Poll: Israelis See Deterioration in Ties With U.S. Under Netanyahu

They believe, however, that their relationship with American Jews is just fine - and that’s the problem, says the president of the foundation behind the poll.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, March 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, March 2013.Credit: Yonatan Zindel/Flash 90

Israelis recognize that the relationship between their country and the United States government has gone downhill under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but don’t believe the strained ties have seriously damaged their connection to U.S. Jewry, according to a newly released poll by the Ruderman Family Foundation.

The survey also indicates that most Israelis don’t blame their government for the deterioration they perceive between the two countries and believe Jerusalem works to strengthen Israel-U.S. ties.

The poll was conducted in November and scheduled for release well before the current flare-up between the two countries over Netanyahu’s scheduled speech before Congress. The Ruderman Foundation regularly polls Israelis on the state of the relationship between Israel and the United States as part of its stated mission to “foster a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community” among Israelis and their leaders.

The lack of nuance, said the foundation’s president Jay Ruderman, is well-illustrated in this year’s poll results.

“I think what happens among Israelis is they see a separation between American Jews and the American government,” he said. “What Israelis are missing is that they just don’t understand how intimately connected American Jews are with the U.S. government and with American society. They often view the Jewish communities in places like France, Australia, and the U.S. as ghettos on their own, and that is just not the case ... American Jews are influenced by – and, in turn influence – the American government and American society. This idea that Jews live in a ghetto as a subset of America is a misconception that Israelis have about American Jews and this is what’s born out in this poll.”

“The fact that most U.S. Jews see themselves as both Jewish and American and don't separate between these identities is a bizarre concept to most Israelis.”

The first question in the Ruderman poll was: “To what extent do you feel U.S.-Israel relations have deteriorated over the last 5 years?” In response, a substantial majority acknowledged that there has been deterioration: 34.9 percent said the relationship has gone downhill to a “very great” or “great” extent. An additional 45 percent said the ties between the countries have deteriorated to “some extent” or a “small extent.”

Only 18.9 of those polled said relations have not deteriorated at all. A similar number polled said that they believe the deterioration in the relationship “affects the security of the state of Israel.

Yet, when asked “to what extent do you feel that this Israeli government” is working to sustain support of a “strong Israel” in Washington, the same group gave the government marks relatively high, with 32 percent saying that that Israel was working to a very great or great extent, and more than 50 percent saying they were doing so to some or a small extent. A mere 18.9 percent said they were not working to do so at all.

The responses to the questions relating to American Jewry seem to point to a clear separation in the minds of Israelis between their relationship with U.S. government leaders and rank-and-file Jews in the United States.

In response to the question: “To what extent do you feel that deterioration of the relations between Israel and the U.S. affects relations between Israel and the American Jewish community?” fully half of the respondents, 50 percent, answered either “to a small extent” or “not at all.”

Only 26 percent said they believed that the relationship with U.S. Jews had been harmed to a very great or great extent.

Yet, the group polled placed a high priority on maintaining support from U.S. Jews. They were asked “to what extent should the Israeli government take into consideration American Jewish views regarding the U.S. Israel relationship” when dealing with the U.S. government.

The response showed that 42 percent believed that the relationship to American Jewry should be considered to a very great or great extent with an addition 33 percent believing that it should be considered “to some extent.” Only 11 percent responded “not at all.”

The foundation has been conducting polls on the state of the relationship between Israel, the U.S. government and American Jewry for the past several years, normally releasing it on the occasion of the Knesset caucus it sponsors on the topic. This year, because of the dissolution of the Knesset due to elections, the caucus was not held.

Ruderman said he has witnessed the misperceptions that even sophisticated Israelis have regarding American Jews when accompanying Knesset members on the “Ruderman Knesset Fellows” study trips that his organization regularly sponsors to introduce Israeli lawmakers to the institutions of the American Jewish community.

While, he said, “the Israeli public is very perceptive and they truly understand that the connection between American Jews and Israel as a being very important” and “they also understand that there is a growing divide between Israel and American Jews” However, because of their lack of understanding of the mindset of American Jewry, they don’t understand the reasons for that worrisome growing divide, particularly among younger U.S. Jews, and are therefore at a loss as to how it should be addressed.

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