What’s Really Behind America’s Generational Divide Over Israel | Crooked Media
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May 11, 2024
What A Day
What’s Really Behind America’s Generational Divide Over Israel

In This Episode


Max Fisher: Erin, I have a poll I want to read you. 

Erin Ryan: You sound like the subject line of a Democratic Party fundraiser email. 

Max Fisher: [laugh] It’s on American attitudes toward Israel. And the question is, what should the U.S. do about the conflict? 

Erin Ryan: Well, that sounds like a straightforward question with a simple consensus answer. 

Max Fisher: Okay, given that sarcastic prediction, I think you’re going to be surprised, because the most popular answer to this poll by far, was that the U.S. should stay out of the situation entirely. 58% said that. Only 13% said the U.S. should support Israel in any way. 

Erin Ryan: Was this poll of my Instagram friends. What? That can’t be right, 13%?

Max Fisher: So those numbers are correct, but, well, they are from 1970. 

Erin Ryan: Ah. Okay. 

Max Fisher: Still, Americans really did say that it’s wild, right? 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. It’s hard to square that with where we are now. It’s so baked into conventional wisdom that Americans have always been fervently pro-Israel. 

Max Fisher: But they haven’t. And the story of when and why that changed, I think, tells us a lot about whether American attitudes toward Israel could be changing again. 

Erin Ryan: Well, if anybody can help explain a complicated topic without giving me math tears, it’s you, Max. 

Max Fisher: Thank you. [music break] I’m Max Fisher. 

Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan. This is How We Got Here, a new series where we explore a big question behind the week’s headlines and tell a story that answers that question. 

Max Fisher: Our question this week has to do with the student protest over Israel’s war in Gaza. 

[clip of students chanting] Free, free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine. 

Erin Ryan: We wanted to do an episode about what has been a profound shift in attitudes toward Israel Palestine among younger Americans. But we did not want our question to be, why are young people becoming more opposed to U.S. support for Israel? 

Max Fisher: Right, because the answer is obvious. Israel has killed 35,000 Palestinians since October, mostly civilians. It’s displaced hundreds of thousands, leveled cities, all with U.S. weapons and support. So it’s not mysterious why people would be opposed to that. 

[clip of Sky News interviewer] Why do you feel so passionately about being here even though the police are telling you to leave? 

[clip of unnamed student protestor] Because we know that we’re on the right side of this right now. 

[clip of Sky News interviewer] Are you scared? 

[clip of unnamed student protestor] Uh. No. I think that the children in Gaza are more scared than I am. 

Erin Ryan: That’s from a Sky news interview. What’s curious about this isn’t that young people are getting more critical of Israel. It’s that older people aren’t. At least not to the same degree. 

Max Fisher: Right. They’ve moved a little, but there’s still a pro-Israel tilt among Americans over 35 and especially over age 50. Um. But there is a big and growing generation gap here. 

Erin Ryan: So our question this week, why are middle aged and older Americans persistently pro-Israel? 

Max Fisher: And the story I want to tell you is about how that came to be in the first place, because it was not always that way. 

Erin Ryan: Well, sure. You just read out that poll from 1970, when only 13% of Americans wanted the U.S. to support Israel. So clearly something’s changed. 

Max Fisher: And those numbers were pretty typical of the time. In 1975, U.S. support for aiding Israel actually dipped to 5%. 

Erin Ryan: Wow. Well, it might be some Vietnam fatigue there. 

Max Fisher: That’s true. 

Erin Ryan: And the timing of that 1975 poll is telling, because just two years earlier, the U.S. actually had aided Israel in a war it fought with Egypt and Syria. So this wasn’t some hypothetical. 

Max Fisher: Washington cared about Israel because it saw it as, you know, a foothold of American influence in the Middle East during the Cold War. But American voters were really not interested. 

Erin Ryan: An American president aiding the Israeli military over the wishes of his supporters. Where have I heard that before? 

Max Fisher: Although one difference is that unlike those Americans today who are critical of Israel over things like its occupation of the Palestinians, Americans back then were more just indifferent. 

