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According to Ynetnews:

But the huge noise of these protests obscures the truth: Most Americans aren’t antisemitic, certainly not Hamas supporters. Many of them, from the East Coast to California, don’t differentiate between Hamas and hummus.

I wonder, if there are any studies on how much Americans know about Israel and Palestine. For example:

  • How many Americans can point Israel on the map?
  • How many are aware that Gaza and West Bank are distinct territories?
  • Are Americans aware of the predicament of the Palestinian refugees in the larger Arab world (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt)?
  • Do Americans think Israel is a democratic state, a dictatorship or a theocracy?
  • Do Americans know which Palestinian movements are secular, pro-democratic, renounced terror, and which have not done so?
  • Is there significantly greater awareness of these issues among the people with higher level of education - e.g., those who take part in protests on the University campuses?

Similar data about other countries are also of interest.

Remark
Question Which Palestinian government is getting recognized? demonstrates that some nuances may be rather confusing, and many people may genuinely have difficulty differentiating between Hamas, PA, PLO and generic "Palestinians".

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    Before closing for lack of focus, be aware that those questions are just examples and answers should not cover them all. So, the post has only one core question: How much do Americans know about Palestinians and Palestine?
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 26 at 16:28
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    "Do Americans think Israel is a democratic state, a dictatorship or a theocracy?" That's a bit of a misleading question, as it's objectively at least partially both the former and the latter (though I'd say more the former than the latter.) They're not strictly mutually exclusive concepts. It has pretty much all of the basic elements of a Western-style democracy, but suffrage isn't complete and the government is rather overtly Jewish and with certain rights extended more or exclusively to Jews, especially where immigration is concerned.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 27 at 15:49
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    Are all of those examples of knowledge actually important? Even if someone can't point out the location on the map it is still possible for them to have a proper understanding of the situation. It is also possible for them to have a strong understanding of the geography of the area but have no understanding of the situation there.
    – Joe W
    Commented Apr 28 at 20:38
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    @reirab Jewishness isn't a religion, but an ethno-national identity (as opposed to Judaism). Even if it were, Israel showing favoritism to Jews isn't indicative of a theocracy any more than France showing preference to Catholics. In a theocracy, religion is the governing principle, as in Iran where religious authorities are given the highest power; this is not the case in Israel.
    – Zev Spitz
    Commented Jun 2 at 4:47
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    @FourLegsGoodTwoLegsBad I agree. The difference being that in California (or anywhere in the U.S.,) the government can't make a law that says only one sect of Jews (or Christians or Muslims, etc.) is authorized to perform Jewish (or Christian, Muslim, etc.) marriages and it must be done in a certain way according to the customs of that sect. If a an Episcopal church in Maryland wants to perform a Christian wedding for a Baptist from Alabama and a Muslim from Tunisia, they may do so, for example. Because, as you said, it's a religious practice and not the government's business.
    – reirab
    Commented Jun 4 at 6:38

5 Answers 5

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While American are more knowledgable about Israel, the Palestinians, the Israel-Hamas war, and related issues than about most other foreign affairs issues, a large share of them lack even basic knowledge about the situation.

Some specific polling based answers

  • In a 2011 Pew Poll, only 57% of American adults could identify Israel on a map of the Middle East.

The answer from JMS to this question suggests that this may be a high end estimate. JMS notes two other surveys:

Survey: Less Than Third of American Millennials Able to Identify Israel on Map [the actual figure is 31% of 18-29 year olds].

Only 25% of Americans can find Israel on a map [this was actually a survey of 18-24 year olds who are, on average, less knowledgable and not actually a survey of the general public].

  • In a March 2024 Pew Poll, 43% of American adults said that they were paying little or no attention to the Israel-Hamas war.

In a multiple choice question with four possible answers but an "I don't know" option, 35% of American adults don't know who the Prime Minister of Israel is.

