US minorities grapple with how to see Israeli-Palestinian conflict

US minorities grapple with how to see Israeli-Palestinian conflict

US minorities grapple with how to see Israeli-Palestinian conflict
People gather for a rally calling on Israel to stop its invasion of Rafah in Gaza, Union Square, New York, Feb. 12, 2024. (AFP)
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The war in Gaza has highlighted shifting perspectives within the American public toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The brutality of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the extreme scale of the devastation and death in Gaza have put new pressure on activists, politicians and community leaders to take a public stand on the war. For some racial and ethnic communities, this has led to complicated discussions and challenged traditional alliances.
Polling shows that there are strong generational and partisan differences. Younger Americans are far more likely than older Americans to sympathize with the Palestinians and oppose sending more economic and military aid to Israel. Democrats are also much more likely than Republicans to sympathize with the Palestinians.
The racial and ethnic differences in views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are less distinct than the generational and partisan differences, but they do exist. In recent polling from The New York Times and Siena College, white Americans were much more likely than Americans of color to sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians. The survey found that 56 percent of white respondents sympathized more with Israel, compared to 28 percent of Black Americans, 36 percent of Hispanic Americans and 34 percent who identified as “other.”
However, responses to other questions about President Joe Biden’s policies toward Israel painted a complicated picture. In the poll, the only racial group in which a plurality sympathized more with Palestinians were Black Americans — 28 percent sympathized more with Israel and 34 percent with the Palestinians. However, a majority (52 percent) of Black Americans supported sending more aid to Israel, while Hispanics and other nonwhite Americans were more likely to oppose it. Black Americans were split on whether they supported Biden’s handling of the conflict.
These results reflect a deeper debate within the Black American community. Black Americans have a long history of identifying with the plight of Jews. Black slaves identified with the Exodus story in the Bible, which depicts the Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt. Many Jewish activists and leaders played an important role in supporting the civil rights movement. Churches play an important role in Black communities and many of their leaders built interfaith relationships with Jewish leaders.
There are also historical links between some Black activists and pro-Palestinian activists, though they were often on the fringes of the civil rights movement. In recent years, those links have expanded and became more mainstream. One important driver was the role of Palestinian Americans in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, which created new connections between activists from different communities who increasingly saw commonalities between their causes.
As many younger Americans from all racial and ethnic groups increasingly adopted an interest in social justice, many saw similarities between the experiences of Palestinians and Black Americans. The availability of smartphones allowed both Black Americans and Palestinians to take videos of abuses and show them to the world, with social media making it easier for both groups to share their experiences, including with each other.
Some Black leaders are struggling to decide how to respond. They want to maintain long-standing relationships with Jewish communities while also recognizing the suffering of Palestinians, but that is an increasingly precarious balance. A growing number of Black activists argue that they must embrace solidarity with all persecuted peoples, including Palestinians. Some of them also see the current Israeli government as expressing and enacting a form of racial superiority that feels similar to how white supremacists have acted against Black people in the US. On the other hand, some Black leaders reject comparisons between Palestinians’ and Black Americans’ experiences. Some worry that expressing support for the Palestinians would lead to accusations of antisemitism and would damage relationships with Jewish organizations.
Hispanic communities in the US are very diverse and that diversity is reflected in their views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the Times/Siena poll, 36 percent of Hispanics sympathized more with Israel, compared to 27 percent with Palestinians, but respondents were split on whether to support more aid to Israel. Some trends among Hispanics suggest a tendency to favor Israel, including a strong evangelical Christian movement that embraces Israel, a Jewish Latino diaspora and a history of support from Jewish activists on issues related to Hispanic civil rights and immigration. However, some Hispanics also embrace a social justice approach that tends to be sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Many younger Americans have seen similarities between the experiences of Palestinians and Black Americans.

Kerry Boyd Anderson

The Times/Siena poll found that 34 percent of respondents who identified as “other” (not white, Black or Hispanic) sympathized more with Israel, compared to 22 percent with the Palestinians. However, that same group was the most strongly opposed to sending more aid to Israel (58 percent opposed).
A recent AAPI poll found that Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans tend to see US policy as favoring Israel too much. A strong majority of Arab Americans sympathize with the Palestinians. Native Americans often see commonalities with their experience of displacement and dispossession and that of the Palestinians.
Within the US population as a whole and within specific racial and ethnic groups, younger people and Democrats are significantly more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians. Age and party identification are stronger factors than race in shaping views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, as some racial and ethnic communities grapple with how to view the conflict, the war in Gaza is shaking up some old alliances and posing difficult questions to American equality and social justice activists.

  • Kerry Boyd Anderson is a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. X: @KBAresearch
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