Drift from Israel

If there is a bad law in the Knesset – and there are bad laws passed in the Knesset – then it must mean that Israel is losing its democratic soul, some think.

A COMPLEX region presents many challenges for Israel.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A COMPLEX region presents many challenges for Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jews, and we write this out of love, are a “gevalt” people.
At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, what this means is that if there is a certain problem, the tendency among many Jews is to draw from it the most extreme conclusion.
If there is a bad law in the Knesset – and there are bad laws passed in the Knesset – then it must mean that Israel is losing its democratic soul. If a group of soldiers, for religious reasons, walks out of a singing performance by a woman, it means Israel is on the way to becoming theocratic Iran. And if there is criticism among American Jews of Israel or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this must mean Israel is losing the support of American Jewry.
This narrative – that American Jews are drifting away from support for Israel – is amplified by high-profile Jews in the US media who keep repeating this claim as though it were axiomatic, and by organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow and J Street, which are hypercritical of Israel and, as a result of their Jewish credentials, get way more media exposure than they deserve.
But a poll published by the Ruderman Family Foundation on Tuesday provides a little perspective.
According to the poll, 80% of American Jews consider themselves pro-Israel, 67% say they either have a “strong” or “very strong” connection to Israel, and more than 70% of the 2,500 respondents to the poll said that their personal relationship with Israel is the same or stronger than it was five years ago.
Those are not figures that should send everyone scrambling off in different directions screaming “gevalt.”
Every poll must be taken with a grain of salt, but this survey shows that the dire predictions of an end of support for Israel among American Jews are wildly exaggerated and reflect a reality that exists primarily in the minds of those who want to promulgate that myth to serve their own agenda.
American Jews, according to this study, are not turning their backs on the Jewish state.
Which doesn’t mean that there are not differences of opinion. There are, but they should not be blown out of proportion.
Some 57% of the pro-Israel Jews said they have criticism of Israeli government policy, and 39% said that Netanyahu’s support for US President Donald Trump was one of the most important reasons for feeling less connected to Israel.
“It appears doomsday talks about an irreversible chasm between Israel and the American Jewish community were mistaken,” Jay Ruderman, president of the foundation, said in a statement accompanying the publication of the poll.
“An overwhelming 80% of American Jews feel an attachment to Israel, including most nonaffiliated and younger Jews,” he said. “This relationship is more than politics and Jewish religious practices – and the conversation needs to reflect this simple reality.”
The survey also showed a clear connection between Jewish engagement and the feeling of being attached to Israel. The higher the level of Jewish engagement, the higher the feeling of attachment to Israel.
This is a no-brainer. Clearly, someone who feels connected Jewishly will have more of a visceral connection to the Jewish state than someone who has no Jewish feeling.
But it is important to see this borne out in a survey, because one common misconception governing the Israeli-Diaspora relationship is that if Israel would only change its policies toward the Palestinians, it would win over all the alienated Jewish millennials.
Wrong. Israel could be governed by Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, and alienated Jewish youth would remain distant from Israel because they are distant from Judaism.
Israel must be careful not to do anything to gratuitously turn off American Jews – like slap them in the face over issues such as prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.
By the same token, American Jewish leaders must come to grips with the fact that if their youth are distancing themselves from Israel, then they have failed to keep them connected to Judaism. Because if the youth felt a stronger connection to Judaism, Jewish history and Jewish life, there would be a stronger connection to Israel – warts and all.