20-28% of American adults didn't know anything about how or why Israel and Hamas were fighting in the current conflict, depending upon the specific question asked.

enter image description here

Unsurprisingly, the same poll revealed that American Jews and American Muslims (both of whom make up a very small percentage of the American public) were better informed about these matters and has strongly divergent opinions about them. About 2.3% of American adults are ethnically or religiously Jewish: 1.7% of American adults are religious Jews and about 0.6% of American adults are secular but ethnically Jewish. About 1.3% of American adults are Muslims. Overall about 3.3% of American adults are either ethnically or religiously Jewish or Muslim. See also, with county level breakdowns, the PRRI Census of American Religion (which estimates that 2% of American adults are religiously Jewish or Muslim, but in statistics rounding to the nearest whole percentage point and with somewhat older data which matters because the Muslim population of the U.S. is growing rapidly, while the religiously Jewish population of the U.S. is slowly falling as a percentage of Americans).

The same poll reveals that young American adults know less about the conflict than older American adults:

enter image description here

Is there significantly greater awareness of these issues among the people with higher level of education - e.g., those who take part in protests on the University campuses?

As this Pew Poll chart immediately above indicates, this is definitely true.

College educated people, and particularly students at highly selective colleges and universities always know much more about almost everything we learn about through education, books, and the media, than people who are not college educated.

This is utterly unsurprising because these institutes select their students based upon whether or not they have this kind of knowledge.

  • A Harvard poll released on April 25, 2024 found that young adults in the U.S. don't care much about the Israel-Gaza conflict, despite the fact that this is a very hot issue on the campuses of highly selective colleges and universities. It ranks 15th out of 16 issues polled on importance to them.

The annual Harvard Youth Poll, run by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard's Kennedy School, surveys Americans between the ages of 18- and 29-years-old about the issues that matter most to them. This year's poll found that young people are much closer in their concerns to the broader electorate than media reports may suggest, with inflation, health care and housing topping their list, followed by gun violence.

The survey identified 16 current issues facing the U.S., asking respondents which of two randomly paired issues most concerned them. Inflation came out on top, with 64 percent of respondents rating it as more important than whatever issue it was matched against. . . .

The conflict in the Middle East ranked near the bottom of young Americans' concerns at 15th, with 34 percent of respondents choosing it over whatever randomly selected issue it was matched against. The only issue that ranked lower was student debt, which came in dead last at 26 percent.

  • A recent Pew study reveals that Americans know very little about the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which is a good gauge of knowledge of less basic Israel related political facts.

Americans have very little awareness of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel – one of the most prominent groups in the U.S. calling for boycotts of Israeli companies and sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Only 3% of Americans have heard “a lot” about BDS, and an additional 12% have heard “some,” while 31% have not heard much and 53% have heard nothing at all about the movement.

Estimates Of Answer To Other Questions

I couldn't find links to exact data on some of the other specific questions but can provide my sense based upon having seen similar polling on a variety of subjects in the past.

How many are aware that Gaza and West Bank are distinct territories?

This would definitely be a smaller percentage than the 57% of Americans who can find Israel on a map of the Middle East, but probably not a lot less, since these are frequently displayed on maps of Israel and someone who follows the news at all sees it discussed dozens of times a year. My best estimate would be about half of American adults.

Do Americans think Israel is a democratic state, a dictatorship or a theocracy?

Americans have a very favorable view of Israel overall. Few Americans think it is a literal dictatorship.

A significant minority may think that Israel has a formally established Jewish religion, when, in fact, the Israeli state is formally secular and the constitutional identification of Israel with the Jewish people is more ethnic than religious.

The Brookings poll cited in two other answers, in which a majority of American adults had no opinion, isn't really asking the same question. It's question and the answers are as follows:

enter image description here

Do Americans know which Palestinian movements are secular, pro-democratic, renounced terror, and which have not done so?

I would be very surprised if 10% of American adults knew this. My best estimate would be 2-3% of Americans who are not Jewish or Muslim would know this and that perhaps 10-15% of Jewish or Muslim Americans would know this. This is much less commonly known about American adults than knowledge about the BDS movement which is itself very uncommon.

Are Americans aware of the predicament of the Palestinian refugees in the larger Arab world (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt)?

