Democratic voters support cutting aid to Israel, so why have only two candidates even mentioned it?

A new report shows that a net majority of Democratic voters support cutting aid to Israel based on the country’s human rights violations. Nonetheless, only two Democratic presidential candidates have floated the idea during this campaign and neither has provided much in way of details.

YouGov Blue conducted a poll for the progressive think tank Data For Progress between August 15th–21st. 1,380 voters were asked a question about reducing U.S. military aid to Israel over its human rights abuses and a broader question about reducing aid to other countries for the same reason. The poll’s accompanying report was authored by Data For Progress Senior Fellow and IfNotNow co-founder Emma Saltzberg.

Saltzberg found that 45% of voters support reducing Israel’s military aid for human rights violations, while 34% oppose such a policy. When that idea is expanded to countries more broadly, the numbers go way up: 61% support it, while only 12% are against it.

When these numbers are broken down by party affiliation, the contrast is striking. Democratic voters support such a policy towards Israel at the same rate that they do for other countries: 64% support it and only 11% oppose it. That means a net majority of Democratic voters (53%) support it. The numbers are even higher for respondents who reported voting for a Democratic congressional candidate in the last election. 67% of those Democrats support reducing aid to Israel and only 10% support it.

As for Republicans, 56% of them support reducing aid to human rights abusers and just 16% oppose it, but apply that same question to Israel and the numbers almost flip themselves: 19% of Republican voters support such a policy towards Israel and 64% oppose it.

As Saltzberg points out in her report, Israel currently receives $3.3 billion in military aid from the United States annually and $500 million for missile defense. Yet despite these staggering numbers and the aforementioned voter trends, the subject has barely been discussed by candidates on the campaign trail. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has repeatedly floated the idea of making U.S. aid towards Israel conditional based on the country’s actions. “The United States government gives a whole lot of money to Israel and I think we can leverage that money to end some of the racism that we have recently seen in Israel,” said Sanders in August. It’s difficult to envision how Sanders plan would work, especially since millions of people view Israel as an apartheid state where racism is institutional.

A more specific vision for holding Israel accountable for some of its actions has been presented by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, which is somewhat ironic as his track record is solidly pro-Israel. However in June, Buttigieg announced that he wouldn’t allow U.S. funds to be used for a potential annexation of the West Bank if he were elected president. “If Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill,” said Buttigieg during a speech in Indiana. Buttigieg plan also lacks details (it’s unclear how the United States would assure that Israel didn’t use the money for this), but the subject has received renewed interest as Israel Prime Minister recently announced that he’d annex a third of the West Bank if reelected.

None of the other presidential candidates have suggested cutting aid in any capacity and most of them have fallen back on the usual two-state solution rhetoric when confronted about the issue.

Summing up the report Saltzberg writes, “These results suggest that Democratic voters are not holding Israel to a different standard than they would hold any other recipient of US military aid dollars. They also suggest that Democratic politicians who float the possibility of changes to the US–Israel aid relationship do so with the support of their party’s voters.”

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