American, Israeli Jews Sharply Divided Over Trump, Western Wall and Settlements, Survey Shows

AJC survey reveals deep differences between the two communities; the main factor predicting how people respond is how they identify religiously

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Jewish women pray at the women's section (R), which is separated from the men's section, of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, June 4, 2018
Jewish women pray at the women's section (R), which is separated from the men's section, of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, June 4, 2018Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

A survey published on Sunday by the American Jewish Committee illustrates the great divide between American and Israeli Jews on issues ranging from the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem to egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

The comparison of political and religious attitudes in the world’s two large Jewish communities was published on the opening day of the AJC’s big annual conference – being held in Israel for the first time in its 112-year-history.

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David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish CommitteeCredit: AJC

While 77 percent of Israeli Jews approve of Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations, only 44 percent of American Jews agree, the findings show. And while 88 percent of Israeli Jews support the American president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there, only 46 percent of U.S. Jews do. The survey also shows that American Jews support the creation of an independent Palestinian state and evacuation of West Bank settlements much more than their Israeli counterparts do.

The survey, conducted in April and May, was based on a representative sample of 1,000 Israeli Jews and 1,001 American Jews.

“Significantly, for both communities, the main factor predicting how people will respond is how they identify religiously,” said David Harris, the CEO of AJC. “The more observant they are on the denominational spectrum, their Jewish identity and attachment to Israel is stronger, skepticism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians higher and support for religious pluralism in Israel weaker.”

Among American Jews, he said, political affiliation played a significant role in determining attitudes. “The majority who identify with the Democratic Party and voted for Hillary Clinton are less attached to Israel, more weakly identified with the Jewish people and more favorable to religious pluralism than the minority who are Republicans and report that they voted for Donald Trump,” said Harris.

In the last election, 70 percent of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, while only 25 percent voted for Trump. Trump received most of his Jewish support from Orthodox Jews.

Israelis hold American and Israeli flags with the new U.S. embassy in the background in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

The survey showed that most American Jews remain opposed to Trump. Among U.S. Jews questioned separately on this topic, 71 percent said they found his job performance unfavorable, as opposed to 26 percent who found it favorable. If elections for Congress were held today, 67 percent said they would vote for a Democratic candidate, as opposed to only 20 percent who said they would vote for a Republican. A majority of 55 percent said that the status of Jews in the United States is less secure now than it was a year ago.

Big gap in support for egalitarian prayer at Western Wall

The survey results also show that American Jews are far more disturbed than their Israeli counterparts by the Orthodox monopoly on religious life in Israel. The findings show, for example, that 80 percent of American Jews, as opposed to only 49 percent of Israeli Jews, support having non-Orthodox rabbis perform weddings, divorces and conversions in the country.

A small majority of Israelis – 55 percent – support the introduction of civil marriage and divorce in their country. Among American Jews, however, support is overwhelming with 81 percent saying they favor such a move.

While almost three-quarters of American Jews support the plan to establish a mixed-gender prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Israeli Jews are split on the matter. The survey shows that 73 percent of American Jews support an egalitarian prayer space at the Jewish holy site, while only 21 percent oppose it. By contrast, among Israeli Jews, 42 percent favor an egalitarian prayer space, while 48 percent are against it.

Members of IfNotNow and Rabbinical school students blocking traffic while protesting Trump's US Embassy move to Jerusalem, withdrawal from Iran Deal and Israeli violence against Palestinians in Gaza iCredit: Gili Getz

The findings show that 43 percent of American Jews, as compared to only 26 percent of Israeli Jews, believe the growth of the non-Orthodox movements could improve the quality of Jewish life in Israel. Seventeen percent of Israeli Jews, as compared with only 7 percent of American Jews, believe that the non-Orthodox movements are destined to disappear.

Israeli and American Jews also exhibited sharp differences in their views on the peace process and how much of a say American Jews should have in determining Israeli policy on the matter. A large majority of Israeli Jews – 68 percent – said they did not think American Jews should influence Israeli policy on security and peace negotiations. By contrast, 53 percent of American Jews said they felt such intervention was appropriate.

They were also divided on their support for a two-state solution, with a greater proportion of American Jews (51 percent) favoring the establishment of a demilitarized independent Palestinian state than Israeli Jews (44 percent).

American Jews also showed greater willingness to evacuate West Bank settlements than Israeli Jews. Fifteen percent of American Jews said they would be willing to dismantle all the settlements, as compared with only 4 percent of Israeli Jews. Forty-four percent of American Jews said they would be willing to evacuate some of the settlements, compared with 35 percent of Israeli Jews. By contrast, a majority of Israeli Jews (54 percent) said they were opposed to dismantling any settlements, as compared with 35 percent of American Jews.

American and Israeli Reform rabbis pray in the Western Wall, Feb. 25, 2016Credit: AP

Despite their differences, a large majority in both communities (78 percent of Israeli Jews and 69 percent of American Jews) agreed that a thriving Diaspora is important for the long-term future of the Jewish people. An even larger majority (79 percent of American Jews and 87 percent of Israeli Jews) agreed that a thriving State of Israel is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people.

Two-thirds of American Jews said they viewed Israeli Jews as part of their family, while an even greater share of Israeli Jews – 78 percent – said they viewed American Jews as part of their family.

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