Study: U.S. Jews are not growing disenchanted with Israel
Report of 'overall stability in American Jewish attachment to Israel' contradicts conclusions of recent controversial New York Book Review article.
Authors of a new study on American Jews argue that the community is more attached to Israel than many pundits assume. Based on a survey conducted in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, the study finds "overall stability in American Jewish attachment to Israel over the past quarter-century." Yet some Jewish sociologists counter that the research clearly showed young American Jews are increasingly disenchanted with the Jewish state.
According to the new study, 63 percent of respondents felt "very much" or "somewhat" connected to Israel. Three quarters said caring about Israel is "an important part of their Jewish identities." While respondents under the age of 45 are "less likely to feel connected to Israel," they "regard Israel as important to their Jewish identities," the study's authors state. Younger Jews are "somewhat less attached in the current survey, but not consistently so," according to the study - entitled "Still Connected: American Jewish Attitudes about Israel" - which was published last week by Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies.
The study's authors - Theodore Sasson, Benjamin Phillips, Charles Kadushin and Leonard Saxe - explain that while attachment to Israel is lower among younger age groups, this could be attributed to one of two phenomena. "Some researchers," they write, "attribute this tendency to the increasing temporal distance of succeeding cohorts from the Holocaust, founding of the state, and Six Day War." However, the researchers favor an "alternative explanation which views attachment as increasing over the course of life."
The researchers thus suggest "a need to reconsider the popular narrative of declining American Jewish attachment to Israel." While the situation remains "volatile," predictions of a schism between American Jews and Israel "are unfounded based on the current state of American Jewish opinion," they conclude. They survey critically refers to an essay by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books that sparked a recent debate over a perceived growing schism between American Jewry and Israel.
Beinart posited that the children of secular Zionists who supported Israel in its first decades no longer share their parents' attachment to the state. "Instead," he writes, "they are more conscious than their parents of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril."
Beinart told Anglo File this week that while there is still an American Jewish attachment to Israel, he sticks to his point that among non-Orthodox Jews, is it declining from one generation to the next.
The study's authors "believe younger people will become more attached as they get older. I think that's a dubious conclusion. Even their own study shows that Jews between 30 and 40 are less attached even than those between at the ages of 18 and 29, which suggest that as people are moving into middle age they're not becoming more connected to Israel."
Beinart stressed his essay's focus on non-Orthodox Jews. "There are many more Orthodox Jews in the younger generation than there are in the old generation - 12 percent of American Jews over the age of 60 are Orthodox, but 34 percent between 18-24 are [Orthodox]." The Brandeis study doesn't break its findings into categories of religious affiliation, he said, adding an isolated look at non-Orthodox young Jews would show the generation gap in terms of attachment to Israel to be even larger.
Steven M. Cohen, a preeminent sociologist of American Jewry who lives in the U.S. and Israel, also stated that "liberal Jews and younger Jews are more alienated from supporting Israel." The authors of the Brandeis study "are correct for the average, but they are not correct for the growing number of unattached," he told Anglo File. "It's very possible that we're seeing, as I suggested years ago, a tale of two Jewries, where one part of Jewry - the in-married - are becoming more Jewishly engaged and the other part are becoming less Jewishly engaged, so that the average is the same but the number of detached is increasing."
Chaim Waxman, who taught sociology at Rutgers before moving to Jerusalem, said Beinart's description is accurate, but that he disagrees with his analysis. "I do think there is a distancing but I don't think it's limited to distancing from Israel, and I don't think the distancing is a result of, like Beinart says, Israeli actions and policies," Waxman told Anglo File. "It's a distancing from Jewish peoplehood and Jewish collectivity in general, and it not limited to Israel."
Examples of such a distancing can be seen in various areas unrelated to the Jewish state, such as a lesser feeling of responsibility for Jews in other parts of the world and the decline in American-Jewish philanthropy, Waxman said. "That there is a declining attachment to Israel is empirically true."