This question is sufficiently vague that I don't know whether I'd qualify as knowing the answer or not, despite having far more knowledge about the issue than the average American adult with a college education.

A more specific and more factual question would be whether Americans are aware that there is a large number of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. I would be surprised if more than 20-25% of American adults knew that fact, and that could easily be a gross over estimate. The true number could be half that.

I would be surprised if more than 5-8% of Americans both knew that there were significant numbers of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East and also had any really meaningful understanding of how their well-being compares to people who aren't Palestinian refugees in the same places. The true number could be half that.

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    @Luaan US education is simply more US-centric, for obvious reasons. Can you find Alabama or Guatemala on a map? I am European and I can point them within 1/4 of a continent accuracy.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Apr 27 at 8:12
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    I'm not really sure that I'd rate knowledge of the BDS movement as a good gauge of knowledge about current events in Israel/Palestine. That seems kind of like rating knowledge of the American Communist Party as a gauge of knowledge about economic policy. No one cares about them because it's a fringe group with extremist viewpoints (with at least a lot of overlap with anti-semitism,) not because of how much they do or don't know about the situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine. Otherwise, though, good answer.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 27 at 15:59
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    @Luaan There is virtually zero geography in US Universities unless your major is political science, geography, or something related. 18-24 year olds are focused on their major, not general knowledge. My schooling (I'm American) only involved serious study of geography (memorizing all countries and their capitals) when I was 13. I had forgotten most of what I had learned of that by 18, although I could still tell you which continent at least 150 of the world's countries are on (including many countries that didn't exist when I was 13). Commented Apr 28 at 12:02
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    @ToddWilcox, in the European college model there will usually also be nothing but technical classes on the subject you studied in your non-optional part of your curriculum so you will definitely not find any geography being taught there. If you do happen to be specialized in a related topic you will probably still not get any geography. University is not meant for such fact learning education. It is meant to prepare you for research in the field and thus deeper questions than the names and locations of things.
    – Kvothe
    Commented Apr 28 at 18:26
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    @fraxinus Guatamala is not constantly in the news, so I don't think the comparison holds. In the ratio of international news coverage to local population, no country comes even remotely close to Israel/Palestine, certainly not in the Western Hemisphere.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 29 at 6:56
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Pew asked Americans three basic questions about the facts of the recent Israel-Hamas War and found they were reasonably well-informed. Two-thirds of Americans got all three or two of the three correct. As you might imagine, college graduates, Jews, and Muslims were among the most aware.

enter image description here

The questions themselves were not exactly difficult from the perspective of, say, someone browsing a Politics StackExchange:

enter image description here

But I think it's worth noting that for an American, facts like "where is Palestine on a map" and the difference between Gaza and the West Bank is just not as relevant to their moral calculus as facts about who attacked who, and whether the Israeli response has been proportionate, etc.

Finally, to your specific question of:

Do Americans think Israel is a democratic state, a dictatorship or a theocracy?

Brookings did a poll that found that for the most part, Americans answer "don't know" to whether Israel is a democracy. I'd argue though the question wording here was pretty bad and would cause people to hedge on the matter moreso than if they had simply asked if Israel was a democracy, flawed democracy, or not a democracy. (Brookings leans left).

enter image description here

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    The 1% of Americans who think that Rishi Sunak is the PM of Israel scare me. But even scarier is that if even .Barack Obama were an option, some people probably would have said that he was.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:29
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    @Obie2.0, "1%" is about the number of people who will guess at random rather than admit they don't know something.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 26 at 23:02
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    @KarlKnechtel On November 7 The Times of Israel (not some anti colonial rag) found credible enough to relay a US official (high ranking at the State Department, a pro-colonial organization) that the official death toll is an underestimate. It was already almost 10 times the one of October 7. It's unimaginable how it could be fake to the point of today being less that October 7 web.archive.org/web/20240118054843/https://…
    – tuxayo
    Commented Apr 27 at 22:27
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    @KarlKnechtel More source:Netanyahu themselves: «Netanyahu also gave his own death estimates. Some 13,000 Palestinian fighters had been killed, he said, while the civilian death rate was estimated at 1-1.5 for every combatant. That would put the total killed — fighters and civilians — at at least 26,000.» And at most 32500, compare that to the official number on March 10: 31000, so the official death toll is credible, so yeah it's more than Oct 7 WTF! web.archive.org/web/20240426085320/https://www.politico.eu/…
    – tuxayo
    Commented Apr 27 at 22:39
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    @KarlKnechtel For what it's worth, I read "current Israeli-Hamas war" as referring to the events on and since Oct 7. Even if one goes all the way back to the beginning of Hamas, though, I find it very unlikely that more Israelis have died as a result of Israel-Hamas fighting than Palestinians. While Hamas pretty much openly states that they'd like to kill every last Israeli, the reality is that Israel's armed forces are far stronger than theirs are and it's been that way for the entirety of their existence.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 28 at 8:22
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This is empirical based on reading / watching multiple new sources, polls, etc.