Erin Ryan: Is it even really America if people aren’t screaming at each other about Israel? You know, I scream, you scream, we all scream about Israel. 

Max Fisher: We do. Um. Okay. Well, to give you an example, like one set of surveys in the ’50s and ’60s, pollsters asked Americans to rate how they felt about Israel on a scale from negative five for most critical to plus five for most positive. 

Erin Ryan: I feel like today Americans would be all plus fives and minus fives. 

Max Fisher: Right? But back then, almost everyone was between a minus one and a plus two. 

Erin Ryan: So Americans were mostly pretty indifferent. 

Max Fisher: And that’s held true, really, for most of Israel’s existence. A poll from 1948, taken just before Israel’s founding, found that only 28% of Americans said they sympathized with the Jews in the territory. Another 11% with the Arab populations, and 44% said neither. 

Erin Ryan: Neither. Wow. Okay. But clearly, Americans are not indifferent anymore about Israel or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Max Fisher: No, I think it’s fair to say that for most of our lives, it’s been one of the most contentious issues in American politics. 

Erin Ryan: It is famously the thing you don’t bring up at Thanksgiving or parent teacher conferences, for that matter. 

Max Fisher: Well, that sounds like a hard learned lesson. [laughter] When I was getting into journalism, I had it drilled into me. This is the trickiest thing you could write about because it was so complicated and fraught. Which in retrospect, I actually don’t think is true. But it’s what people said. Like, here’s a Daily Show clip from back in 2014 that kind of exemplifies this. 

[clip of Daily show from 2014, speaker 1] Look, obviously there are there are many strong opinions on this issue, but just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas. 

[clip of Daily show from 2014, speaker 2] So you’re against murdered children? [indistinct banter]

[clip of Daily show from 2014, speaker 1] Free Gaza. Free Palestine.

Erin Ryan: Okay to review. Contrary to what you might have been told. Americans have not always cared about Israel. In fact, from the moment of Israel’s creation onward, they were mostly indifferent. 

Max Fisher: Right. Yes. 

Erin Ryan: But at some point that changed, and Americans became deeply invested in caring about the Israel Palestine conflict and were mostly pro-Israel. 

Max Fisher: That happened a lot more recently than you might think. One poll in 1990 found that same indifference as back in the ’40s, with 70% of Americans saying they didn’t sympathize with either side in the conflict over the other. And that didn’t really change until the mid to late ’90s. 

Erin Ryan: You’re telling me that Americans polarized over Israel so recently that Frazier existed in the time before it happened? 

[clip from television show Frazier, speaker 1] Who has a nice toast? Niles. 

[clip from television show Frazier, character Niles] Oh. All right, uh L’chaim.[laughter] Mazel tov. Next year in Jerusalem. [laughter]. 

[clip from television show Frazier, speaker 3] Take it down a notch [?]

Erin Ryan: Wow. So that didn’t cause immediate backlash when it aired. 

Max Fisher: I know. So it really helps to show that up through the ’90s, caring or talking about Israel was seen as something that was really mostly just for religiously observant Jews. 

Erin Ryan: And evangelical Christians.

Max Fisher: Yeah. 

Erin Ryan: When you were quoting those older polls with ten or 20% American support for Israel, that was presumably mostly American Jews and evangelical Christians. 

Max Fisher: Yeah. And these two groups are important because they kind of set the norms for how Americans talk and think about being pro-Israel. Once that position later became mainstream. 

Erin Ryan: Right. Most people today who are pro-Israel are neither Jewish nor evangelical. 

Max Fisher: The two biggest predictors today for being pro-Israel, are actually being older and being conservative. 

Erin Ryan: But the evangelical rationale for Zionism has since become really important for shaping what it means to be pro-Israel in America, because evangelicals drove so much of the political advocacy around Israel back in the ’80s and ’90s. 

Max Fisher: And the evangelical case for supporting Israel is scarily uncompromising. 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, they see it as a matter of religious prophecy that Jews should control the land, which means they believe Israelis have to be made to prevail over Palestinians no matter what. 

