Poll: Young American Jews Are Growing More Attached to Israel

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

New findings show that young American Jews are growing more attached to Israel, probably as a result of the “cumulative impact of Birthright Israel,”  according to renowned sociologist Professor Steve Cohen.

At the same time, however, these strengthened links to Israel have not yielded any greater support for Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, according to the findings of a survey of American Jews carried out by the progressive social group the Workmen’s Circle.

New data released on Monday from the findings of a poll that was partially publicized two weeks ago, shows that the “Attached to Israel Index” for under-35 non-Orthodox Jews was 39, while for Jews aged 35-44 it was only 29. For Jews over the age of 45 the Index went up gradually from 40 to 44.

As the poll did not discover any correlation between the growth in the attachment to Israel and greater engagement with the Jewish community, such as attending a synagogue, Cohen and his colleagues ascribe the attachment phenomena to what they describe as “the Birthright Bump.”

“We may be seeing a bump upward in Israel attachment for an entire cohort of young people, owing to their far more frequent travel to Israel, due in large part to Birthright,” Cohen said.

Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent over 300,000 Jews between the ages of 18-26 to Israel since 2000. Originally the brainchild of leftist Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, the initiative was launched in 1994 as a joint operation of the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and Jewish communities around the world. The venture’s original financial backers were Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, but in recent years Birthright’s main support has come from casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has given more than $100 million to the organization since 2007.

“Younger people spent more time in Israel than the 35-44 age group, and had many more friends who went to Israel,” Cohen told Haaretz. He added that although the link between the greater attachment to Israel and Birthright was not proven, it is a “logical inference” from all the data at hand.

As for the support for the policies of the current Israeli government, described in the poll as a “Trust in Israel Index”, under-35’s scored 57 compared to 59 for those aged 35-44, 67 for those between the ages of 55-64 and 70 for those aged 65 and over.

 “Apparently, while attachment to Israel and trust in Israeli leaders are correlated, they are not the same sentiment,” according to Professor Samuel Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College in New York, who conducted the poll with Cohen. “Jews can be both attached to Israel and assume fairly independent if not skeptical stances towards Israeli government policies," Abrams said.

At the same time, however, Cohen said that the findings are not specific enough to confirm or dispel allegations that Birthright causes people to adopt more right-wing views.

In an earlier segment of the same poll, published 10 days ago, American Jews expressed support for labor and higher taxes. According to that poll, 59% of the Jews said they would vote for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections, 27% for Mitt Romney and the rest were undecided.

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring is a Jewish socialgroup set up in 1900 to represent Jewish workers. Originally Yiddish-speaking and Bundist/socialist in outlook, the organization is now trying to “reinvent itself” by various means, including “enriching the American Jewish conversation on the future of Israel and American Jewry,” according to the group’s executive director, Ann Toback.

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Birthright participants wave Israeli flags.Credit: Haaretz Archive