Please keep in mind that my personal opinion is that long-term a two state solution will likely happen. It will likely need the next generation to accomplish it. IMHO.

Most americans most likely don't know and likely don't actually care that much. This isn't intended to sound uncaring, but an observation.

Many Americans are comfortable enough having their leaders and percieved leaders tell them what to think:

Example: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/shawn-fain-uaw-face-the-nation-transcript-01-28-2024/

The president of the UAW bringing up the move of the US Embassy in Israel and "other things" during the last administration as negatives. This includes the Abraham Accords.

Younger people are comfortable steaming ahead without being fully informed or accepted highly partisan info as "the truth".

If accepting that "the truth" means eliminating Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, the same Americans likely would say "hold on a minute".

Most americans likely can't imagine the environment that many countries consider normal. Coups, political arrests, morality police, factions in armed conflicts.

Other concepts that are normal day to day in West bank that Americans likely couldn't fathom are the political and educational systems. For example: The Martyrdom payments (Pay for Slay), how many Americans would accept that their tax dollars have ended up going to that?

EDIT:

In my work, I deal with some very smart people in documenting their systems. For years I've been amazed at how much they can suggest two conflicting options. That leaves me to have to walk through with them what they asked for and having to explain that they can't have it both ways.

How does this apply? If a poll asked "Do you think the Pals should get what they are asking for?" and "Does Israel have a right to exist?" What percentage of people will answer yes to both?

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    This answer is empirical ? or it is base on what you feel is the truth ? Commented Apr 26 at 13:56
  • @Bougainville That is a good question. I try very hard to be honest with myself. It is what I have observed, but I am not a fulltime pollster or newsperson. The polls cited in the other answers don't ask questions below the very top level. That is fine, but each each question that "I don't know" would have been the response is likely missing meanful data. Your thoughts?
    – DogBoy37
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:53
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    I think saying "general public is generally uninformed" will be true for any issue, but when it comes to polarizing issues there's also a lot of misinformation, not just lack of.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:56
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    @littleadv That goes hand-in-hand with how loud/funded/organized/determined/etc. an involved group is. A WSJ Op-Ed 4/22 has well-cited examples of how the current protests are being feed by terrorist groups.
    – DogBoy37
    Commented Apr 26 at 19:55
  • What does either the Union of American Women or United Auto Workers or whatever UAW is have to do with Israel or Palestine? Do they have local sections there?
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 29 at 7:05
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How many Americans can point Israel on the map?

  1. How many are aware that Gaza and West Bank are distinct territories?
  1. Are Americans aware of the predicament of the Palestinian refugees in the larger Arab world (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt)?

Could find no polls.

  1. Do Americans think Israel is a democratic state, a dictatorship or a theocracy?

April 2023 Poll

  • 7% A state with restricted minority rights
  • 9% A vibrant democracy
  • 13% A flawed democracy
  • 13% A state with segregation similar to apartheid
  • 56% I don't know

Empirically: Most Americans don't know. And while Israel almost became a dictatorship earlier this year (Netanyahu's attempt to nullify Israel's judicial branch, the only check on executive power in Israel), it is actually closer to a theocracy. A country established and maintained along religious grounds.