Max Fisher: Here’s James Inhofe, who at the time was a Republican senator from Oklahoma, giving a speech to the Senate in 2002. 

[clip of James Inhofe] I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel for its right to the land. And this is the most important reason, because God said so. As I said a minute ago, look it up in the book of Genesis. It’s right up there on your desk. Mr., Mr. President, this is not a political battle at all. It’s a contest over whether or not the word of God is true. 

Erin Ryan: And he was replaced in the Senate by a man whose first name is Markwayne.

Max Fisher: [laughing] One of our faves. 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, one of our faves. The part of this he’s not telling you about is that, according to evangelical prophecy, Jews need to control Israel so Jesus can come back. 

Max Fisher: Yeesh. 

Erin Ryan: And take all the Christians away to heaven and leave everybody else to be tortured on earth for seven years.

Max Fisher: Cool. 

Erin Ryan: With most of us eventually succumbing to the Antichrist and being sent to hell. 

Max Fisher: Cool, cool. So as a secular Jew, that would not be my preference. 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, we don’t talk about this enough, and it’s extremely fucked up. 

Max Fisher: Well, anyway, again, all of this is actually pretty recent. Evangelicals getting involved in pro-Israel lobbying or really getting involved in politics generally. Just as an example, in 1976, half of evangelicals voted for Jimmy Carter. 

Erin Ryan: Yeah, it was Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who led the evangelical takeover of the Republican Party in the ’80s and ’90s, mostly as a reaction against social issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights. 

Max Fisher: One stat I found interesting on this in 1993, less than 7% of House Republicans personally identified as evangelical. And by 2015, that was up to 36%. 

Erin Ryan: So what you’re saying is that evangelicals radicalized around Israel over religious prophecy, but at first they didn’t act on it politically until starting in the ’90s, evangelicals got deeply involved in Republican politics. They were motivated by social issues, but they brought their Israel obsession with them. So that became part of the party line as evangelicals took it over. 

Max Fisher: Right. Here’s a video from 2011 recorded by an evangelical pastor named John Hagee. 

[clip of John Hagee] The man, the church, the nation that blesses the State of Israel. The Jewish people will be blessed beyond measure. That’s God’s promise. There will come a day that it’s important for Christians to speak up and stand up in defense of Israel and the Jewish people. 

Erin Ryan: Okay, so this guy is not like a friend to the Jews. I know this guy is a hellfire and brimstone charlatan. 

Max Fisher: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Erin Ryan: Who is famous for some anti-Semitic viewpoints, like the Holocaust happened because the Jews disobeyed God. 

Max Fisher: Whoa. 

Erin Ryan: Yes, he’s gotten in trouble for saying that. 

Max Fisher: I can see why. 

Erin Ryan: And that the Antichrist will be a, quote, “partially Jewish homosexual.” 

Max Fisher: Okay. Based.

Erin Ryan: Like Hitler was. 

Max Fisher: Okay not so good. 

Erin Ryan: He has called Hitler a half breed. He is not [laughter] he is–

Max Fisher: Not a friend of the Jews. 

Erin Ryan: –not–

Max Fisher: Not good for the Jews. 

Erin Ryan: Not invited to the Seder in any way, shape, or form. I am not comfortable with the idea of him watching my plants, much less influencing international politics. 

Max Fisher: Well, he’s important for this story because Hagee founded a Christian Zionist group called Christians United for Israel that became highly influential on the right. Like that was his case to Republicans. And as all of this is happening, there’s something forming within Washington that gets informally referred to as the bipartisan consensus. 

Erin Ryan: I know it’s about Israel, but I hear the 1990s and Washington bipartisan consensus, and it makes me think homophobia and austerity. 

Max Fisher: Basically, both parties agreed that U.S. foreign policy should favor Israel as a fellow democracy and a strategic ally against countries like Iran and Iraq. 

Erin Ryan: What could be more American than propping up one problematic ally as a check on other former problematic allies turned enemies. 

Max Fisher: Yeah, you got it there. The DC consensus on Israel does have a big caveat, though, for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Both parties agree that yes, we should send Israel aid and guarantee it’s security, but we should also fund and support the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. And we should pressure both sides to reach a two state peace agreement. 

