Dr. Rynhold is a professor at Bar-Ilan University.
Since 2015, there has been a sharp turnaround in Democrats’ sympathies for Israel and the Palestinians. The percentage of Democrats with a preference for Israel is more or less tied with those preferring the Palestinians, wiping out Israel’s historic advantage. Long-term processes of liberalization and secularization have generated a more difficult environment for Israel and a more favorable one for the Palestinians, but they alone do not account for the shift. Rather, the fusing of these trends with changes in Israel triggered the change. The formation of a narrow right-wing government in 2015 played a significant role. However, the primary cause of the collapse in sympathy for Israel was the way in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Republican-first strategy to block the Iran nuclear deal turned Israel into a highly salient motif of partisanship at a time of unparalleled hostility between the two major U.S. parties. While the fall in sympathy for Israel spans both wings of the Democratic Party, the sharp increase in sympathy for the Palestinians has occurred primarily among liberal Democrats. It is intertwined with the growing political salience of Black Lives Matter, which helps to generate a narrative associating racial discrimination in America with the plight of the Palestinians.
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