Israeli, US Jews close despite political, religious differences

Many more Israeli Jews, 35%, say that observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish, compared to 19% of US Jews.

September 30, 2016 05:24
3 minute read.
American Jews

An American Jewish man praying . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The two biggest Jewish populations in the world, those in Israel and the US, share a strong affinity for, and an emotional connection to each other, despite often having differing outlooks on politics and religion.

This is the reality that has been demonstrated by the latest study from the Pew Research Center released this week, which compares findings from the institute’s 2013 survey of American Jews and its report in released in March on religious sentiment among Israeli Jews.

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In particular the new survey underlines the differing perspectives American and Israeli Jews have regarding Israel’s most serious problems and the divide in political attitudes between the two populations.

For example, when asked what the most serious long-term problem facing Israel is, only 38% of Israeli Jews said security threats, violence and terrorism, compared to 66% of American Jews.

At the same time, 39% of Israeli Jews said economic problems were the most serious problem, compared to just 1% of American Jews.

Israelis are also more pessimistic about the chances of peace with the Palestinians, with 43% of Israeli Jews saying Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, compared to 61% of American Jews.

They are also divided on the issue of settlements, with 42% of Israelis saying settlements help Israel’s security, and only 17% of Americans agreeing.

Meanwhile, 52% of Israelis say the US is not supportive enough of Israel, compared to just 31% of Americans.

And the two populations are divided in terms of their political outlooks.

Only 8% of Israeli Jews identify their political ideology as on the Left, compared to almost half, 49%, of American Jews. A majority of Israeli Jews, 55%, describe themselves as in the political Center, compared to 29% of American Jews, and 37% of Israeli Jews say they are on the political Right, compared to 19% of their American counterparts.

Socially, Israeli and American Jews live in distinctly different milieus, with only 32% of Americans saying that either “all” (5%) or “most” (27%) of their close friends are Jewish, while 44% of American Jews who are married say their spouse is not Jewish – including a majority of those who have gotten married since 2000.

By contrast, the vast majority of Israeli Jews say either all (67%) or most (31%) of their close friends are Jewish, and nearly all married Jews in Israel have Jewish spouses.

There are also significant religious divides. In the US, 35% of Jews identify as Reform, and 18% as Conservative, compared to just 3% and 2% respectively of Israeli Jews.

Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and religious- Zionist Jews in Israel comprise 22% of the Israeli population, whereas haredi and Modern Orthodox Jews in the US are just 10% of the American Jewish population.

And the two populations also differ on what being Jewish means. More American Jews, 69%, say that pursuing ethics, morality and justice in society, as well as displaying “intellectual curiosity” and having a “good sense of humor,” are essential to what being Jewish means to them, compared to 47% of Israeli Jews. Pursuing ethics, morality and justice in society is however the second most important aspect of being Jewish to both Israeli and American Jews.

Many more Israeli Jews, 35%, say that observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish, compared to 19% of US Jews.

But both say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish to them personally, with 65% of Israeli Jews and 73% of American Jews agreeing to this statement.

But the Pew study says however that there is significant closeness between the two Jewish populations.

A solid majority of American Jews say they are either “very” or “somewhat” attached to Israel and that caring about Israel is either “essential” or “important” to what being Jewish means to them.

At the same time, the majority of Israeli Jews say Jewish Americans have a good impact on the State of Israel.

“When we compared the attitudes of American Jews toward Israel and Israeli Jews to the US, it became really clear that they share an affinity toward each other,” said Neha Segal of the Pew Research Center.

“We also find that American Jews feel a closeness to Israel and that Israeli Jews, a majority, say that American Jews are having a good influence over the way things are going in Israel, and that American and Israeli Jews in the end share a common destiny, so the affinity between the two groups is definitely there and its quite strong.”

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