Erin Ryan: It’s hard to give Washington too much credit for this since, you know, it didn’t work. 

Max Fisher: Yeah. 

Erin Ryan: And Israel got away with so much intransigence on the peace process for so long. 

Max Fisher: Oh for sure. My point is just that the politics of Israel and Palestine used to look very, very different in this country. It was seen as like a wonky foreign policy issue that got a lot of engagement from a couple of interest groups, and otherwise wasn’t something that people much cared about. 

Erin Ryan: So we know when that changed, at the end of the ’90s. But why did it change then? 

Max Fisher: Well. 

[clip of George W. Bush] Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them. 

Erin Ryan: Wow. Everything goes back to 9/11, doesn’t it? 

Max Fisher: It really does. And just a quick note on that. We edited together a few different lines from different points in Bush’s speech, just to remind you that America sort of collectively snapped after September 11th. 

Erin Ryan: An event that, of course, had nothing to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

Max Fisher: Not directly, no, but almost immediately they became linked in American minds. And a big reason for that was that at that moment, Israelis and Palestinians just happened to be locked in a period of very intense violence called the Second Intifada. Here’s a retrospective on that from an Israeli outlet called I-24 news. 

[clip from I-24 news] Suicide bombings, a lynching, targeted killings and fierce military campaigns. Horrible memories of the Second Intifada, which broke out 20 years ago and brought relations between Israel and the Palestinians to a new low. 

Erin Ryan: Just so people know, Intifada is the Arabic word for uprising. Here it refers to two Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation through things like marches, protests, and armed violence. 

Max Fisher: The second of those broke out in 2000. The full story is, of course, complicated. Just know that it was a few years of extremely heavy fighting, including many Israeli military attacks on Palestinian communities and Palestinian groups setting off bombs in Israeli cafes and busses. 

Erin Ryan: This has become kind of a famous case study in media bias, because coverage tended to privilege Israeli perspectives and the harms to Israeli civilians over those to Palestinians. So even though three times as many Palestinians died as Israelis, Americans often perceived it as something happening mostly to Israelis. 

Max Fisher: Yeah. And the point is that the story dominated American nightly news for a solid year before September 11th. These images of bombings and civilians being pulled from rubble. 

Erin Ryan: So then September 11th happened, and it felt like our experience and Israel’s were the same. 

Max Fisher: Americans had a lot of help in making this connection from one guy in particular. 

[clip of Benjamin Netanyahu] So for these militants, they don’t hate America because of Israel. They hate Israel because of America, because they see Israel as an outpost of Western values and the very freedoms and liberalism in the in the larger sense of societal, freedoms that they despise. Uh. Because of that, Israel has been fighting at the cutting edge between this terrorist militancy and the West. 

Erin Ryan: It was just a matter of time until Benjamin Netanyahu showed up. 

Max Fisher: He was actually out of office at this point, just a former prime minister and private citizen. But he flew to Washington barely a week after September 11th and gave one interview after another, multiple rounds of congressional testimony with one message. Our fight is your fight. It’s the same struggle against the same enemy. So, America, you better back Israel categorically, unconditionally against the Palestinians, whatever it takes, no matter how far we have to go. 

Erin Ryan: Here’s another stop from Netanyahu’s September 2001 War on Terror tour of D.C.. 

[clip of Benjamin Netanyahu] In the summer, there were summer camps, summer camps for Palestinian children, kindergarten children teaching them how to become suicide martyrs. If I could tell you one thing about the terror network, it is this. The success of the terrorist in one place in the terror network breeds, I would say, emboldens terrorists everywhere. 

Erin Ryan: As this was happening, the violence of the Second Intifada was still filling Americans TV screens every night alongside the invasion of Afghanistan and Bush’s speeches about an axis of evil. 

Max Fisher: Al-Qaeda and the architects of the September 11th attacks did also, for their own reasons, encourage the world to see a link between their attacks and Israel. 

Erin Ryan: So it all started to feel linked for Americans, even if it mostly wasn’t. 

