Growing Number of U.S. Jews Support Evacuation of All West Bank Settlements, Survey Finds

AJC poll exposes deepening divide between American and Israeli Jews on issues like Trump's policies and the importance of 'caring about Israel'

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
The Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank April 7, 2019.
The Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank April 7, 2019.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Fewer American Jews consider “caring about Israel” an important part of being Jewish, a survey published on Sunday by the American Jewish Committee finds. Those questioned also indicated that they do not believe a thriving state of Israel is “vital” to the long-term future of the Jewish people

A growing number of American Jews, the survey shows, are also unhappy with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and support a full evacuation of West Bank settlements.

>> Read more: America's synagogues are burning: A turning point for U.S. Jews | Opinion

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 29Credit: Haaretz

This was first ever survey conducted by the veteran Jewish organization to examine attitudes concurrently in the three largest Jewish communities in the world: the United States, Israel and France. (Israel was included in last year’s survey, but this was the first time for France). The questions asked of members of the three communities were not identical, however.

In last year’s survey, 70 percent of American Jews questioned said that caring about Israel was “a very important part of my being a Jew.” In this year's survey, their share had dropped to 62 percent. The percentage that “strongly disagreed” with this statement had risen from 9 to 15 percent.

Moreover, the share that considered a thriving Israel vital for the long-term future of the Jews dropped from 79 to 72 percent.

This trend of disengagement from Israel was most pronounced among younger and secular American Jews. Only 44 percent of people between the age of 18 and 29 and 42 percent of the secular respondents said that Israel played a significant role in their Jewish identity.

The share of American Jews who believe Israel “should be willing to dismantle all the settlements” as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians rose from 15 percent in 2018 to 25 percent in 2019. By contrast, only 6 percent of Israeli Jews were in favor of such a move. Nearly two-thirds of American Jews said they supported a two-state solution that included that establishment of a demilitarized Palestinians state in the West Bank while only 39 percent of Israeli Jews did.

Given this polarization, a growing share of American Jews said they were pessimistic about relations between the two largest Jewish communities in the world: The percentage that expects ties between American and Israeli Jews to weaken in the next five years rose from 15 percent in 2018 to 25 percent in 2019.

The survey further revealed glaring differences in how American and Israeli Jews perceive the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. Nearly 80 percent of Israeli Jews said they approved of his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, as compared to only 37 percent of American Jews. A much larger share of Israelis Jews favored the American president’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights than did American Jews.

Of the 1,006 American Jews who participated in the survey, 49 percent identified as Democrat and 18 percent as Republican. In terms of religious affiliation, 29 percent identified as Reform, 13 percent as Conservative, 7 percent as ultra-Orthodox, 3 percent as Modern Orthodox and 21 percent as secular. In Israel, 1,000 Jews participated in the survey, and in France, 771.

Both American Jews and French Jews said they were feeling under greater threat in their respective countries. Half of the French Jews questioned said they felt less safe today than they did a year ago. Among American Jews, 65 percent said they felt less safe (a 10-point rise over the previous year). 57 percent said the climate on American college campuses was more hostile to pro-Israel students today than it was a year ago.

The survey shows that French Jews feel far more connected to Israel than do American Jews. Asked to use the metaphor of family to describe their relationship to Israelis, 57 percent of French Jews described them as siblings or first cousins – compared with only 28 percent of American Jews who did so. Similarly, 65 percent of French Jews said they had visited Israel at least once, compared with only 41 percent of the Americans. Many more French Jews reported having family in Israel and one-quarter of them (Americans were not asked this questions) said they owned a second residence in Israel.

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