  1. Do Americans know which Palestinian movements are secular, pro-democratic, renounced terror, and which have not done so?

I could find no polls, but I would think not.

Jimmy Carter in his 2006 book "Peace not Apartheid", lamented that he was the last American government official who had met with all the players in the middle east including Hamas and Hezbollah leaders. (Jimmy Carter retired from government nearly 50 years ago). Given America bans on government officials meeting with these groups. In this book Jimmy Carter stated that the US state department didn't even understand these groups positions on issues like whether they would support a peace agreement between the Palestinian People and the Israelis.

This is a long trend of US diplomats in general which from much of the 1970's and 1980's refused any contact with the PLO when it was the primary representative of the Palestinian people. I remember the US lead diplomat to the United Nations, Andrew Young was forced to resign from office in 1979 after holding a meeting with the PLO observer to the United Nations in New York.

  1. Is there significantly greater awareness of these issues among the people with higher level of education - e.g., those who take part in protests on the University campuses?

I could find no polls from the protesters, In general educated people of any age have a greater knowledge of the issues; but that's mostly because the prevalent knowledge is so low. Even educated people in the United States generally have a pathetic understanding of the historic much less contemporary Middle East troubles.

  • I think Americans and the young protesters are more aware of the huge casualties in the current Gaza troubles. Aware of the 35,000 deaths, mostly women and children. Aware that the United States weapons and finances are being used to perpetrate these acts. Aware that the 35,000 deaths is a very conservative number. That is primarily what they are reacting too.

  • It's become a significant issue for President Joe Biden's 2024 Presidential Campaign when in late Feb about two months ago 13% of democratic voters in the Michigan Democratic Primary voted uncommitted for the Presidential Candidate in protest over Biden's performance in the Israeli Gaza troubles. That's huge as Michigan is an important battleground state for President Biden, and the presidential race is very tight.

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    A NatGeo survey is interesting reading although possibly dated. The 25% figure for Israel is not too bad given that 65% could not locate France and 11% cannot even find their own country.
    – doneal24
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:34
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    "it is actually closer to a theocracy. A country established and maintained along religious grounds." The state of Israel is formally secular, does not afford religious official a formal role in government (although some political parties in Israel are expressly religious) and describes and implements the state's Jewish nationalism on an ethnic rather than religious basis. It is not a theocracy, which would be rule by religious officials as is the case in Iran.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:43
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    @ohwilleke that is correct to a point, there's some religious involvement in government, but it's not a theocracy. For example, family law is based on religion - but not a single religion, rather all marriages have to be done in conformance to the religion of the couple (whichever that is). Similarly, official holidays are mostly Jewish religious holidays (except for the Independence Day), but the same law defining them also guarantees freedom of celebrating holidays of other religions.
    – littleadv
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:50
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    @littleadv FWIW, India takes the same approach to family law.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:52
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    No, I would say that does not qualify. A high religious country will make laws highly influenced by their religious culture (against abortion or same-sex marriage, for instance). But that does not mean that the church directly controls the state, which is theocracy. If the Pope changes the law, then the law of Vatican City changes–but not the law of the Philippines. If the Ayatollah changes the law, then the law of Iran changes—but not the law of Iraq or Bahrain.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:46
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https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED310052.pdf

51% know the Sahara Desert is located in North Africa.

54% know the conceptual difference between Central and Latin America.

61% can identify Egypt on a map.

66% can locate Israel on a map.

72% can identify Japan on a map.

94% can identify Australia and the Soviet Union on a map.

Although 66% of college students in Indiana can locate Israel, a lot of students also failed in identifying Egypt on a map. It doesn't mean, however, that they don't know about Palestinians and how Israel and Palestine have territorial disputes. However, because they can't identify Israel on a map it's likely they don't really know much about the conflict between the two countries and have very superficial knowledge.

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/is-israel-a-democracy-heres-what-americans-think/

enter image description here

Likewise, it seems most Americans don't really know much about Israel, because most of them don't know if Israel is a democracy.

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    I feel like we can get a more recent geographical knowledge survey than one from 36 years ago (with the Soviet Union!)
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:32

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