friend in the world than Israel," former President Barack Obama once told a White House gathering.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Washington's support for Israel was "ironclad" and that Israel's creation was the "greatest political achievement of the 20th century".

Growing rift between government and voters

Over the past several years, polling has helped to reveal a growing rift between the loyal support from Democratic politicians and the views held by the Democratic Party voter base on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Last year, Data for Progress reported that 72 percent of Democrats approved of Congresswoman Betty McCollum's legislation to restrict US funding to Israel used to detain Palestinian children or to demolish Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Despite a large amount of support, fewer than 15 percent of House Democrats supported the legislation and it has yet to be pushed for a vote after more than a year.

Another poll in 2021 found most Americans, 51 percent of respondents, opposed fully unrestricted aid to Israel if it continued to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank which many global bodies describe as being in contravention of international law.

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A Gallup poll in March 2021 showed a majority of Democrats favoured applying more US pressure on Israel to resolve the conflict.

Jewish Americans have also been more critical of Israel in recent years, with 25 percent of US Jewish voters agreeing to the statement "Israel is an apartheid state", according to a July 2021 poll conducted by the Jewish Electorate Institute.

The UMD poll is based on the responses of more than 1,300 people and has a margin of error of just under three percent. It was conducted between 16-28 March and has been released amid increased tensions, as Israel has stormed al-Aqsa Mosque five times this month.

A growing number of Democrats, particularly in the progressive wing of the party, have also been critical of Israel and the billions of dollars the US provides the country in aid each year.

In April 2021, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, two leading US senators, called for imposing conditions on American military aid to Israel. But aside from a small group of lawmakers in the Democratic Party, few have said they were in favour of restricting aid to Israel.

Last September, members of the House progressive caucus objected to providing $1bn in funding to Israel so it could replenish its Iron Dome aerial defence system, accusing Israel of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

But just days later, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favour of separate legislation to put forward the funding. Last month, the US Congress included a provision to give Israel $1bn to replace its Iron Dome batteries in a $1.5 trillion spending package. The measure also included the annual $3.8bn aid to Israel.