Americans’ sympathy for Israel is at a 22-year high, according to Gallup figures released on Friday, just five days ahead of Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel as president. In figures gleaned from the polling organization’s early February World Affairs poll, 64 percent of Americans say their sympathies “in the Middle East situation” – Gallup’s term for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace talks – lie more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. Just 12% favor the Palestinians.
People unfriendly to Israel used to say that Israel was only popular in the U.S. because pro-Israel forces had managed to stifle debate by preventing mainstream sources from publishing critical articles. That turns out not to be true now, if it ever was. From the New York Times op-ed page to a best-seller by Walt and Mearsheimer to Joe Klein’s columns to campus “Israel Apartheid Weeks” to dozens and dozens of blogs, it’s actually pretty hard for anyone at all interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict to avoid reading strong criticism of Israel, even if they tried. One would certainly be hard-pressed to argue that debate is being meaningfully “stifled.”
One thing that puzzles me is that if you read just about any online piece about Israel, whether from a mainstream newspaper or a blog, the comments sections are filled with anti-Israel invective. Even many pro-Israel blogs attract many anti-Israel commenters (see, e.g., this blog), and liberal pro-Israel blogs are in fact dominated by them. Given the statistics recounted above, I find this an odd situation. Is there any other issue where public opinion leans so far to one side, but on-line comments slant so heavily the other way? Are there really that many people who feel so strongly about the other side (and not any other burning issues in their world) that they devote a fair amount of their time to mostly-unread blog comments? Or is it a small group that basically scours the internet for Israel-related material, and spend basically all their waking hours writing anti-Israel invective?