By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
Viewers of CNN this week were informed by anchor Erin Burnett of what she called “a historically momentous event”: 84% of American Jews support President Obama’s position on a nuclear deal with Iran, Burnett declared.
But the claim is a fraud.
Burnett was interviewing Israeli cabinet minister Naftali Bennett, who argued that the weak terms President Obama is proposing to Iran will leave Teheran with the capability to develop nuclear weapons in a short time. So Burnett swooped in with what she undoubtedly thought would be a “gotcha” moment.
Burnett said she was “fascinated” to learn that “Israeli Jews and American Jews do not seem to see things the same way” on Iran. Her proof: “The influential Jewish lobbying group J Street” –note the absence of any acknowledgment that J Street is a strident left-wing opponent of the Israeli government– carried out a poll which asked American Jews “if they supported a nuclear deal with Iran, a deal that would allow Iran to enrich nuclear material, and 84% of American Jews said yes.” This trend, she concluded, is “an historically momentous event.”
“Allow Iran to enrich nuclear material” ? Is it possible that 84% of American Jews would endorse such a position, which sounds as if they are willing to risk Iran turning that enriched material into nuclear weapons?
No, it’s not possible. The number is the result of a rigged question, which in turn is being manipulated by J Street and its supporters –including Erin Burnett– to advance their argument.
The poll was taken three months ago. The Iran question was one of numerous questions asked of 800 Jewish voters leaving the polls after they voted in the November 2014 midterm elections.
But before analyzing what the poll asked about Iran, there is another important aspect to consider. One of the first questions asked the respondent to name two issues that “were the most important for you in deciding your vote for Congress today.” Fourteen foreign and domestic issues were listed. Iran came in dead last. What percentage of these Jewish voters considered Iran to be even one of their two top issues? Zero. Not one person chose it.
If Iran was not a major issue of concern to the respondents, it also means that many of the respondents are probably not very well informed on the details of the issue. After all, you don’t read up in detail on issues that are not important to you. In other words, the people J Street was asking about Iran were the ones who likely knew the least about what they were being asked.
By way of comparison, consider the response to questions about the 2014 Gaza war. The poll asked: “How closely did you follow the news about the military conflict between Israel and Hamas this summer?” 82% said they followed it “very closely” or “somewhat closely.” These well-informed voters were then asked whether they approved or disapproved of “Israel’s military action, known as Operation Protective Edge, that took place in Gaza this summer?” 80% said they strongly or somewhat approved. There was a direct correlation between being well informed and supporting Israel’s position.
Now back to Iran.
The poll asked respondents if they had heard of the “first step agreement with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest relief from sanctions.” Only 16% had heard “a great deal of information” about it. Another 48% said they heard “some information.” Of course, “some” could mean almost anything.
From there, the pollster went straight into fantasy-land. Instead of asking if the respondent knew anything about the terms that the Obama administration is now proposing to Iran, they asked about an imaginary agreement that J Street concocted:
“Now, imagine that the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia, and Iran reach a final agreement, which restricts Iran’s enrichment of uranium to levels that are suitable for civilian energy purposes only, and places full-time international inspectors at Iranian nuclear facilities to make sure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Under this agreement, the United States and our allies will reduce sanctions on Iran as Iran meets the compliance benchmarks of the agreement. Would you support or oppose this agreement?”
Get it? What J Street offered the respondents was an agreement that would be so wonderful that Israel would support it as much as the Obama administration. Iranian would use its uranium for “civilian purposes only.” There would be inspectors (full-time!) “to make sure” they would never develop nuclear weapons. In short, the Free World would got everything it wants without having to do anything except gradually reduce sanctions.
Well, of course most American Jews would support that. In fact, it’s surprising that the numbers were not even larger than the 32% “strongly support” and 52% “somewhat support” that J Street was able to gin up.
J Street’s tweets trumpeting the poll results engaged in maximum spin. One declared that the poll found “strong support for progress made by P5+1.” Another announced: “84% of American Jewish voters support an Iran agreement along the lines of what the P5+1 is reportedly negotiating.”
But of course it was nothing of the sort. It was support for J Street’s imaginary agreement. In the real world, the whole problem is precisely that the Obama administration is not insisting on terms that would genuinely make it impossible for the Iranians to ever develop nuclear weapons. Numerous news reports indicate that the administration is going to let the Iranians keep the machinery needed to make weapons, and trust in Teheran’s assurances that they won’t make them. That’s the whole problem.
Try asking American Jews if they would support an agreement that leaves Iran in possession of the machinery to manufacture nuclear weapons in the future, and see what they say. But of course J Street will never ask such a question. It has defined its role as serving as a “blocking back” for the Obama administration’s Mideast policies, and misrepresenting Jewish opinion is a crucial part of its strategy.
[Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and candidates on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.]