Max Fisher: This is when American public indifference to the Israel-Palestine conflict ended, 2001 to 2003 or so. A Gallup poll around then found that almost two thirds of Americans now considered it a critical issue for the U.S.. 

Erin Ryan: And just a decade earlier, remember, the overwhelming majority of Americans had said it didn’t concern them at all. [music break]


Max Fisher: So this is it. The moment when Americans first came to deeply care about Israel and Palestine. But the way that they cared about it, the way that they talked and thought about it, was shaped by the politics of the moment. 

Erin Ryan: I was just old enough to start paying attention around this time, and I can tell you the politics of the moment were extremely fucked up. Toby Keith was burning up the charts. The band, then known as the Dixie chicks, were being blackballed by country radio for mildly criticizing George W. Bush.

Max Fisher: Americans after September 11th. You just have to say it. We kind of lost our minds. We were paranoid, angry, nationalistic, xenophobic. And then along comes Netanyahu and Bush and Bin Laden, all telling Americans that they’re locked in a grand, epochal struggle for the future of humanity with Israel at the forefront. 

Erin Ryan: And this was just as evangelicals were rising within the Republican Party. So they were in a good position to reaffirm Netanyahu’s message to Americans. Now, with this added top spin that helping Israel fight the Palestinians was their glorious mission as God fearing Christians. 

Max Fisher: I dug up another set of polls for you, Erin. 

Erin Ryan: All right, let’s hear it. 

Max Fisher: By 2003, 44% of Americans said they believed God had given the land that makes up Israel to the Jewish people. Nearly as many, 36%, said Israel’s creation was a step toward the second coming of Christ. 

Erin Ryan: Oh, gosh. Uh. We talk a lot about the puritanical, socially conservative ’90s, but it truly does not hold a candle to the frothing lunacy of the 2000s. 

Max Fisher: It’s going to be quite a reckoning when we get to it. And this all started to get expressed in a phrase that was absolutely everywhere in 2000s America. 

Erin Ryan: That’s hot. 

Max Fisher: [laughing] Thankfully no. Paris Hilton wisely stayed out of this one. No, the phrase is Judeo-Christian. 

Erin Ryan: You’re giving me trauma flashbacks to 2002, Max. 

Max Fisher: You could not turn on a cable news panel in the early 2000s or listen to a politician give a speech without hearing about Judeo-Christian values, Judeo-Christian traditions. 

Erin Ryan: And this was a time of rampant Islamophobia in America, animated by Bush’s war on terror, which shaped people’s perceptions of the Israel-Palestine conflict, too. 

Max Fisher: Yeah. 

Erin Ryan: This wave of xenophobia, just for people who maybe were too young, was extra stupid. 

Max Fisher: Yeah. 

Erin Ryan: Extra stupid. Even as far as xenophobic waves go, people who weren’t even Muslim but simply looked brown or other, like Sikhs, for example, were being targeted by hate crimes. 

Max Fisher: All of which becomes yet another big cultural current, pulling Americans toward identifying with Israelis and toward seeing the Palestinians as their enemy. 

Erin Ryan: Which is, of course, ridiculous. 

Max Fisher: Right. 

Erin Ryan: Palestinian groups were fighting the Israeli occupation that had been suffocating their communities for decades. There’s no reason that should feel threatening to Americans. 

Max Fisher: Something else happened after that. For the rest of the 2000s, pretty much any time there was a big debate over something related to the war on terror, conservatives would invoke Israel. 

Erin Ryan: I remember this. When Bush got caught doing torture, the justification was, well, Israel did it too. And we have to be tough like the Israelis. Same with phone tapping, targeted killings abroad, even security screenings at the airport. Israel did it, so we have to do it. 

Max Fisher: This may have done a lot to create the dynamics that still exist in American attitudes toward Israel. Research by an Israeli political scientist named Amnon Cavari found that basically, these 2000s era political fights within the U.S. over things like torture or inclusion led a lot of Americans to associate supporting Israel with being a conservative. 

