September 19, 2019

Are You More Liberal or More Jewish?

Here is a question that might sound strange: Do you want Jewish American liberals to have views identical to those of non-Jewish American liberals, or is it better if Jewish liberals are somewhat different than other American liberals? I wonder how Jewish liberals would answer such question. I wonder if they aspire to see all liberal views converge. 

I have no reliable answer to my odd question, but I have answers to other questions about the way Jewish liberals think. A new study by Irwin Mansdorf of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-leaning think tank, polled three groups of American liberals: non-Jews, Jews unaware that the study is about Jews, and Jews aware that the study is about Jews. The first thing Mansdorf learned was that awareness about the survey’s nature doesn’t change the results much. Jews in both groups gave almost identical answers to most questions.

But some issues clearly separate the liberal Jew and the liberal non-Jew. Example: The Jew is much more worried about anti-Semitism. Mansdorf focused on hardcore liberals, who make about 40% of the U.S. Jewish population. Presenting them with a question about priorities, more than 60% of the liberal Jews prioritized fighting anti-Semitism over all other options. Liberal non-Jews tended to prioritize “supporting Black Lives Matter” (about 50%, with about 20% prioritizing anti-Semitism). So there is a clear difference.

Jewish liberals also differ on Israel. Here is one example: When asked if the most important component of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to have Israel recognized as the nation-state of the Jewish people, more than 50% of the Jewish liberals said yes, while the level of agreement among non-Jewish liberals was about half (24%) of that. When asked if Zionism was a “legitimate national liberation movement for the Jewish people,” about half of all liberal Jews said yes, while merely 16% of non-Jewish liberals said yes. A quarter of all non-Jewish liberals described Zionism as “racist and apartheid ideology.” Among liberal Jews, thankfully, the number was lower — about 1 in 10. 

But here’s where things get complicated. Here’s where Mansdorf must caution that “as attitudes of liberal Jews begin to mirror attitudes of the general liberal population, Jews, as a distinct ‘bloc,’ may become indistinguishable and less significant.” In which areas do Jewish liberals resemble non-Jewish liberals? It begins with their “ethnic identity.” For Jews and non-Jews, it is important to openly identify as members of their ethnic group (for Jews it is still more important). For Jews and non-Jews, it is not very important to have a life partner of the same ethnic group, and even less so to have their offspring “choose a life partner” from their ethnic group. In other words: The ability to say, “I’m Jewish” is a priority, but Jewish continuity is less a priority.

Where else do we see convergence in the views of non-Jewish and Jewish liberals? In the younger age groups. Younger liberal Jews are more like liberal non-Jews. Let’s look at one example: All respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Zionism reflects the need for a safe refuge for Jews.” A clear majority of Jews older than 60, agreed with the statement. Only a one-third of non-Jewish liberals (33%) agreed with it. And what about under-60 liberal Jews — the younger cohorts? They are somewhere in between. A little more than half of them (56%) agree with the statement, which signals a departure from the previous generation of liberal Jews, and resembles more liberal non-Jews.

There are more such examples in the study, but we can stop here to repeat the question at the start of this column:
Should we strive to retain a difference between liberal Jews and liberal non-Jews?
The tribal Jewish perspective on this matter — admittedly, my perspective — is clear: I want Jews to be different on some issues. I want them to be more supportive of Israel. I want
them to care about having another generation of Jews. Having said that, I understand that a non-tribal liberal perspective might be different. Thus, I cannot say with certainty if the Mansdorf study is good or bad news. 


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.