Here's what American Jews think about Israel
May 21, 2021
(JTA) — On Tuesday, Israel found itself fighting what may be another war in Gaza. And American Jews are watching.
Israel and Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, have already traded hundreds of airstrikes and missiles since Monday. Dozens of Palestinians and two Israelis have lost their lives — a number that is likely to rise.
As the eyes of the world turn again to violence in Israel, Jews in the United States will be paying attention and speaking out. During past conflicts, American Jewish groups from across the political spectrum have claimed to represent American Jewry as a whole, or a broad swath of it.
But what do American Jews actually think about Israel? The answer defies simple characterization. But an expansive new survey by the Pew Research Center, (coincidentally) published Tuesday, tells us a lot about how American Jews feel about Israel and Israeli Jews.
Most American Jews feel some emotional attachment to Israel, follow news in Israel and say they have something in common with Israeli Jews. Nearly half have traveled to the country.
But most rate Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, negatively. Only one-third of American Jews says Israel is making a sincere effort for peace with the Palestinians. And 10 percent of American Jews say they support BDS, the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.
Orthodox or Republican Jews tend to display higher levels of support for Israel, while unaffiliated Jews show lower levels of support.
Here’s the rundown on how American Jews feel about the Jewish state.
The vast majority of American Jews say caring about Israel is important to being Jewish.
While Israel and its politics are constant topics of debate in Jewish circles, there’s at least one area of broad agreement: More than 80 percent of American Jews said caring about Israel was an important or essential part of what being Jewish means to them. A majority of respondents agreed with that statement across age groups, religious movements and political parties.
Among Jews overall, 45 percent said caring about Israel was essential to being Jewish, and an additional 37 percent called it important to being Jewish. Among Conservative Jews, 66 percent said caring about Israel was essential and just 4 percent say it was not important to being Jewish.
The group that placed the least importance on caring about Israel were “Jews of no religion” — according to Pew, they “identify religiously as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular.” Still, more than two-thirds of that group said caring about Israel was important or essential, while 31 percent said it was not important. And more than 70 percent of Jewish adults under 30 rated caring about Israel important or essential to being Jewish.
Most American Jews feel emotionally attached to Israel.
Most Jews also feel an emotional attachment to Israel, though the numbers there are more complex. Overall, 58 percent of Jews feel emotionally attached to Israel — including majorities of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews.
More than 70 percent of Jewish Republicans, and a slim majority of Jewish Democrats, feel emotionally attached to Israel. So do most Jewish adults older than 30, including two-thirds of Jews over 65.
Only 48 percent of Jews under 30 said they feel emotionally attached to Israel. The group with the lowest level of attachment, 33 percent, are Jews of no religion.
Nearly half of American Jews have been to Israel.
In addition to caring about Israel, most Jews make an effort to be informed about it in some way and feel they have something in common with Jews living there.
Some 45 percent of Jewish Americans have been to Israel, and more than a quarter have been there more than once. Among Jews aged 25 to 34, one in four have gone on Birthright, the free 10-day trip to Israel for young Jews.
Most American Jews (57 percent) follow Israel news very or somewhat closely, including more than 70 percent of Orthodox and Conservative Jews.
And about the same number of Jews, 59 percent, said they have some or a lot in common with Jews in Israel. Most unaffiliated Jews, however, feel they have little or nothing in common with Jews in Israel. By comparison, a 2016 Pew survey of Israeli Jews found that 68 percent said they had a lot or some in common with American Jews.
Most Jews are not fans of Netanyahu, and only a third think Israel is sincere about peace with the Palestinians.
What about the man who is, as of today, the prime minister of Israel?
Most American Jews rated Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership “only fair or poor,” while 40 percent said he was “excellent or good.” Netanyahu was rated highest by Republicans and Orthodox respondents, and was given the worst ratings from respondents under 30, unaffiliated Jews and Democrats. Only 25 percent of Democrats said he was excellent or good.
Nearly two-thirds of American Jews are optimistic that Israel can find a way to coexist peacefully with a Palestinian state. (Israelis, by contrast, consistently are pessimistic that a two-state solution will happen.)
But only one-third of American Jews believe Israel is sincere about making peace with the Palestinians, and the number drops to 24 percent among Jews under 30 and to 20 percent among Jewish Democrats. However, every segment of the Jewish population believes Israel is more sincere about peace than the Palestinians.
What about BDS?
The survey did not provide respondents with an extensive definition of the Boycott, Divestments and Sanction movement because of debates about its scope and goals. Respondents first were asked whether they had heard of the movement, then those who were familiar with BDS were questioned on whether they supported or opposed it.
Most American Jews — 56 percent — have heard a lot or some about the movement. In total, 10 percent of American Jews supported BDS, including 13 percent of Democrats and those under 30. And 43 percent of American Jews overall opposed the movement. Just 2 percent of all Jews strongly supported BDS, while 34 percent strongly opposed it.
Just half of Jews under 30 have heard some or a lot about BDS.