Erin Ryan: Oh, so if Israel is the ultimate embodiment of conservative values because it’s unapologetically tough on terror and proudly Judeo-Christian and all that, then saying you support Israel becomes a way to signal that you’re a true conservative. 

Max Fisher: Like everything else in American life. It’s all polarization and political identity. 

Erin Ryan: Though we should say a lot of Democrats still supported Israel for years after this. 

Max Fisher: All that post-September 11 messaging about Israel as America’s ideological forward operating base and the Israel-Palestine conflict as America’s war on terror in miniature. It was really sticky with Americans who lived through it, and it still is. 

Erin Ryan: It’s why homeland work does an adaptation to–

Max Fisher: Right. 

Erin Ryan: –American television. 

Max Fisher: Yes. 

Erin Ryan: So being pro-Israel became, weirdly, both a partisan right wing position and also a matter of widespread bipartisan consensus.

Max Fisher: For a while anyway. But then Barack Obama became president, promising to mend ties with Muslim Americans and with Muslim populations abroad.

Erin Ryan: And was widely accused on the right of himself being a secret Muslim. 

Max Fisher: So Republicans saw an opening to attack him as hostile to Israel. Here’s Mitt Romney debating Obama as part of the 2012 presidential race. 

[clip of Mitt Romney] The reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And then, by the way. You skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region. But you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. 

Max Fisher: It’s easy to forget now, but back in 2012, when the global war on terror stuff was still fresh, accusing a politician of being too friendly to Muslim countries was read as basically calling them a high ranking member of the Al-Qaeda organization. 

Erin Ryan: Which again, was also all treated as synonymous with being insufficiently pro-Israel. 

Max Fisher: But support for Israel was never going to last for long, as long as it was both a bipartisan issue and also a deeply partisan right wing issue. That contradiction was just not going to hold. 

Erin Ryan: Benjamin Netanyahu helps you to that. When in 2015, he decided to make himself an overt partisan actor by flying to Washington and telling Congress to kill Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. 

[clip of Benjamin Netanyahu] I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. [applause] Not to sacrifice the future for the present, not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace. 

Erin Ryan: Forcing half of Americans to choose between their president and a foreign country was maybe a little short sighted by Netanyahu in retrospect. 

Max Fisher: And this wasn’t purely about partisan polarization, either. Some of it was driven by certain voting blocs reevaluating how they felt about Israel on the merits. Jews, especially younger and college educated Jews, started expressing not exactly outrage at Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, but a lot more skepticism. 

Erin Ryan: Well, Netanyahu had been ramping up the conflict. The year before his speech to Congress, he launched a month long assault on Gaza that killed over 2000 people. 

Max Fisher: I covered this at the time, and it felt like it had a real effect on American attitudes. TV crews were able to get into Gaza to document the destruction. I think it was the first time a lot of Americans saw what the conflict had become, and they were shocked by it. 

Erin Ryan: You mean because of how severe the destruction was? 

Max Fisher: Well, this looked very different from the images of the Second Intifada a decade earlier. There weren’t clashes between Israelis and Palestinians with suffering on both sides. It was Palestinian families huddled in their homes day after day, waiting to see whether Israel would drop a bomb on their apartment block. Meanwhile, for most Israelis, the conflict was totally out of sight, hermetically sealed behind these giant walls Israel had built around Gaza. Like this was not the image people had in their heads. 

Erin Ryan: You do see some tremors in the polls around then, little dips in overall support for Israel. But it looks like what happened was that democratic support started declining and Republican support started rising. Neither by huge amounts. 

Max Fisher: Little changes. 

Erin Ryan: Little changes, but a hint, a suggestion that American support for Israel can move in response to big dramatic moments like this one. 

Max Fisher: All of which sets the stage for Trump. 

Erin Ryan: Trump, who came in and immediately abandoned any pretense of wanting to be an impartial mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Max Fisher: Something that even George W. Bush, for all his faults, had at least tried in his way to do. 

Erin Ryan: Right. That old DC bipartisan consensus support Israel, but pressure it to peace. That’s over. 

