Some good news

So even while things are not as bad today as they are portrayed, the issue that now confronts the State of Israel is: what can be done to further engage Jewish millennials.

November 13, 2018 20:34
3 minute read.
WILL THE bonds with the Diaspora break?

WILL THE bonds with the Diaspora break? . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Amid all the hysteria of the growing rift between American Jews and Israel comes the latest poll on the feelings of the American Jewish community, taken on Election Day, November 6.

To everyone’s surprise and contrary to popular belief, the feelings of American Jews toward Israel have grown more positive in recent years: 65% of respondents felt very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel, compared with 35% who felt not very or not at all attached to their Jewish state.

The findings of the poll conducted by the left-wing J Street lobbying organization seem to contradict the frequent dire warnings heard from some of the Jewish leadership in North America. Diaspora Jews, they advise, are becoming increasingly alienated from Israel, partly over Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and partly over matters of religious pluralism.

But now it seems that the numbers don’t back that up. Compared with how they felt five to 10 years ago, 26% said that now they felt more positively toward Israel, 19% felt more negatively, and 55% said they felt about the same.

Broken down into the main two categories – the Palestinian issue and religious pluralism – 17% said Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians had made them feel more positive toward Israel and 29% more negative. But for the majority it doesn’t make a dent: 54% said Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians had made no difference in how they feel toward Israel.

That’s 71% who aren’t put off by the way Israel is handling the Palestinian issue.

That’s a good sign – an indication that perhaps American Jews are coming around to see the situation as do the majority of the Israeli population: making a deal with Hamas is indeed like making a deal with ISIS, and since Gaza is about half of the Palestinian population, the situation is, for the foreseeable future, unsolvable. It could be that they also understand that there is sadly no partner currently on the Palestinian side capable of making a deal with Israel.

The survey was quite remarkable, in fact, showing that even on the combustible issue of settlement construction, Jewish Americans seem unconcerned.

Asked how the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank made them feel about Israel, 19% said it made them feel positive, 32% negative, and 48% that it had no impact, meaning more than two-thirds of Jewish Americans are not bothered by settlement construction.

On the other combustible issue of religious pluralism, a large majority of US Jews seem rather unaware of the controversies that have swirled for decades between Israel and the North American Diaspora leadership: arguments over prayer rights at the Western Wall, recognition by Israel of Jewish conversion done by different denominations, and other similar issues that have set the senior leadership of the progressive Jewish streams and central Diaspora organizations against Israel’s government.

Asked “how much have you heard about Israeli policy toward the non-Orthodox” – specifically about Western Wall prayer rights, conversion and religious ceremonies – 65% said they had heard little or nothing, and only 35% said they had heard some amount or a good deal about it.

Those numbers are not surprising. The majority have heard little or nothing of the controversies – a headline on every Israeli news site twice a week – because American Jews are really not that plugged into Israel altogether.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the breakdown of the American Jewish population. The survey – conducted by the GBA Strategies research organization using a sample of 903 Jewish voters, with a margin of error of 3.3% – discovered that Jewish millennials are more evenly split on their attitudes toward Israel than Jews 35 years old and upward.

A full analysis of those results is yet to be published, but it is clear that the future is not as bright as the present. And that’s not good for the State of Israel. We need to keep the young Jewish generation fully involved, a full partner in the Zionist enterprise – because if not, where are we heading?

So even while things are not as bad today as they are portrayed, the issue that now confronts the State of Israel is: what can be done to further engage Jewish millennials.

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