- Sympathy toward the Palestinians among US adults is at a new high of 31%, according to Gallup data.
- Over the past decade, Democrats have had an “increasing affinity” toward Palestinians.
- Social media is changing the way Americans perceive the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
At the juncture of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the major Jewish holiday of Passover, heightening tensions in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict turned deadly on Friday when an Italian citizen was killed, and several others were injured after a car rammed into a group of tourists in Tel Aviv. The driver, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was shot and killed by police, Israeli authorities said.
In a separate incident, two British-Israeli women were shot and killed near the occupied West Bank by Palestinian assailants, the Associated Press reported.
The surge of violence comes after armed Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City earlier this week.
The police used tear gas and fired stun grenades as young Palestinians threw firecrackers back, according to multiple reports. Militants in Gaza later fired rockets at southern Israel, which prompted an airstrike from Israel, per the Associated Press.
Widespread social media videos appeared to show Israeli authorities using the ends of their rifles to beat worshippers. At the same time, unverified footage also seemed to show police walking over prayer mats was viewed more than a million times on one Twitter account alone.
The surge of violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a sacred place for Jews and Muslims, is reminiscent of violent confrontations in 2021. The broader area where the mosque is located is known to Jews as Temple Mount.
But while the cycles of violence in the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians remain unchanged, the way Americans perceive the conflict is altering.
Sympathy toward the Palestinians among US adults is at “a new high” of 31%, while the proportion not favoring a side is at a new low of 15%, according to a new poll by the analytics company Gallup.
There is still a 23-point gap in Americans’ sympathy for Israel versus the Palestinians, but it represents Israel’s slimmest advantage on this question, according to Gallup’s World Affairs poll trend. It is also the first time Israel has not enjoyed a better than 2-to-1 advantage over the Palestinians in Americans’ sympathies, said Gallup.
Gallup interviewed a random sample of 1,008 adults in the US, conducting the poll between Feb 1-23 of this year, an update of its annual World Affairs poll.
One factor undermining Americans’ unequivocal political support of Israel is Palestinians’ increased use of social media on the ground, say experts, instead of only receiving information about the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict from mainstream news sources.
As Israeli politics becomes increasingly right-wing and confrontational towards Palestinians, “instant access to that reality through social media” accelerates the trend shown in the new Gallup data, Khaled Elgindy, director of the Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, told Insider.
The “availability of instant images and videos and stories of repression in Palestine has an impact,” he added.
High-profile American celebrities like supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid — who each have tens of millions of followers on Instagram — have also been reprimanded by Israel for outspoken pro-Palestine content on their massive social media platforms. The father of the trend-leading influencer sisters was born in Palestine, so they have been increasingly vocal about the issue in recent years.
The surge in support for Palestinian rights in the US coincided with a swell of national Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by police, Tariq Kenney-Shawa, a US policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, told Insider.
“With this in mind, it’s important to see growing support for Palestinians as deeply intersectional and couched in wider efforts to address systemic violence and inequality at home,” Kenney-Shawa said.
The “steep drop” in sympathy for Israelis among Democrats
Public opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict has shifted even more significantly among Democrats in the US, according to Gallup.
The survey found that 49% of Democrats interviewed said their sympathies were with Palestinians, while 38% sympathized with Israelis.
In 2016, Gallup found that only 23% of Democrats surveyed sympathized with Palestinians.
Over the past decade, Democrats in the US have had an “increasing affinity” toward the Palestinian cause, according to Gallup data. A younger demographic of millennials and Gen Z primarily drives the “steep drop” in sympathy for Israelis.
A “threshold has been crossed,” as support for Palestinians now exceeds support for Israelis among rank-and-file Democrats, which is “a very significant moment — for lots of reasons,” Elgindy said.
The Gallup data makes a key differentiation between Palestinians and Israelis with the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Overall, support for the state of Israel remains strong. 68% of Americans view Israel favorably. This slumps to 26% for the Palestinian Authority.
When asked about the overall opinion of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, however, a small majority of Democrats view Israel favorably, which is still much lower than the 82% of Republicans who felt the same way.
The new data from the Gallup poll shows the number of those interviewed on the topic who are “ambivalent” has decreased by more than half over the past ten years — showing the increasing polarization between Republicans and Democrats echoing American political “culture wars” in recent years.
Favorable attitudes toward Israelis remain high among other political parties — Republicans’ views remain the same, as 78% supported Israelis. 49% of independents also supported Israelis, although sympathy toward the Palestinians for political independents is at a new high — up six points — to 32%, according to the poll.
The staunch support of the Republican base was echoed in former President Donald Trump’s friendly relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Widespread conservative support of Israel is also partly maintained by Christian evangelicals who see the backing of the Jewish state as necessary to their faith, as well as “war on terror” rhetoric and Islamophobia.
Will US policy towards Israel ever change?
“We can celebrate this shifting narrative and growing sympathies for the Palestinian cause all we want, but if you speak to a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank or under a suffocating blockade in Gaza, it hasn’t changed anything for them,” Kenney-Shawa said.
Democratic Majority for Israel — an advocacy group that works to “strengthen support for the US-Israel alliance” — said they found the Gallup survey was “flawed,” however, because “sympathy is an ambiguous word with multiple meanings,” in a Twitter thread last month.
The advocacy group said it was possible to be sympathetic towards the conditions Palestinians live under while still being “pro-Israel,” adding that “it’s no secret that anti-Israel activists are doing everything they can to roll back the party’s proud pro-Israel tradition.”
There is some movement among the left wing of the Democratic Party towards pro-Palestinian sentiments — including during Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president and members of the progressive “Squad,” which includes Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress. But it is not the predominantly-held position in the party.
“This poll should be a wake-up call for Democratic party leadership,” said Beth Miller, political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, told Insider in an email.
The changes in Democrat’s opinions “will probably affect policy,” Elgindy said. “Will it take five years? Ten years? A generation? That remains to be seen.”