When it came out last week, the only part of J Street’s 2012 exit poll that interested journalists was Barack Obama’s overall share of the Jewish vote. But buried in the crosstabs is something interesting: More evidence that younger American Jews are far less supportive of this Israeli government than their elders.
Overall, J Street found that 47 percent of American Jews feel favorably disposed towards Benjamin Netanyahu compared to only 20 percent who view him unfavorably. (Fifteen percent are neutral and another 18 percent can’t identify who he is). That’s a spread of 27 points, lower than Barack Obama’s 31 point spread or Bill Clinton’s 46 point spread, but still pretty good.
But look at the age breakdown. Among American Jews over 64, Netanyahu’s favorables exceed his unfavorables by a whopping 51 points, a greater margin than enjoyed by Obama (37 points) or even Clinton (45 points). But among American Jews under the age of 30, Netanyahu’s favorability exceeds his unfavorability by a mere nine points. And among those aged 30-39, the margin is only 15 points. Part of this is simply name recognition: Only 58 percent of American Jews under 30 even know who Netanyahu is compared to 97 percent over those over 64. But among those who do know, feelings are strikingly more negative. Among the oldest cohort of American Jews, Netanyahu is more popular than either Obama or Clinton. Among the youngest, Obama and Clinton are vastly more popular.
There’s been much commentary in recent weeks about Birthright’s success in increasing the attachment younger American Jews feel toward the Jewish state. But what the J Street poll suggests is that while the organized American Jewish community is having some success in making younger Jews feel connected to Israel, that connection is going hand in hand with substantial alienation from this Israeli government. And that alienation exists even though Birthright offers young American Jews a Disney-fied Israel experience that evades the harsh realities of Palestinian life in the West Bank.
Given that this Israeli government rarely misses an opportunity to undermine the two-state solution, this alienation represents a source of hope. And it suggests that when it comes to bolstering younger American Jewish support for Israel’s policies, Sheldon Adelson’s investment in Birthright is proving about as effective as his investment in the Romney campaign.