Geographic divide: Taking the pulse of Jews in America and Israel

Diaspora Jewry and Israeli Jewry live two completely different experiences.

ISRAELI AND American flags at an event in New York City.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAELI AND American flags at an event in New York City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For 70 years, pollsters have been taking the pulse of Jews in America and those who live in Israel.
Some of the questions still asked today were asked 70 years ago; some only go back 51 years, such as, “What do we do with the post-1967 territories?”
The latest poll was released on Sunday by the American Jewish Committee, ahead of its annual Global Forum taking place for the first time in Israel. The AJC poll included many of the political, social and religious questions that have always been asked in one form or another, including about Palestinian peace negotiations, settlements, religious pluralism, religious coercion, the Western Wall, Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs in Israel, and more.
But this year, there was one question that had never been asked in the seven decades of gathering massive data: “How do you feel about the US having moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?” That led to a second question, previously asked: “How do you feel about President Donald Trump?”
The majority of American Jews answer the first question based on the second. For Israeli Jews, it’s the opposite. And therein lies the heart of the divide between the world’s two largest communities of Jews.
On the question of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation there of the US Embassy, 85% of Israeli Jews said they support the decision, compared with 46% of US Jews. That’s a difference of 39 percentage points. The poll found that 47% of American Jews opposed the move – but only 7% of Israelis!
Israel’s establishment as a country is rooted in the Bible. The state is here in this land now because our forefathers were here back then. Jerusalem is not a political football, it is sacrosanct. It is the essence of our being, a foundation of who we are: We hold this truth to be self-evident, that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should be recognized as such by every country in the world.
That’s pretty much what 93% of Israelis feel.
The source of the divide in the poll is that Diaspora Jewry and Israeli Jewry live two completely different experiences.
Take Independence Day. Every city with a sizable Jewish population in the US has a community event that celebrates Iyar 5. But how many communities mark the day before, Iyar 4, Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism? While Independence Day celebrates the birth of a nation, Memorial Day notes the price of that birth.
Here, Memorial Day is equal to Independence Day, ultimate sadness and supreme joy being marked within 48 hours.
Most American Jews don’t mark that day. But that’s the Israeli experience, and our political perspective is shaded by that experience.
We understand that the large majority of American Jews – liberal Democrats – don’t like Trump.
We realize that gaps are widening in the relative support for Israel in the Democratic and Republican parties. From afar, we see a red and blue United States torn asunder, Left and Right polarization being played out at an extreme which no one has seen before. It is not surprising that the Jewish community reflects that divide, lining up on the side that was against moving the embassy.
Israelis saw it differently. We saw a US president flying in the face of 70 years of political history – putting aside 3,000 years of Jewish history – and upending seven decades of US foreign policy and an international consensus. Trump’s declaration on December 6 said the city’s boundaries would be resolved in negotiations, but that there can be no debate regardless of where the line is drawn: If Israel exists, then Jerusalem exists, and “that city is Israel’s capital.”
Israeli and American Jews will continue to look at these issues from the perspective of their communities and locations. The question that remains is whether we will let these differences divide us as a people.