Serious Division Among Israeli and US Jews

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The American Jewish Committee (AJC) today released its groundbreaking surveys of the attitudes of American and Israeli Jews, concluded ahead of the opening of the AJC Global Forum in Jerusalem. Many of the identical questions are used in both surveys, allowing a basis for comparison.

The surveys reveal sharp differences of opinion between the world’s two largest Jewish communities on President Trump, U.S.-Israel relations, and Israel’s security and peace process policies. On Jewish communal issues, such as Jewish religious equality in Israel, the surveys confirm fissures between American Jews and Israelis, though, at the same time, the data show a degree of commonality in opinions about the vitality of both the Diaspora and the State of Israel and their significance for the future of the Jewish people.

“Our surveys are important barometers of the perceptions and views affecting current and long-term relations between American Jews and Israelis, the two largest Jewish populations in the world,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

“Significantly, for both communities, the main factor predicting how people will respond is how they identify religiously. The more observant they are on the denominational spectrum, their Jewish identity and attachment to Israel is stronger; skepticism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians higher; and support for religious pluralism in Israel weaker,” said Harris. “In the survey of American Jews, political affiliation also plays a major role. The majority who identify with the Democratic Party and voted for Hillary Clinton are less attached to Israel, more weakly identified with the Jewish people, and more favorable to religious pluralism than the minority who are Republicans and report that they voted for Donald Trump.”

U.S.-Israel Relations

The gap between American Jews and Israelis regarding President Trump’s approach to Israel is profound. While 77% of Israeli Jews approve of how the president is handling U.S.-Israel relations, only 44% of American Jews do. A majority, 57%, of U.S. Jews disapprove, while only 10% of Israelis do.

On the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there, 85% of Israeli Jews, compared with 46% of U.S. Jews, support the decision, while 7% of Israelis and 47% of U.S. Jews oppose it.

Peace Process

More than two-thirds of Israeli Jews, 68%, say it is not appropriate for American Jews to attempt to influence Israeli policy on such issues as national security and peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and 25% say it is appropriate. A majority of U.S. Jews, 53%, say it is appropriate and 43% say it is not.

Looking ahead to prospects for peaceful coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state, 42% of Israelis think the chances will decline over the next five years, 37% say they will stay the same, and 13% say they will improve. Among U.S. Jews, 56% of U.S. Jews say the chances will stay the same, 22% decline, and 18% improve.

Asked if in the current situation respondents favor or oppose a two-state solution through the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank, 51% of U.S. Jews favor and 30% oppose, while 44% of Israelis favor and 48% oppose.

Israelis and American Jews also differ on what to do with settlements in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Fifteen percent of American Jews and 4% of Israelis say that Israelshould be willing to dismantle all the settlements, 44% of U.S. Jews and 35% of Israelis say Israelshould be willing to dismantle some of the settlements, and 35% of U.S. Jews and 54% of Israelis say Israel should not be willing to dismantle any of the settlements.

Israeli-American Jewish Relations

American and Israeli Jews hold rather similar views regarding the importance of the U.S. Jewish community and the State of Israel for the future of the Jewish people.

  • 78% of Israelis and 69% of U.S. Jews agree that a thriving Diaspora is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people, while 15% of Israelis and 17% of American Jews disagree.
  • 79% of U.S. Jews and 87% of Israelis agree that a thriving State of Israel is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people, while 17% of US. Jews and 6% of Israelis say it is not vital.

On the basic relationship between Israel and the largest Diaspora community, 20% of American Jews and 30% Israelis think the ties will be stronger in five years, while 15% of U.S. Jews and 19% of Israelis think they will be weaker. The view that the ties will be the same as today is held by 60% of American Jews and 40% of Israeli Jews.

American and Israeli Jews were asked how they view one another in the context of “family.”

  • 40% of Israeli and 39% of American Jews view each other as extended family.
  • 28% of Israeli and 12% of U.S. Jews view one another as siblings.
  • 10% of Israeli and 15% of U.S. Jews consider each other as first cousins.
  • And 22% of Israelis and 31% of American Jews consider the other as not part of their family.

On the question of family, the breakdown by religious affiliation is profound. Among the Israelis, 59% of Haredi, 44% of Religious-Zionist, 38% of Religious-Traditional, 24% of More than Religious-Traditional, and 15% of Secular consider American Jews as siblings, while 13% of Haredi, 9% of Religious-Zionist, 16% of Religious-Traditional, 19% of More than Religious-Traditional, and 31% of secular do not view U.S. Jews as part of the family.

For American Jews, 47% of Haredi, 22% of Modern Orthodox, 17% of Conservative, 6% of Reform, 4% of Reconstructionist, and 9% of Secular view Israelis as siblings, and those that see Israelis as not part of the family are 5% of Haredi, 10% of Modern Orthodox, 23% of Conservative, 34% of Reform, 21% of Reconstructionist, and 34% of Secular.

Jewish Religious Pluralism Issues

The fact that Israel recognizes only Orthodox Judaism as the official form of Judaism elicits different reactions from Israeli and American Jews. A majority of American Jews, 53%, and 40% of Israelis say that the current system weakens the ties between them, while 14% of Israelis and 7% of Americans say it strengthens ties.  Those who say the recognition has no effect on ties constitute 35% of American Jews and 29% of Israelis.

Views of the status of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism diverge widely.

  • 43% of the Americans believe that the growth of non-Orthodox streams in Israel could improve the quality of Jewish life there, as compared to just 26% of Israelis who think so.
  • 30% of Israelis feel that the non-Orthodox denominations strengthen Diaspora Jewish life but are irrelevant to Israel, and 10% of U.S. Jews agree.
  • 17% of Israeli Jews think those denominations are destined to disappear, as compared to just 7% of American Jews.

Far more American than Israeli Jews want to break the Orthodox monopoly in Israel on the performance of Jewish weddings, divorces, and conversions. Fully 80% of American Jews want Israel to open those functions to non-Orthodox rabbis as compared to 49% of Israelis, while 17% of U.S. Jews and 45% of Israelis favor the status quo.

A majority of Israelis – 55% – support the introduction of civil marriage and divorce in their country while 40% oppose the change, but American Jews are even more supportive, with 81% saying they want the change and 13% against it.

A strong majority of American Jews—73%–favor providing a space near the Western Wall for mixed-gender prayer, with just 21% opposed. Israeli Jews, in contrast, are deeply divided over the issue, with 42% in favor and 48% opposed.

Questions for American Jews Only

The survey of American Jews only has additional questions regarding President Trump’s performance, the status of Jews in the United States, how Jews may vote in November’s midterm congressional elections, and other political and communal issues.

For example, on President Trump’s job performance, 26% found it favorable and 71% unfavorable.

Fifty-five percent report that the status of Jews in the U.S. is less secure than a year ago, while 18% say it is more secure and 24% about the same. On this question, the political divide is striking, as 70% of those who voted for Clinton, and 24% for Trump, say Jews are less secure, and those who say Jews are more secure are 8% of Clinton and 41% of Trump supporters. For 20% of Clinton and 32% of Trump supporters, the status is the same.

And, if elections for Congress were held today, 20% would vote for the Republican candidate, 67% for the Democrat, and 3% for another party.

AJC’s 2018 Survey of Israeli Jewish Opinion, conducted by Geocartography, is based on telephone interviews carried out in May with a national sample of 1,000 Jews over age 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1%.

AJC’s 2018 Survey of American Jewish Opinion, conducted by SSRS, is based on telephone interviews carried out April 18-May 10 with a national sample of 1,001 Jews over age 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9%.

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