[clip of Donald Trump] After more than two decades of waivers. We are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

Max Fisher: Trump went all in on Israel as basically a culture war issue. 

Erin Ryan: Recklessly escalating one of the world’s most entrenched conflicts to own the libs. 

Max Fisher: Trump in the process was kind of redefining what it meant to be pro-Israel in America. Previously, pro-Israel political leaders in the US had tried to portray Israel as a bastion of freedom and democracy, and had either downplayed the occupation or presented it as a necessary evil. Now, Trump was presenting Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians as something that Israel and America should be proud of. He was holding up Israel as a symbol not so much of democracy, but this kind of ethno nationalist, brute force domination. 

Erin Ryan: In fairness, Netanyahu has also been increasingly presenting Israel as a symbol of ethno nationalist, brute force domination. 

[clip of CBS news reporter unnamed from 2018] Israeli lawmakers have passed a law declaring the country the, quote, “Nation-State of the Jewish People.” The law says only Jews hold the right to exercise a national self-determination in Israel and critics say it’s a betrayal to the country’s declaration of independence, which ensured equal rights to all of the country’s residents. 

Erin Ryan: That was a CBS news clip from 2018 on one of what’s been a series of steps from Netanyahu’s government eroding things like legal rights for minorities and the country’s Supreme Court. 

Max Fisher: Yeah, pulling Israel toward the kind of quasi authoritarianism that you see in places like Turkey or Hungary. 

Erin Ryan: And that Trump and his supporters would really like to see happen in America. 

Max Fisher: For a while, millions of Israelis were regularly protesting Netanyahu, demanding he step down. 

Erin Ryan: So again, just like back in 2001 and 2002, Israel was showing up in lots of nightly American news broadcasts. 

Max Fisher: Mm hmm. 

Erin Ryan: And also, like in 2001, what was happening in Israel felt to a lot of Americans, like it was connected to what was happening domestically here in the U.S. 

Max Fisher: Here was Israel having its own like, slow motion January 6th, driven by Trump’s close ally and like minded wannabe authoritarian Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Erin Ryan: Only this time, unlike in 2001, a lot of Americans see Israel as embodying the worst of America. It’s an example to fear not one to follow. 

Max Fisher: This is when you first start to see a change in American attitudes towards Israel. But really just among Americans under age, about 40 or so. 

Erin Ryan: So Gen-X and baby boomers unmoved by all this, still support Israel. 

Max Fisher: Right. The dividing line seems to be people who were old enough to be paying close attention to politics during the early 2000s. It’s like those people just by soaking up all the war on terror stuff became pro-Israel in a way that has been very stubborn. 

Erin Ryan: But anyone our age or younger who’s too young to have drunk the War on Terror Kool-Aid from about 2019 or 2020 onward, their view of Israel starts turning negative. 

Max Fisher: As of early last year, so just before the war broke out, Americans born after 1980 reported, on average, sympathizing with Palestinians over Israelis in the conflict. 

Erin Ryan: Which had never happened before. 

Max Fisher: And for Democrats, it’s the same thing. As of early last year, Democrats became, for the first time on average, more sympathetic to Palestinians than Israelis in the conflict. 

Erin Ryan: So by the time October 7th happened, and then Israel’s war on Gaza, American attitudes toward Israel were already shifting. 

Max Fisher: By quite a bit. Yeah.

Erin Ryan: But polarized by age and by party affiliation. 

Max Fisher: Yes. But when you dig into the poll numbers from the months since the war started, you find something interesting. 

Erin Ryan: Yeah. It’s probably not the remains of Jimmy [?].

Max Fisher: It’s unfortunately it’s not. So we all know that support for Israel among younger Americans has dropped substantially since October. 

Erin Ryan: Right. And support for Palestinians has gone up. 

Max Fisher: But support for Israel has actually dropped among older Americans, too, and even among Republicans. 

Erin Ryan: So, in other words, everyone has gotten less supportive of Israel since October. 

Max Fisher: You get the sense from coverage of the campus protests that Americans are dividing further and further over Israel. But I think that’s actually not quite right. I mean, it is true that there is still an age gap and a partisan gap. But what this misses is that Americans as a whole have collectively shifted pretty far. 

