American Jews ‘still connected’ to Israel

Brandeis University survey shows most believe flotilla incident was provoked, not Israel’s fault; 75% feel "caring about Israel is an important part of being a Jew"

September 5, 2010 00:46
American and Israeli flags

america israel 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

Over 70 percent of US Jews believe that the May 31 flotilla incident was the result of intentional provocation on the part of the foreign activists.

This was according to a survey published last week by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.

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The survey, titled “Still Connected,” examined American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel and a range of Israel-related issues, and found that while they have conflicting assessments of Israeli policies and visions of Israel’s future, there has been no erosion in the overall attachment to the country.

The survey, which questioned 1,200 Jews and was conducted by the Knowledge Networks research company in June, asked to what extent they felt a connection to Israel.

Thirty-three percent of the respondents replied “very much,” 30% said they felt “somewhat” connected, 23% said they felt “a little” connected and 14% responded “not at all.”

The connection to Israel increases with age, travel to Israel, religious observance and religious background. The emotional connection decreases with parental intermarriage and secular educational attainment.

Those under age 45 were less likely to feel connected to Israel. Twenty percent of those 18-29 and 17% of those 30-44 said they felt no connection with Israel, compared to 13% of those 45-60 and 7% of those over 60. The shift between the ages could also be seen in the degree of connection. Roughly 25% of those under 45 said they felt very connected, compared to around 40% among those 45 and above.

Three quarters of the respondents identified caring about Israel as an important element of their Jewish identity. Seventy- five percent agreed with the statement “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.”

Thirty-six percent of respondents said they had been to Israel.

The oldest and youngest cohorts were the most likely to have visited, with 40% both of those 18-29 and of those above 60 having made the journey.

In contrast, 35% of those 30- 44 and only 29% of those 45-59 had done so.

They were presented with two statements – one modeled on the claims of Israeli officials, which blamed the flotilla activists for provoking Israel, and the other on the claims of Turkish officials, which blamed Israel for attacking “innocent civilians and breaking international law.”

Respondents were much more likely to agree with the Israeli version of events; 46% strongly agreed with the Israeli statement and an additional 24% somewhat agreed with it.

Just 9% agreed somewhat or strongly with the Turkish view.

Older respondents were more likely to strongly agree with the Israeli statement and younger respondents were more likely to choose “halfway between” the two statements.

A majority of both liberals and conservatives agreed with the Israeli narrative, but more respondents who identified as conservatives agreed strongly with the Israeli statement and nearly 20% of those identified as liberal or very liberal agreed with the Turkish statement.

Seventy percent said the flotilla incident made them feel “neither more nor less attached” to Israel, 20% said it made them feel either much more attached or somewhat more attached, and 10% said it made them feel much less or somewhat less attached.

Here once again, older and more conservative respondents tended to feel more attached after the affair, and younger and more liberal respondents tended to feel less attached.

Nine percent of the American Jews thought the US was too supportive of Israel, 39% thought it was not supportive enough and 52% thought the current level of support was “about right.”

Regarding the handling of the relationship by the countries’ leaders, both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama received poor marks. Thirtyseven percent disapproved of Obama’s handling of the relationship and 31% disapproved of Netanyahu’s. In both cases only 25% of the respondents approved of the leaders’ management, with the rest unsure.

Conservatives were more likely to approve of Netanyahu’s management of the relationship and disapprove of Obama’s, while among liberal’s the opinions were reversed.

The respondents were also canvassed on their opinions of West Bank settlement the final status of Jerusalem in reference to peace talks with the Palestinians.

While 28% thought that none of the settlements should be dismantled, 30% said some should be removed and 16% said they all should go. Nearly a third of respondents (27%) said they “don’t know.”

When asked if “In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?” 51% said no, 29% said yes and 20% said they don’t know.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, the study’s author, Dr. Theodore Sasson, said that the “tumultuous” events of 2008, 2009 and 2010 have sparked a debate about the quality of American Jewish ties to Israel, with some arguing that American Jews, especially the younger generation and those who identify with the liberal political ideology, are becoming distanced and alienated from Israel. He said the survey was conducted to investigate if there was any truth to the notion that American and Israeli Jews were drifting apart politically.

“What we discovered is that the connection of American Jews to Israel is more or less stable. It is as it has appeared over the last quarter century,” said Sasson.

He explained that the study’s findings that younger Jews were slightly less connected to Israel than older Jews were on par with the findings of similar studies conducted since 1986.

“Our interpretation is that younger Jews are less connected to Israel because they are younger, and not because they reflect the sensibilities of a new generation. If this is in fact the case, we might anticipate that when they mature they’ll become more connected, or at least that is the way it seems to have happened in the past,” he said.

Sasson also stressed that while the study showed that while American Jews were not of one mind when it came to Israeli policies, their political views do not affect their emotional attachment to the country and its residents. The claims in the media characterizing American Jews as disengaging from Israel in a significant way are exaggerated, he said.

Sasson juxtaposed two theories regarding the influence of age on American Jewry’s attachment to Israel: the generational turnover theory and the stages of lifecycle theory.

While the former looks at the existing snapshot of current American’s attachment to Israel, and anticipates that with time overall attachment will decrease, the latter looks at studies from the past that show a similar statistical breakdown over 25 years, and concludes that overall support levels will remain the same, and that those who feel less attached today will likely become more attached as they grow older.

“What we can say, is that over the last quarter century, the evidence that we have in front of us favors the lifecycle interpretation,” Sasson said.

There are also new developments pushing in the opposite direction, he said. Intermarriage is an example of a strong contributor to disengagement, while travel to Israel is a strong contributor to increased attachment. “We don’t know what the future will hold,” he said.

Shat particularly surprised Sasson was that American Jews were much more likely than Americans as a whole to interpret the flotilla incident in a fashion that is favorable to Israel.

“Just 10% of American Jews who responded to our survey thought that the flotilla incident was Israel’s fault, in comparison to 32% of US voters. I was also struck that just 9% of American Jews were not supportive of Israel compared to 27% of US voters,” he said.

“This is the first survey that allows us to compare the two, and we can see that American Jews, though much more liberal than the American population as a whole, are also much more pro-Israel in their attitudes.

The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs expressed satisfaction with the survey’s findings.

“The survey proves that Israel is an excellent product, which should be continued to be marketed around the world in an effort to improve its image, Minister Yuli Edelstein said. “Likewise, there is no substitute for visiting Israel and for that reason the government has decided to significantly increase its funding of Taglit-Birthright, which I have the honor of chairing it’s steering committee, in order to enable a situation where a majority of young Jews in the world will visit Israel,” he said.

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