American Jews are deeply committed to Israel. They may not agree with the policies of the government of Israel, but these disagreements do not mean that their devotion to Israel is diminished. Israel remains exceedingly important to their Jewish lives.
The American and Israeli prophets of doom who for years have been predicting the erosion or the collapse of American Jewish support for the Jewish State are wrong.
These are the conclusions to be drawn from a review of the recently published study by the Pew Research Center on American Jews. Chapter 5 of that study focuses on American-Jewish attitudes toward Israel, and almost all of the news is good.
69% of American Jews say that they are very attached to Israel or somewhat attached to Israel.
87% of American Jews say that caring about Israel is important or essential to their being Jewish.
85% of American Jews say that U.S. support for Israel is at the right level or should be greater than it is.
43% of American Jews say that they have visited Israel.
These are very encouraging numbers. Especially worthy of note is the fact that while the attachment of older Jews to Israel is stronger than that of younger Jews, the numbers for younger Jews are promising as well. For example, 81% of Jews in the 18-29 age category say that caring about Israel is important or essential to their being Jewish—a bit lower than their elders, but not much.
Devotion to Israel does not, of course, mean agreement with all that Israel’s leaders might do. When asked whether the continued building of Jewish settlements helps or hurts Israel’s security, 44% say that it hurts while only 17% say that it helps; the rest say it makes no difference or they don’t know.
Is this bad news? Not at all. It is good news. It means that American Jews know how to make reasonable distinctions. They are capable of opposing Israeli policies while remaining strongly tied to the Jewish State. Also, there is nothing the least bit surprising about these numbers. Settlement building does hurt Israel’s security, not to mention her economy and her political standing, and American administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have been saying so for more than 30 years. Despite efforts by Israeli diplomats and many American Jewish leaders to dismiss or minimize the impact of settlements, American Jews who care about Israel and follow Israeli politics—and as we see by this poll, that is most of them—will not be misled. This data is a testimony to their good sense.
The one troubling finding of the survey is that only 38% of American Jews think that the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians, while 48% say this is not the case. I have my issues with the current government, but suggesting that it is not working for peace is unfair and worrisome. Still, I suspect that this number is mostly a result of the previously mentioned settlement issue, which the settler movement—not unlike what America’s NRA has done with the gun issue—has managed to keep at the very center of Israel’s agenda.
Furthermore, I find consolation in the fact that American Jews at this stage are dismissive of the peacemaking efforts of the Palestinians; only 12% think the Palestinian leadership is making a since effort to promote peace. In short, while they may not be very positive about what Israel is doing on the peace front, they have no illusions about the other side; they simply do not yet see a Palestinian readiness to take make the hard decisions necessary for a peace agreement.
American Jews understand that Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core; that is what we learn from the Pew Study, and I rejoice in that. We also learn that they have a tough, insightful, and realistic take on the issues, and I rejoice in that as well.