Erin Ryan: Rather than people pulling toward opposing extremes. They’re all pulling in the same direction just by different amounts and from different start points. 

Max Fisher: And this all adds up. A CBS poll found that between October and April, the proportion of Americans who said they sympathized a lot with Israelis over Palestinians dropped from 51 to 38%. 

Erin Ryan: Wow. 

Max Fisher: And the share who said the U.S. should send arms to Israel dropped from 48 to 40%. 

Erin Ryan: So as much as the protests get portrayed as a matter of woke youngs versus stodgy olds, it turns out that most Americans actually agree with some of the basic protest demands. 

Max Fisher: Older Americans do seem in polls, to be turned off by the protests, but that might be less to do with the substance and more just a matter of old people being, you know, kind of grumps who find the college kids annoying. In a Morning [?] Poll, 47% of Americans said campuses should ban pro-Israel protests, but almost the same amount, 41% said the campuses should also ban pro-Israel protests. 

Erin Ryan: Okay, so an 80% get off my lawn [?]. 

Max Fisher: That’s right. 

Erin Ryan: So, okay, taking a step back here, Max, I keep thinking about the polls you read out at the top of the show. 

Max Fisher: Oh the ones from the ’70s, with only five or 10% saying we should arm Israel and everyone else saying stay out of it. 

Erin Ryan: What’s most surprising to me is how much that lines up with the views of people in my peer group today, and I had the same reaction to some of the more recent polls. It always felt to me like we were kind of in a bubble on this, surrounded by Americans who were immovably pro-Israel. Uh. You know, an In and Out in a sea of Waffle Houses, if you will. So it’s surprising and a little encouraging to learn that our little cohorts actually used to be the norm in U.S. attitudes on Israel, and that the rest of the country is maybe finally moving in our direction. 

Max Fisher: Yeah, I think my takeaway from all this is that, you know, this idea that Americans are innately or categorically pro-Israel and they’ve always been pro-Israel is really just not true. We’re really mostly just talking about two or so generations of Americans who lived through a very particular and very intense moment in the early 2000s. And who, as a result, got these pro-Israel attitudes burned into them that are real, but are maybe not so permanent, and understanding that matters because so much of our political system and so much media coverage takes for granted that Americans are always and forever going to side with Israelis against Palestinians. But it’s just not so. And the proof is not so much in the protests themselves as the fact that these protests are part of a much wider, albeit quieter, shift in American attitude. 

Erin Ryan: Well, whatever Americans think about Israel, it will still feel terrifying to talk about. And on that note, let’s go out with a clip from renowned foreign policy analysts Rick and Morty. 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 1] What the hell is Israel? 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 2] It’s just something Rick starts talking about when he’s blackout drunk. 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 3] What in what, what in what way? Like what’s my point? 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 2] In a way that has no point. You just babble about defense budgets and the United Nations and then you pass out. 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 3] So to be clear, I sometimes reference the geopolitical complexities of the topic, which is not the same as going to an anti-Semitic place. 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 4] I have no stake in this. 

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 3] I don’t either. I’m just saying, if anything, the drunk version of me is probably so supportive of Israel, he wants what’s best for it and–

[clip of Rick and Morty television show, character 4] Hey, man. I’m not touching this. You do you. [music break]

Max Fisher: How We Got Here is written and hosted by me, Max Fisher and by Erin Ryan. 

Erin Ryan: It’s produced by Austin Fisher. Emma Illick-Frank is our associate producer. 

Max Fisher: Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show. 

Erin Ryan: Jordan Cantor sound engineers the show. Audio support from Kyle Seglin, Charlotte Landes, and Vasilis Fotopoulos.

Max Fisher: Production support from Adriene Hill, Leo Duran, Erica Morrison, Raven Yamamoto, and Natalie Bettendorf. 

Erin Ryan: And a special thank you to What a Day’s talented hosts, Tre’vell Anderson, Priyanka Aribindi, Josie Duffy Rice, and Juanita Tolliver for welcoming us to the family. [music break]