Study: Young American Jews ambivalent toward Israel

By Amiram Bareket

Haaretz

Adar1 25, 5765

"The attachment of American Jews to Israel has weakened measurably in the last two years," according to a study carried out by Prof. Steven Cohen of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a leading researcher of U.S. Jewry.

The study was conducted using identical questionnaires circulated during 2002 and also 2004 among 1,448 Jewish families, and was funded by the Jewish-Zionist Education Department of the Jewish Agency.

Cohen's findings, published late last week, reinforce findings suggesting that there is a drop in support for Israel among U.S. Jews, especially among youth and university students.

Unlike many in the American Jewish community, Cohen does not believe that the declining support stems from opposition to Israeli policies in the territories but rather from the lull which has descended recently over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The findings (see chart) show a 15-20 percent drop between 2002 and 2004 in nearly all the indicators measuring emotional attachment to Israel.

Forty-three percent of those asked agreed with the statement that "Israel feels to me more about my parents' and grand-parents' generation than to me and my generation."

Another recent study, carried out on behalf of the United Jewish Communities of North America, showed that only four percent of Jewish students with a non-Jewish parent feel a special link to Israel. Forty-five percent of the Jewish students in America have a non-Jewish parent.

The timing of Cohen's second poll, conducted in December 2004 - during a relatively quiet period in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - may have had a significant impact on the question whether the intifada has been the main reason for the growing distance between American Jewry and Israel.

A number of researchers of U.S. Jews such as Prof. Shulamit Reinharz of Brandeis University argue that the conflict damaged the image of Israeli "purity" among American Jews and led many to distance themselves from the Jewish state.

This view is echoed by Jewish university organizations, including Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the umbrella organization - Israel on Campus Coalition, who blame the intifada for a reduction in visits by American Jewish youth to Israel.

Cohen is reluctant to accept this thesis and says that "during the intifada years American Jews did visit Israel less but cared for it more. Today we see more visits but care much less."

"In the distant past the Israelis were viewed as heroes, in the recent past as victims. Today they are neither heroes or victims. Israel is increasingly viewed as boring and irrelevant to American Jewry," Cohen says.

A 2003 study by political consultant Frank Luntz showed that support for Israel among young American Jews was far weaker than among their parents.

Cohen says that young American Jews have preserved their personal Jewish identity but not their collective one. He says that studies he has conducted showing stability in aspects of Jewish tradition and religious obligations confirm this.