JTA — Three recent surveys of American, Israeli and French Jews commissioned by the American Jewish Committee revealed that there is more that unites the Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities than divides them.
Most Jews feel an affinity for each other and for the State of Israel and support a strong Jewish Diaspora.
However, US President Donald Trump and his Israel policies remain as contentious as ever, with Israelis feeling much warmer toward him than do American Jews.
Jewish values – and the value of being Jewish
Asked how important being Jewish is in their lives, 51 percent of Israeli Jews responded that it was “most important” and 29% said it was “very important.” Just 8% said it was “not too” or “not at all” important.
Responses among American and French Jews were more divided, with 41% and 33%, respectively, saying that being Jewish is “very important” in their lives, 35% and 32% saying it is “somewhat important,” and 24% and 32% saying it was “not too” or “not at all” important.
A plurality of all Jews surveyed responded that Judaism is mostly a “matter of ethnicity and culture” rather than “mostly religion.” Fifty-nine percent of American Jews, 51% of Israeli Jews and 43% of French Jews concurred, with approximately one-quarter of each group responding that Judaism is instead “more a matter of religion.”
The importance of Israel
Most American and French Jews (62% and 59%) agree “strongly” or “somewhat” that caring about Israel is a “very important part of my being a Jew,” while 15% and 18% “disagree strongly.” For their part, 50% of Israeli Jews responded that “living in Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.”
But on whether or not Israel is personally meaningful, the vast majority of American and Israeli Jews surveyed “think that a thriving State of Israel is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people,” with 72% and 91% concurring.
Jews lukewarm toward two states
Thirty-three percent of Israeli Jews and 14% of American Jews “strongly oppose a two-state solution through the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state on the West Bank,” while 12% of American Jews and 18% of Israeli Jews oppose it “somewhat.”
Thirty-nine percent of Israeli Jews, and 64% of American Jews, favor a two-state approach “strongly or somewhat.”
Younger and ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews, two groups that generally lean right politically, were the biggest opponents of a two-state solution, with 42.4% and 56.8% strongly opposed.
It is unclear how those Israelis who do support a two-state approach would like that to happen in practice, given that 50% of Israel Jews surveyed say that Israel should not be willing to dismantle any Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
When it comes to Diaspora Jews acting on their opinions about Israel, the majority of Israeli Jews (63.4%) believe it is “not appropriate for American Jews to attempt to influence Israeli policy on such issues as national security and peace negotiations with the Palestinians,” while 57% of American Jews feel it is appropriate for them to do so.
Asked to think about their relationship to other Jewish communities in terms of a family bond, 31% of Israeli Jews consider American Jews siblings and 47% consider them either first cousins or extended family.
Those sentiments aren’t returned quite as warmly across the pond, with only 13% of American Jews feeling the sibling bond, 58% considering Israeli Jews extended family or first cousins, and 28% not considering them part of their family at all. Thirty-one percent of French Jews, for their part, consider Israeli Jews siblings, and just 16% say they’re not part of the family at all.
These sentiments may be explained in large part by the finding that 44% of Israeli Jews have actual “family to whom they feel close” in the United States, while only 28% of American Jews report having the same in Israel. Forty-eight percent of French Jews have family to whom they feel close in Israel, and 25% report owning a residence there.
It’s also worth noting that distance may not make the heart grow fonder: Over half of Israeli and American Jews (52% and 59%) have never visited the other country, while only 35% of French Jews have not visited Israel.
The state of the Diaspora
The majority of all Jews surveyed, including 74% of Israeli Jews, believe that “a thriving Diaspora is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people.”
Whether or not that Diaspora feels it is actually thriving is less clear. Most American Jews (65%) and French Jews (50%) feel that the status of Jews is less secure in their country than it was a year ago. Fifty-seven percent of American Jews also report feeling that “the climate on campus” is “more hostile” toward pro-Israel students.
Most French Jews (60%) believe that Jews have a future in France, while 29% say Jews should leave now. Most French Jews (56%) believe their country is “not really” effectively combating anti-Semitism, and 33% have personally experienced anti-Semitism “several times.” Seventeen percent of French Jews have “seriously considered” emigrating “because of fear for the future of Jews in France.”
How Jews feel about US politics and Trump
Forty-nine percent of American Jews consider themselves Democrats, while 18% say they are Republicans. Twenty-six percent of Jews have a favorable opinion of the job President Trump is doing and 71% disapprove, the same figures as those found in AJC’s 2018 survey.
Though the sample sizes for the following subgroups are small and should be taken with a spoonful of salt, it is worth noting that the vast majority of Republican Jews (91%) and American ultra-Orthodox Jews (88%) approve of the job Trump is doing, while 50% of Modern Orthodox Jews, 69% of Conservative Jews, 82% of Reform Jews, 89% of Reconstructionist Jews and 90% of secular Jews, in contrast, disapprove.
When it comes to Trump’s handling of Israel, Israeli men are the biggest fans, with 56.4% approving strongly of the job he is doing. Just 39% of Israeli women and 22% of American Jews agree – and 45% of American Jews “disagree strongly.” Half of American Jews support “the recent American recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory” and 39% oppose the move.
The 2019 survey of Israeli Jews was conducted April 10-17 by Geocartography and included 1,000 telephone interviews. SSRS conducted the survey of American Jews from April 10 to May 17 and included 1,006 telephone interviews. Ifop ran the survey of French Jews from March 11 to May 2 using 771 telephone and face-to-face interviews. The respective margins of error are 3.1 percent, 4.1% and 2.1%.