Are American Jews and Israel growing apart?
The Center for the Study of the United States at TAU teams up with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to explore the shifting attitudes of American Jews toward Israel
Over a third of American Jews don't think that "Caring about Israel" is important to their Jewish identity, a quarter of them don't believe that a thriving State of Israel is even vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people, those under the age of 30 are increasingly indifferent to Israel, and nearly two-thirds of American Jews disapprove of the Trump administration's handling of US-Israel relations – while over two-thirds of Israelis strongly approve. These are just a handful of the surprising findings from the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) comprehensive opinion survey of American Jews unveiled earlier this month at a special event at Tel Aviv University.
As part of the commitment of the newly founded Center for the Study of the United States in Partnership with the Fulbright Program to advancing the study of the United States in Israel, it organized a special symposium that was aimed at exploring the increasingly strained relationship between Israel and American Jews and pondering its possible causes, implications and consequences.
In collaboration with the AJC and TAU’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, the event, titled "A Cause for Concern? New Trends in the Relationship between American Jews and Israel," took place on the Tel Aviv University campus. Bringing together a range of scholars, policymakers, journalists, students and the general public, over 80 people were in attendance to listen to a series of talks, presentations and panel debates that included:
- A presentation of the survey findings by AJC's Israel director, Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich. “One of the survey’s most concerning findings is that more than a third of the respondents don’t consider Israel of any importance to their Jewish identity,” said Leibovich. “This survey is yet another reminder of the widening gap between Israel and the American Jewish community. I hope that the many parties competing in our upcoming election will make it a priority to address this issue.”
- A Panel analyzing the survey results featuring former Israeli Member of Knesset Rachel Azaria ("Kulanu" Party), and Jonathan Karp, Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton. "The AJC survey suggests that most American Jews strongly support Israel but are disturbed by many of its policies and feel entitled to exert their influence to change them," said Prof. Karp. "American Jews understand that their own American government plays a vital role in supporting Israel. Like it or not, Israel and the Diaspora are inextricably linked, and yet their interests are far from entirely compatible or necessarily aligned."
- A pioneering data science project sponsored and supervised by the Center for the Study of the United States, and implemented by PhD candidate Or Rappel-Kroyzer, that used Big Data-driven sentiment analysis to try and gauge the press coverage of Israel in the Jewish-American media. Its key finding: Israel has increasingly become a source of friction and a polarizing issue for many Jewish American communities.
- A Q&A between Professor Yossi Shain, Head of Tel Aviv University's School of Government and Policy, and Attila Somfalvi, the chief political commentator for YNET (Israel's most widely read news site). Prof. Shain discussed his bestselling new book, The Israeli Century, claiming that despite some of the survey's distressing results, the overall state of relations between Israel and America's Jews is sound and stable. "In the Israeli century, at a time when Israel is increasingly becoming the dominant factor in determining the future of the Jewish people, it must also be more attentive to the feelings of American Jewry," said Prof. Shain. "We must communicate with American Jews as family members. We must make great effort not to alienate them, and to help them retain their bonds to Israel and to Judaism."
The event received wide attention on social media and was featured in Yediot Aharonoth (Israel's most widely circulated newspaper) on June 13 under the headline "A Cause for Concern: A Quarter of American Jews say Israel is not vital for the survival of the Jewish Nation."
"There are few issues of such personal, national and emotional import and consequence for the Israeli public as the relationship with the United States in general, and with American Jews in particular. But something is happening to that relationship and it’s our responsibility as scholars to find out what," said Dr. Yoav Fromer, the head of the Center for the Study of the United States, who moderated the conference. "That is why our Center is dedicated to promoting events such as these and sponsoring innovative research in this important field: not only does it help inform the Israeli public about the complexities of American society, but it does so in a bold way that raises difficult questions – sometimes even uncomfortable ones – in an effort to facilitate debate and stimulate a more honest conversation that could bring us closer together by helping us to better understand each other," Dr. Fromer said.