New poll: Dialogue desirable even with Diaspora critics

Half of Israelis surveyed hail non-Jewish support; findings contrast unofficial gov't policy of blackballing left-leaning Jewish groups like J Street.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
June 20, 2011 02:58
3 minute read.
B'nei Brith poll

B'nei Brith poll 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Israel should engage in dialogue with Jewish groups in the Diaspora even if they are critical of its policies, a majority of Israeli respondents said in a poll released on Sunday.

According to a survey commissioned by B’nai B’rith, 71 percent of the Israeli-Jewish respondents said Israel should always be ready to meet and maintain contact with Jewish organizations – including those that question its decisions – while only 20 percent opposed.

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The findings seemingly contrast with the government’s unofficial policy of blackballing left-leaning Jewish groups like J Street in the US and J Call in Europe by refusing to allow diplomats and coalition members to attend their conferences.

“This poll underscores what we have always said, which is that even if an Israeli government disagrees with the criticism or alternative policies put forward by Jews living abroad, it still must engage with them, said Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street.

“This failure, coupled with ad hominem attacks, is a distraction from the real challenges we all face, which is how we protect the existence of a democratic and Jewish Israel.

“At a time when the state and people of Israel are finding themselves more and more isolated internationally, the appropriate response to criticism would be to welcome the debate, engage in an open and candid discussion and not to seek to impose litmus tests based on loyalty or the content of one’s views.”



“Perhaps the government would better serve the interests of Israel by following the lead of the Israeli people, as shown by this poll, on this particular issue.”

“The results of the survey were significant and really demonstrate the close connection between Israelis and Diaspora Jewry,” Alan Schneider, the director for B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, said. “For the first time, we were able to establish not just strong support and identification of Israelis with the Diaspora that has been demonstrated in our earlier surveys, but to show the extent of actual family connections. This shows us that Diaspora Jewry is a part of most Israelis’ daily life and concerns.”

While Israelis may feel close to their co-religionists living abroad, 51 percent of respondents were against giving citizens residing outside the country the right to vote in absentee ballots.

The poll found that one of the ways that Israeli-Jews connect with their Jewish identity takes place abroad. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they make it a priority to visit Jewish sites while on vacation outside the country.

The survey also asked how they feel about receiving support from non-Jews. Over the past decades, the Christian- Zionist community in America has been an ardent supporter of the Jewish State, donating millions through groups, like the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and lobbying lawmakers in the US to back Jerusalem politically. Half of those polled supported the continued development of the relationship.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, said the numbers were a positive show of support for his organization’s mission.

“When I started off 30 years ago 100 percent of Israelis were against it,” he said. “We’ve seen a steady rise in numbers of support from Israelis and I expect them to grow further in the future.”

He cited a poll conducted on behalf of his own charity showing 70 percent of Israelis were in favor of accepting the support of Christian-Zionists, “including haredim,” he said.

On the issue of Jonathan Pollard, 75 percent of the respondents urged the Jewish-American community to do more to bring about his release.

The survey conducted by Kevoon between June 13 and 15 polled 500 Jewish-Israelis and had a deviation percentage of 4.5 percent.

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