A recent poll conducted among 2,500 US Jews finds a greater share of respondents saying US-Israel relations had weakened in the past five years than those who said it had strengthened.
A recent poll for the US-based Ruderman Family Foundation finds that, “Jews who identify with liberal streams feel that the relationship (with Israel) is weaker than their counterparts.”
The poll was conducted by the Mellman Group on a sample of 2,500 Jews in the United States in December 2019.
When asked about “one of the most important reasons” American Jews were feeling less connected to Israel, 39 percent listed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for US President Donald Trump as the main reason.
Another reason –– with 33 percent saying they were feeling less connected to Israel because of it –– was listed as the growing power of right-wing and religious forces in Israel, Haaretz reported.
Other reasons listed were Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, its settlement policy in the West Bank, and its disenfranchisement of non-Orthodox Jews.
The report notes that 25 percent of respondents listed the treatment of Palestinians and Israeli settlement policies as their main complaints while 20 percent cited policies that alienate non-Orthodox Jews.
American Jews, especially liberal ones, tend to lean Democratic, and are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. According to Haaretz, Donald Trump had the support of only 24 percent of American Jews in the presidential election of 2016.
Traditionally, American Jews have been proponents of a two-state solution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, according to Haaretz, would include “at least a partial dismantling of the West Bank settlements.”
Looking at US-Israel relations, a greater share of the respondents (39 percent) said it had weakened in the past five years in contrast to those who said it had strengthened (32 percent).
Yet when it came to observant Jews, the picture changed: Among Orthodox Jews, the percent of those who said their connection to Israel had strengthened in the past five years (50 percent) was ten times those who said it had weakened (five percent).
Less observant Jews were more likely to reply that their connection to Israel had weakened: 28 percent of Reform Jews said it had weakened in contrast to 21 percent saying it had strengthened.
The survey found 80 percent of respondents identified as “pro-Israel.” It further suggested that 67 percent of American Jews were emotionally “attached” or “very attached” to Israel.
“Despite voices talking about a growing gap between the sides, the vast majority of American Jews are sympathetic to Israel, and most of them feel an emotional connection to the Jewish state,” the foundation said in a statement, the Times of Israel reported.
Writing for TRT World in 2017, Gregg Carlstrom noted “One thing remains constant: American Jews feel an emotional attachment to Israel. Though there is a notable generation gap, surveys find that a majority of almost every Jewish demographic feels such a connection. Indeed, as the Jewish community has become more assimilated, support for Israel has become a central marker of Jewish identity.”
But Carlstrom’s observation comes with a caveat: “Yet the same polls find that Americans are attached to an imaginary sort of Israel [emphasis added].”
Carlstrom goes on to list issues that are of concern to American Jews and Israeli Jews and highlights the vast contrast between them.
“To pick one telling example: Pew [in a 2016 poll] asked both groups of Jews to name Israel's biggest long-term challenge. Fully two-thirds of American Jews said security and terrorism. Just 38 percent of Israeli Jews agreed. Instead, a plurality of the Israelis selected ‘economic problems,’ a choice that received just 1 percent of the American vote. This should come as little surprise. 57 percent of American Jews have never visited the country, and those who do visit often cannot fully engage with the culture, since 83 percent cannot hold a conversation in Hebrew.”
‘Pro-Israel’, but critical of Israeli policies
Yet even though eight out of ten respondents defined themselves as “pro-Israel” in the recent Ruderman Family Foundation survey, many had misgivings about the Israeli government’s actions: 29 percent reported being critical of “many” Israeli policies and 28 percent of “some” Israeli policies.
Moreover, close to one-third of the respondents said they were “not very” or “not at all” attached to Israel.
The data suggests the high level of attachment and support to Israel did not translate into a blind support of Israeli policy, however.
A majority of American Jews (57%) said they are “pro-Israel but also critical of Israeli policy.” Only 23% said they are pro-Israel and also supportive of the current government’s policies, the Times of Israel wrote.