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Jews and Muslims in U.S. disagree on Israel’s conduct in Gaza, poll finds

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A survey by the Pew Research Center published Thursday shows how Americans are split — particularly along religious lines — over Israel’s conduct in Gaza and the reasons for the war itself. The poll is among the most comprehensive yet of how Americans’ opinions on the conflict differ depending on religious affiliations.

The poll found 38 percent of U.S. adults said they think Israel’s conduct has been acceptable, and slightly more than 34 percent said it has been unacceptable. The war has killed more than 31,000 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. One U.N. estimate found that more than a third of all buildings in Gaza had been destroyed in the conflict.

The difference in opinion over Israel’s conduct is starker along religious lines, with 62 percent of American Jews saying Israel’s war conduct is acceptable and 5 percent of American Muslims saying so, according to the survey, which polled 12,693 adults in the United States last month. Muslims and Jews were “oversampled” compared to their portion of the general population to provide a large enough sample to draw insights from each group. But they were not overrepresented in the survey, which was weighted to account for the oversampling, and had a margin of error of 1.5 percent.

A vast majority of American Jews — 89 percent — said Israel had valid reasons for the war, which began after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking dozens of hostages. Among U.S. Muslims, 18 percent saw Israel’s reasons for going to war as valid, the survey found. Meanwhile, according to the survey, 22 percent of Americans overall said the war will make Israelis safer than before, while 27 percent said it will instead make them less secure.

The poll also found differing opinions based on age, with younger people more opposed to Israel’s actions when compared to older adults. For example, among adults ages 18 to 29, 34 percent said Hamas’s reasons for fighting Israel are valid, while 30 percent say they are not. Among people 65 and older, 64 percent said Hamas’s reasons were not valid, while 17 percent said they were.

Young people were the most critical of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, with 46 percent saying the way Israel is carrying out its response to the Oct. 7 attack is unacceptable. Twenty-one percent said it was acceptable, while 32 percent were unsure. For people over 65, more than half — 53 percent — said Israel’s conduct was acceptable, while 29 percent said it was not and 16 percent were unsure.

The war in Gaza has become a complicated issue for President Biden in an election year, and could become an obstacle to winning over Muslim voters before November.

Some Democrats have been highly critical of Biden’s handling of the conflict, saying he has been too lenient with Israel amid accusations by other governments and humanitarian aid organizations that its leadership has flouted international law in its prosecution of the war. One group in Michigan, which has a large Arab American population, led a campaign instructing people to vote “uncommitted” in the primary election in protest of Biden’s handling of the war. Biden won the Democratic presidential primary in the state, but more than 100,000 people voted “uncommitted,” blowing past the group’s goal of 10,000 votes. The Biden campaign largely brushed off the protest votes, saying the effort in Michigan had an artificially low goal, as the normal amount of uncommitted votes usually exceeds 10,000 without a concentrated campaign.

Biden has grown more critical of Israel over the course of the war, going from giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a bear hug in the days following Oct. 7 to criticizing Israel’s conduct in Gaza as “over the top.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, said in remarks on the Senate floor last week that Israel could benefit from a new election — one that could oust Netanyahu, whose leadership, Schumer said, risks turning Israel into an international “pariah.”

Asked about Schumer’s remarks, which prompted criticism from some lawmakers in the United States and Israel, Biden said it was a “good speech.”

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