A report released Thursday finds that a decisive percentage of young American Jews strongly supported Israel’s Operative Protective Edge against Hamas, but concurrently also deeply empathized with the resulting destruction in Gaza and loss of Palestinian lives.
The report is called “U.S. Jewish Young Adults React to the Gaza Conflict.” In it, the broad base of Jewish young adults surveyed show “nuance and the ability to think of both sides” in the Israel-Hamas conflict, said Prof. Leonard Saxe, head of Brandeis University’s Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies.
“People thought what Israel did was justified and felt a strong connection to the country. But, at the same time, they were as concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives as Israeli lives,” added Saxe.
Other findings showed American Jews aged 18-29 are disproportionately liberal in their political views (two-thirds), in comparison to the broader US population of the same age group (one-third) as reported by the July 28 Pew survey and July 24 Gallup poll of Americans aged 18-29.
Saxe and research associates Michelle Shain and Shahar Hecht collected data from August 6-11 via an online questionnaire, which included versions of the Pew survey questions. It was sent to eligible US Birthright Israel-Taglit candidates who had applied for a trip between summer 2011 and winter 2013/14.
Encouraged through an opportunity to win one of two $100 Amazon.com gift cards, 1,756 young Jewish adults filled out the survey. The respondents included 1,122 who actually did go to Israel on a Birthright trip, as well as 634 nonparticipants.
For the study, the Birthright applicants’ results were compared to a recent Pew survey and a Gallup poll, both of which were completed at the end of July.
Saxe felt the young Jews who were polled are a representative cross-section of young American Jews for several reasons. Primarily, he claimed bluntly, “because Birthright is free — and fun,” meaning the trip doesn’t only draw those who think it’s worth spending money on a trip to Israel.
Saxe explained that his team had analyzed the backgrounds of those who responded and the profiling was in context with last year’s massive Pew survey study of American Jews. The years of Jewish education and day school all look just about the same, he said, except for one slight difference — Birthright draws a lower proportion of children from intermarriages.
Since Taglit was founded in December 1999, some 20-25% of the candidates have had no prior involvement in Jewish life, according to Saxe. “The great thing about Taglit is that it levels the playing field,” he added.
Pew doesn’t consider many of the people who went on Taglit to be Jewish, because they don’t call themselves Jewish by religion, but rather by parentage. “They might not count themselves as Jews until they go on Birthright,” explained Saxe.
Saxe and his team found — in comparing the report’s data to an Israeli survey in August, by the Tel Aviv University, of Israeli perceptions during the Hamas-Israel war — that Birthright participants were “thinking like Israelis.”
“The intensity of debate in Israel, the way in which there is a fierce left-right-center debate over policy — we saw that in people, in their comments, how passionate they were, even those with strong concerns and who had critical comments,” said Saxe.
He further commented that the “adult” Jewish community views the struggle with strong support for Israel and an almost “vengeful” stance on the Palestinians: “This is what the Palestinians get for not stopping Hamas.” In contrast, the 18–29-year-old group “didn’t sound like the older Jewish community that has a particular political stance,” but had complex views.
“Young people are supportive, but also felt for — and were concerned about — children whose lives were lost or disrupted,” Saxe explained.
Some additional findings were as follows: 60% of Birthright participants — and half of the applicants, but not actual participants — believed that Hamas was responsible for the conflict, compared to 21% of all US 18-year-olds.
When asked if Israel’s actions were justified, 79% of Birthright grads — and 67% of the applicants — said yes, whereas only 25% in the Gallup poll agreed.
However, the Saxe study cautioned that a significant sub-group believed that Israel had gone “too far” in responding to Hamas, while simultaneously believing that Hamas, not Israel, was responsible for the conflict — again showing the nuance of opinion found in this generation versus older ones.