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Pro-Zionist Americans Much More Likely to Support Bombing of Syria, Denying Entry to Refugees


Prof. Shibley Telhami’s poll shows Americans who support Israel also support Trump’s travel ban.  Staff Photo D. Sprusansky

Americans who believe that U.S. foreign policy should lean toward Israel are significantly more likely to support President Donald Trump’s decisions to bomb a Syrian military airfield and to deny entry to refugees and travelers from the Middle East, according to a poll conducted in mid-April by University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami.

Discussing the poll’s findings at the Brookings Institution on May 11, Telhami noted that, overall, 52 percent of Americans support Trump’s April 6 decision to strike a Syrian government airfield. As expected, the poll revealed a deep partisan divide, with 81 percent of Republicans supporting this escalation of the U.S. role in Syria, compared to just 31 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of Independents.

This partisan divide disappeared, however, when Israel was factored into the equation. Among those who want the U.S. to lean toward Israel (roughly one-third of Americans), 77 percent voiced support for the strike. “That’s true of Republicans, that’s true of Democrats, that’s true of Independents,” Telhami noted. “People who want the U.S. to lean toward Israel tend to be more supportive of the strikes than the rest of the population, regardless of party line.”

Just 38 percent of those who lean toward Palestine or neither side said they support the attack.

Supporters of Israel also were much more likely to be opposed to the U.S. taking in fully vetted refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Overall, 59 percent of Americans said they support the U.S. accepting these refugees, while just 40 percent of Israel’s supporters expressed this view.

Asked about Trump’s travel ban targeting six Muslim-majority countries, 80 percent of pro-Israel Americans expressed their support, while just 30 percent of those favoring Palestine or neither side said they agree with the ban. Overall, 49 percent of Americans expressed support for the ban.

Telhami’s poll also measured how Americans believe Trump’s April 6 strike will impact the future of the war in Syria.

More than half of the respondents—51 percent—believe the strike will have no impact on efforts to end the violence. A plurality—42 percent—believe the attack will result in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad targeting the Syrian opposition more aggressively. The poll also found that 66 percent of Americans believe Assad used chemical weapons against the town of Khan Shaykhun on April 4, while 23 percent said they were uncertain. The U.S. strike on the Syrian government airfield was launched in response to this alleged chemical attack.

In a rare area of bipartisan agreement, 63 percent of those surveyed said they believe the U.S. strike makes it more likely that American military involvement in the conflict will grow. This view was shared by 55 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Independents.

Despite clear skepticism that the strike will help end the war and fear it will increase the likelihood of an expanded U.S. military presence, Telhami believes a small majority of Americans still approved of the strike simply because they believe a message needed to be sent to Assad. “Among Democrats and Independents who are supporting this strike, they’re not supporting it because they think it’s going to make Syria better, but more because of the punitive [aspect]—you know, it’s about time we hit them for use of chemical weapons,” he said.

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