Widening rift between world's two largest Jewish communities

Poll shows deep divisions between Israeli and US Jews on Trump, peace, religion

AJC survey shows Israelis much more supportive of US leader’s handling of relations, far more accepting of ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs in Jewish state

Israelis hold American and Israeli flags with the new US Embassy in the background in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israelis hold American and Israeli flags with the new US Embassy in the background in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

An opinion poll published Sunday shows deep divisions between Israeli and American Jews, particularly in relation to US President Donald Trump, highlighting the growing rift between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.

The survey by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) showed 77 percent of Israeli Jews approved of the president’s handling of US-Israel relations, while only 34 percent of American Jews did. Fifty-seven percent of US Jews disapproved, while only 10 percent of Israeli Jews did.

Concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the relocation of the US embassy to the city, 85% of Israeli Jews support the decision, compared to just 46% of US Jews. Forty-seven percent of American Jews opposed the move, a position held by only 7% of Israelis.

Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy upended decades of US foreign policy and an international consensus. The Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as their future capital, were outraged by the move and cut all contact with the US in response. Trump’s declaration, though, said the city’s boundaries would be resolved by the parties involved.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump unveil the inauguration plaque during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The poll also showed 59% of American Jews favoring the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel but only 44% of Israeli Jews supporting the idea.

Regarding Israeli West Bank settlements, internationally regarded as a sticking point in peace negotiations, only 15% of US Jews and 4% of Israeli Jews said they were willing to dismantle all settlements to reach an agreement, while 44% of US Jews and 35% of Israeli Jews agreed that some should be dismantled. Only 35% of US Jews think no settlements should be dismantled for a peace deal, a position held by 54% of Israeli Jews.

“The surveys reveal sharp differences of opinion between the world’s two largest Jewish communities on President Trump, US-Israel relations, and Israel’s security and peace process policies,” the AJC said in a statement.

“The gap between American Jews and Israelis regarding President Trump’s approach to Israel is profound,” the AJC said.

The survey sampled opinions among Jews living in Israel and the US, mostly presenting identical questions to each community. The polling was conducted before the US embassy move on May 14. Israeli polling was conducted by Geocartography by phone. US polling was conducted by SSRS by phone. The polls surveyed 1,000 Israelis and 1,001 Americans and had margins of error of 3.1 and 3.9 percent, respectively.

The poll showed the groups share similar views on the importance of good ties between their two communities. But they differ greatly on matters of religion and state, particularly on the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs in Israel. The vast majority of American Jews identify as either Reform or Conservative, liberal streams of Judaism that have a very small foothold in Israel.

Members of the Reform movement and the Hebrew Union College struggle with protesters at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on November 16, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Fenton)

On one of the most contentious issues, regarding a mixed-gender prayer area next to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, 73% of American Jews express support, compared to just 42% of Israeli Jews.

A large majority of US Jews (80%) want weddings, divorces and conversions to be opened in Israel to non-Orthodox rabbis, while just 49% of Israelis agree. A similar number of US Jews (81%) support civil marriage and divorce in Israel, but a much smaller majority (55%) of Israeli Jews support the notion and 40% are opposed to it.

Fifty-three percent of US Jews and 40% of Israeli Jews said the current system of Orthodox control in Israel weakens the ties between the communities, and just 14% of Israelis and 7% of US Jews said it strengthens the ties. Thirty-five percent of US Jews and 29% of Israelis said the system has no effect on relations.

The survey was released ahead of the opening of the AJC Global Forum in Jerusalem, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address later Sunday.

Netanyahu has forged a close bond with Trump, and their policies toward the Palestinians have strong support in Israel and among its Republican backers in the US. But most American Jews are Democrats who are usually highly critical of Trump and Netanyahu. Experts have been warning for years that the two communities are drifting in opposite directions politically, undermining the kinship between the two groups that make up the vast majority of Jews in the world.

“Significantly, for both communities, the main factor predicting how people will respond is how they identify religiously,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “The more observant they are on the denominational spectrum, their Jewish identity and attachment to Israel is stronger; skepticism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians higher; and support for religious pluralism in Israel weaker.

“In the survey of American Jews, political affiliation also plays a major role. The majority who identify with the Democratic Party and voted for Hillary Clinton are less attached to Israel, more weakly identified with the Jewish people, and more favorable to religious pluralism than the minority who are Republicans and report that they voted for Donald Trump.”

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