Why Do American Jews Oppose the Iraq War More Than Everybody Else?

Is it a surprise that Jewish Americans are the most strongly opposed to the Iraq war of all religious groups?

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"Jewish Americans are the most strongly opposed to the Iraq war" of all religious groups. Is this a surprise? Not really, but it is now semi-official, after a Gallup analysis of 13 surveys from the last two-plus years concluded that Jewish people oppose the Iraq war by a "better than 3-to-1 margin, 77 percent to 21 percent."


Gallup's data is not surprising because it is consistent with many other previous polls. Just look at this 2005 AJC poll: 70 percent of Jews disapprove of the war in Iraq. And in 2003, when most Americans still supported the war: 54 percent disapprove.


The Gallup analysis does give us better tools with which to compare the Jewish view to the non-Jewish view. Mormons and Protestants show more support than opposition to the war. Catholics are somewhat more likely to oppose (53 percent) than to support the war (46 percent). The two groups closest to Jews in their opposition to the war: Americans with no religion and black Protestants. "Americans without a religious preference are twice as likely to oppose (66 percent) as to support (33 percent) the war", Black Protestants "show strong opposition to the war" - stronger even than Jewish opposition - 78 percent to 18 percent.


Black Protestants strongly support the Democrats, and one would guess this is the reason for Jews to oppose the war. However, Gallup says otherwise: "A closer analysis of the data shows that Jewish war opposition goes beyond their basic political leanings. Jewish people are more likely to oppose the war than non-Jews of the same political persuasion? Sixty-five percent of non-Democratic Jews oppose the war, compared with just 38 percent of non-Democrats of all other religious groups? These data show that the average American Jew -- even those who are Republicans and may support the Bush administration on other matters -- opposes the war.


It is interesting to compare this conclusion to the break down of numbers from the latest AJC survey of Jewish opinion (2006) according to religious affiliation. These numbers were never made public, but I have them in hand. "Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?" the poll asks. The majority of orthodox Jews said "right" (56 percent), majority of Conservative (32 percent) Reform (73 percent) and "just Jewish" (66 percent) said wrong. The Orthodox tend to be more Democratic (44 percent) than Republican (31 percent) but are the only group in which there is no Democratic majority.


So why would American Jews oppose the war in such numbers?


A while ago, I wrote somewhat critically about the Reform movement resolution to end the war (they are now in the process of having another, more forceful, resolution). Among other things, I didn't like the explanation that was given by the movement's leader, rabbi Eric Yoffie, to an allegation that the Reform resolution is harmful to Israel. "Neither American interests nor the 'security of Jews' are served by an endless war in Iraq that has made the U.S. less able and willing to confront the nuclear threat from Iran and the moral horror of Darfur," Yoffie wrote. My response: "So the whole point of opposing Iraq was for America to be able to confront Iran? This doesn't seem very convincing." It still doesn't. American Jews opposed the war without much regard to the interests of Israel (and I'm not saying the war served the interests of Israel well, just that it wasn't the issue for American Jews).


The new numbers support another argument I made, just two weeks ago, in an article that drew more fire than any other piece I've written in the last several months (Bush the divider of Jews, read here): "The Jews of Israel comprise perhaps the most sympathetic group toward Bush in the entire world. They are certainly more supportive than the general American public and may very well be more sympathetic than any particular group of Americans. On the other hand, American Jews constitute one of the least sympathetic groups. A vast majority of them oppose Bush. Indeed, many really loathe him: American Jews have a hard time digesting a reality in which an Israeli prime minister can stand at Bush's side and describe the war in Iraq as an achievement. In fact, it could be said that the Israelis' fondness for Bush actually serves to alienate these American Jews from Israel."


So, do they oppose the war because they oppose Bush, or is it the other way around, they oppose Bush because they hate the war? In 2004, according to some polls, it was the war pushing them to vote for John Kerry. The Democratic candidate gained 10 percentage points among Jews between December 2003 and September 2004, and "some of its findings suggest that the rising support for Kerry is connected to the war in Iraq".


A while ago, in a dialogue I had (in Slate) with Jeffery Goldberg of The New Yorker, he made a comment that left me speechless. "We American Jews [are] very diaspora-ish, which is to say, we're ironic, and self-deprecating, and violence-averse. I've always thought the reason so many Israelis lack humor is because Israel has an air force. Who needs jokes when you have F-16s?"

But don't American Jews have F-16s, I asked in my response to Goldberg: "Aren't American Jews, being American, a part of this country and the way it exercises its power?... America definitely has [F-16s]- and if American Jews are part of America, it is fair to say that they have them, too."


I was reminded of this dialogue as I was contemplating the possible reasons for which American Jews were against the war. The Gallup analysis falls short in explaining the numbers. "It is unclear why Jewish Americans show such strong opposition to the war," it says. However, one hypothesis it is offering (with no data to back it up) rings true in light of the "we-don't-have-F-16s" comment by Goldberg. "Jews may be less likely than others to favor U.S. military action in general", the Gallup analysis suggests. If most Jews feel detached from American might, as Goldberg's remark suggests, it is absolutely possible that Gallup is right. American Jews (for obvious historical and cultural reasons) are inclined to oppose any war.



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