Voice

Are American Jews Turning Away from Israel?

Recent polling shows a growing divide.

403579 04: Jewish demonstrators gather to pray April 8, 2002 outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Philadelphia, PA. Over 50 synagogues were represented at the demonstration to show unity and support for Israel as conflicts continue with the Palestinians in the Middle East. (Photo by Don Murray/Getty Images)
403579 04: Jewish demonstrators gather to pray April 8, 2002 outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Philadelphia, PA. Over 50 synagogues were represented at the demonstration to show unity and support for Israel as conflicts continue with the Palestinians in the Middle East. (Photo by Don Murray/Getty Images)

No one ever said this would be easy. U.S.-Israeli relations are heating up as Vice President Joe Biden criticizes Israeli plans to build new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem against a backdrop of reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined to meet with President Barack Obama due to the U.S. election — even while Washington and Tel Aviv are negotiating new U.S. military aid to Israel. This latest flurry of activity comes in the wake of a new Pew Research Center survey highlighting the differences between American Jews and Israeli Jews and between Israeli Jews and Arabs within Israel on a range of contentious issues surrounding the Middle East peace process.

As might be expected, Israeli society is deeply divided on Jewish-Muslim relations. On a fundamental issue, nearly three-quarters of Israeli Jews say they do not see much discrimination against Muslims in their country. But roughly eight in 10 Israeli Arabs say there is a lot of discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims.

Such divisions between Jewish and Arab views are also reflected in their perspective on the peace process. A majority of Israeli Jews (56 percent) think their government is making a sincere effort toward peace. But 88 percent say the Palestinian leadership is not sincere in its efforts. In contrast, half of Israeli Arabs (50 percent) think the Palestinian leadership is making a sincere effort in the peace process, but 72 percent say the Israeli government is not.

Such differences between Jews and Arabs in Israel highlight the challenge their leaders face in reaching some accommodation. And differences between Israeli Jews and American Jews are a reminder of the divergence in perspectives between Washington and Tel Aviv on issues involving Israel and the peace process.

Jews in the United States and Israel have strong bonds. A majority of Israeli Jews feel they share a common destiny with Jewish Americans. And a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that most U.S. Jews say they are either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel.

However, despite their connection to the Jewish state, Israeli Jews and American Jews have very different perspectives on a number of issues. And these differences are, at times, accentuated by political ideology and degree of religiosity.

They differ, for example, on the impact of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A plurality of Jews in Israel (42 percent) say the continued building of these settlements helps the security of Israel. Only 17 percent of U.S. Jews agree. By contrast, in the United States, a plurality of Jews (44 percent) says the settlements hurt Israel’s own security interests; fewer Israeli Jews (30 percent) take this position.

Jewish Americans (38 percent) are also considerably less likely than Israeli Jews (56 percent) to say the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to achieve peace with the Palestinians. But, as with Israeli Jews, relatively few American Jews believe the Palestinian leadership is sincere in its peace efforts.

Meanwhile, Israeli Jews complain about a lack of support by Washington. About half (52 percent) feel their country should be getting more backing from the U.S. government, while roughly one-third (34 percent) say the amount of support the United States gives Israel is about right. Among Jewish Americans, these figures are flipped: Roughly three in 10 (31 percent) say the United States does not support Israel enough, while more than half (54 percent) say support for Israel is about right (as of 2013).

Notably, the ideological divide on these issues among Jews in Israel and in the United States only further complicates U.S.-Israeli relations around the peace process. About six in 10 self-identified politically conservative Israeli Jews (62 percent) believe that the United States is not supportive enough of Israel. Only 33 percent on the Israeli left agree. Among American Jews, a majority of conservatives (55 percent) say Washington is not doing enough, but just 17 percent of liberal Jews agree.

This division also exists along religious lines. Orthodox Jews in both countries are about equally likely to say the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement. But non-Orthodox Jews in America are considerably less likely than their Jewish counterparts to say the Israeli government genuinely seeks a peace settlement (36 percent vs. 55 percent).

And, in a demographic finding that may portend U.S.-Israeli friction in the future, younger American Jews (those between the ages of 18 and 29) are more likely than their elders to take a more liberal stance on political issues involving Israel: They are more likely to say that a two-state solution is possible and that the United States is too supportive of Israel.

Recent events — Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed effort to restart the peace process and recent deadly attacks by Palestinians on Jews and Israeli security forces’ shootings of Palestinians — may have created a dispiriting sense of progress. American Jews surveyed in 2013, before the 2014 Gaza war and waves of violence in recent months, were more optimistic about the prospects for a two-state solution than Israelis surveyed in 2014-15. Most U.S. Jews (61 percent) said they believe a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. Fewer Israeli Jews (43 percent) take this view, while 45 percent say a two-state solution is not possible and 10 percent volunteer that it depends on the situation.

The United States and Israel are home to an estimated 80 percent of the world’s Jews. But their faith does not mean they share a common perspective on the peace process. On the issue of the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the prevailing view among Israeli Jews is that settlements help the security of Israel. By contrast, American Jews are more likely to say the settlements hurt Israel’s own security. And the most common view among Israeli Jews is that the United States is not supportive enough of Israel, while the most common opinion among American Jews is that the level of U.S. support for Israel is about right.

The recent contretemps between Washington and Tel Aviv may fade, as other disagreements have in the past. But differences in public sentiment between Jews in Israel and Jews in the United States suggest a divide regarding the peace process between Israeli Jews and their American counterparts. This could only complicate future efforts by the next U.S. president and the future Israeli government to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

It bears repeating. No one ever said this would be easy.

Photo credit: Don Murray/Getty Images

About the Author

Bruce Stokes is the director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center.

Bruce Stokes is the director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center.

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