August 19, 2019

So Israelis think that US Jewish support is “essential” – so what?

You might have seen the headlines: 95% of Israelis think that US Jewish support is “essential” for Israel. The poll was commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which is sending Israeli Knesset members to learn something about US Jewry. Last year’s educational trip was a success – the MKs formed a Knesset lobby dedicated to strengthening the ties between Israel and American Jews (read more about it here).

[N]early all Israelis perceive American Jewish support of Israel as important. Half think American Jews care or care greatly about Israel’s treatment of women, 57.8% about treatment of Israeli Arabs and 38.8% about last summer’s social protests. According to New York University’s Prof. Steven M. Cohen, a researcher for the Ruderman Family Foundation, most American Jews care about social justice issues, and the gap between this reality and Israelis’ perception is a reflection of their priorities. “[Israelis] think that American Jews care about the issues that Israelis care about. To some extent, that’s true,” Cohen explained. However, he added, it is important “to make Israelis, especially political leaders, aware of the extent to which American Jews care about social justice issues, alongside their concern for Israeli security matters.”

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I asked the good people of the Ruderman Foundation to share with Rosner’s Domain the cross tabs of this poll, and got some interesting data from which to draw the following five conclusions:

1. Religious Israelis see Jewish American support as less important than secular and traditional Israelis. Fifty-one percent of religious respondents ranked Jewish support as “very important,” compared to 65% and 70% of secular and traditional Israelis respectively.

2. Two thirds of Israelis understand that US Jews do care about the treatment of Conservative and Reform communities in Israel. Almost 64% of religious Israelis think they care about this issue. We also know (from the Guttman study of not so long ago) that “a majority (61%), ‘agree’ or ‘totally agree’ that the Conservative and Reform movements should have equal status in Israel with the Orthodox”. This doesn’t mean they want Israel to do anything about it.

3. Cohen is obviously right: Israelis believe by significant majorities that US Jews care a lot about Israel’s security issues, and tend to think that other issues do not bother them as much. More Israelis, for example, think that US Jews don’t much care about the “treatment of women” in Israel.

4. Different Israeli groups seem to want to believe that American Jews tend to put more significance on the issues that bother those groups. Example: While the percentage of religious Israelis believing that US Jews care (“care a lot” plus “care”) about “treatment of Arab Israelis” doesn’t reach the 50% mark – namely, most religious Israelis think that American Jews do not care much about Arab Israelis – almost 60% of secular Israelis say that US Jews do care about Arab Israelis.

5. One must say though that on almost all questions there are not significant differences between the answers of Israelis of different ages and religiosity. What can be learned from that? I believe it tells us that most Israelis don’t think much about these questions and give answers that do not mean much.

But it seems Israelis would like to believe that American Jews care about the same things Israelis care about. If they discover that the reality is different, they might change their minds and decide that US Jewish support is not as essential as they think it is now.