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U.S. Jews Less Hawkish on Iran

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 2013 (IPS) - Despite renewed calls in Congress for increasing pressure on Iran, support for a U.S. attack against the Islamic Republic has declined markedly over the past year, according to the latest in an annual series of polls carried out by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

Asked whether they would support a military strike if current diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions failed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, 52 percent of the AJC’s respondents said they would support a U.S. attack – down from 64 percent in last year’s survey – while 45 percent said they would oppose a strike, up from 34 percent in 2012.

Moreover, 46 percent of respondents said it was either very or somewhat likely that a combination of diplomacy and sanctions “can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” up from a mere 35.5 percent last year. Conversely, 52 percent said the strategy was either somewhat or very unlikely to succeed in that goal, down significantly from 64 percent last year and 71 percent in 2011.

In another finding that should hearten Secretary of State John Kerry, who has made an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord a major goal of his tenure, the survey also found a sharp increase in the percent of U.S. Jews who favour the establishment of a Palestinian state – from 38 percent in 2011 to 50 percent today.

Despite Kerry’s efforts, however, only 12 percent of respondents said they believed the chances of reaching a final settlement have increased over the past year, as opposed to 19 percent who said they had fallen and 68 percent who said the odds have not been affected by the past year’s developments.

This year’s poll, which queried just over 1,000 U.S. Jews across the country, was conducted between Sep. 30 and Oct. 15; that is, immediately after the highly successful visit by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, to New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

That visit, capped by a farewell phone call from President Barack Obama to Rouhani in the first conversation between the two heads of state since 1979, put the hawkish government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who called Rouhani “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, on the back foot.

Since the trip, and despite talks Sep. 15-16 in Geneva between the so-called P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany) and Iran that were hailed as potential progress toward an agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme, Netanyahu and his supporters in the Israeli lobby here have repeatedly called for tighter sanctions and a credible threat of U.S. military action against Iran if it does not completely dismantle its programme.

Senior administration officials last week made clear in briefings with lawmakers that increasing sanctions – the Senate has pending legislation to force foreign companies and countries to halt all oil imports from Iran – before the next round of negotiations scheduled for Nov. 7-8 in Geneva could prove counterproductive by strengthening hardliners in Iran who oppose Rouhani’s diplomacy and by fraying the P5+1′s unity.

While the administration is focusing its lobbying efforts on Senate Democrats, Republican lawmakers, especially those closely associated with the Israeli lobby, have been calling for even tougher action.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican member of Congress, said Friday a military strike needed to be considered, calling a new report by a controversial think tank that said Iran could produce enough fissile material for a bomb in as little as one month “extremely alarming”. The administration claims that it would take Iran at least a year to be able to produce a nuclear weapon if it decided to do so.

Cantor’s remarks came in the wake of a mini-storm over an interview last week with Sheldon Adelson, a multi-billionaire and major funder of right-wing pro-Israel groups, in which he dismissed negotiations and called for Washington to detonate its own nuclear weapon over a desert in Iran as a warning.

“And then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran,’” Adelson, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Jewish Committee (RJC) and provided at least five million dollars to a political action committee run by Cantor during the 2012 election cycle, told students at Yeshiva University in New York.

The remarks by Adelson, who is also a major supporter of Netanyahu, came under fire from some Jewish leaders, notably Eric Yoffie, who led the Union for Reform Judaism from 2006 to 2012 and who called them “”obtuse, insensitive, and morally bankrupt.”

Yoffie also urged leaders of major Jewish institutions to “decline invitations to appear at Mr. Adelson’s side,” in spite of his philanthropy, until he apologises.

The AJC’s executive director, David Harris, has himself criticised Netanyahu for his dismissive attitude toward Rouhani and for ordering Israel’s U.N. delegation to boycott the Iranian president’s speech to the U.N.

In Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, he questioned whether the boycott helped or hurt Israel’s case, adding that some “would say that Israel only demonstrated its unwillingness to hear the message, even if Rouhani turns out to be, say, the next Mikhail Gorbachev.”

While the AJC survey showed continued support for Netanyahu’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations – 19 percent strongly approved, while 52 percent “approved somewhat” – the drop in support for a U.S. attack on Iran suggests that the Israeli leader has become less convincing. Moreover, the survey found 62 percent approved of Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear programme. Only 36 percent disapproved.

The survey also found a significant majority of U.S. Jews supported Obama’s handling of Syria, despite strong criticism from many of Washington’s pundits, especially pro-Israel neo-conservatives who have long favoured more aggressive U.S. action to oust President Bashar Al-Assad. Sixty percent of respondents expressed approval for Obama’s performance.

 
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