US Jews feeling more positive toward Israel despite religious pluralism rift
65% are unaware of controversies • Survey finds 81% feel the same or better toward Israel over last several years
Contrary to popular belief, American Jews’ feelings toward Israel have grown more positive in recent years, according to findings of a new poll conducted by the J Street lobbying organization last week.
The poll, taken on the day of the US midterm elections last Tuesday, apparently contradicts the frequent dire warnings heard from elements in the North American Jewish leadership that Diaspora Jews are becoming increasingly alienated from Israel because of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and on matters of religious pluralism.
The survey, conducted by the GBA Strategies research organization for J Street on a sample of 903 Jewish voters with a margin of error of 3.3% found that 65% of respondents felt either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel, compared to 35% who felt not very attached or not at all attached to the Jewish state.
Asked if, compared to five to 10 years ago, they felt more positive, more negative or the same toward Israel, 55% said they felt about the same, 26% said more positively and only 19% felt more negatively.
The survey did note, however, that Jewish millennials are more evenly split on their attitudes toward Israel than Jews 35 years old and upwards, but full analysis of those results has not yet been published.
Questioned specifically on how Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians has affected their attitudes, a potent issue that is often believed to have alienated US Jews from Israel, the responses were similar.
Some 54% of those polled said Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians had made no difference to their feelings towards Israel and 29% said more negative, but 17% said Israel’s policies had made them feel more positive.
And Jewish Americans even seem unconcerned about the combustible issue of settlement construction and expansion.
Asked about how “the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank” made them feel about Israel, 48% said that it had no impact, and 19% said positive, compared to 32% who said it made them feel negative, meaning more than two-thirds of Jewish Americans are unconcerned with settlement construction.
Additionally, a large majority of US Jews seem rather unaware of the controversies that have swirled between Israel and the North American Diaspora leadership regarding matters of religious pluralism.
Severe arguments over prayer rights at the Western Wall, recognition by Israel of Jewish conversion by different denominations and other similar issues have roiled the relationship between Israel’s government and the senior leadership of the progressive Jewish streams and central Diaspora organizations in recent years.
But when asked, “how much have you heard about Israeli policy towards 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 a good amount or a good deal.
Of those who said they had heard a good amount or a good deal, half said it had made them feel more negative toward Israel, while the other half said it made them feel more positive or had not changed their opinion.
Feelings toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have worsened significantly, however, with his relative favorability with US Jews going from +30 in 2014 to +12 in 2016; it has now dropped to a nine-year low of +3 by scoring a 35% favorable versus 32% unfavorable rating of those polled in
the current survey. •