Rather than drifting away, over two-thirds of US Jews feel tie to Israel — poll

8 out of 10 survey respondents say they are pro-Israel; Netanyahu’s support of Trump tops list of reasons Jewish Americans are critical of Israeli policies

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles. (Edmon J. Rodman/via JTA)
Illustrative: A pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles. (Edmon J. Rodman/via JTA)

US Jews see themselves as overwhelmingly pro-Israel, with a clear majority saying their affinity for the Jewish state has either remained the same or become stronger over the past five years, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The results appeared to buck claims that US Jews were drifting away from Israel over its policies and support of the Trump administration.

Eight out of ten respondents identified as “pro-Israel” and 67 percent said they were emotionally “attached” or “very attached” to the Jewish state, the Ruderman Family Foundation survey found.

“Despite voices talking about a growing gap between the sides, the vast majority of American Jews are sympathetic to Israel, and most of them feel an emotional connection to the Jewish state,” the foundation said in a statement.

Having sampled 2,500 Jews representing the adult Jewish population in the US, the survey “is the most comprehensive survey of the Jewish community in the United States in recent years, and one of the largest ever,” the statement said.

Results showed that over 70% of US Jews feel that their personal relationship with Israel has remained the same or is stronger than it was five years ago.

A majority of US Jews (57%) said they are “pro-Israel but also critical of Israeli policy.” Only 23% said they are pro-Israel and also supportive of the current government’s policies.

“Segmentation of the responses by affiliation shows a clear picture: Jews who identify with liberal streams feel that the relationship is weaker than their counterparts,” the statement said.

US President Donald Trump participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 27, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

“It appears doomsday talks about an irreversible chasm between Israel and the American Jewish community were mistaken,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, in the statement. “An overwhelming 80% of American Jews feel an attachment to Israel, including most non-affiliated and younger Jews.”

Politics is the main reasons that US Jews have for criticizing Israel.

According to 39% of respondents, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for US President Donald Trump and his policies” is the chief reason for criticism of Israel, followed by increasing religious right-wing political influence (33%), treatment of Palestinians (25%) and the issue of West Bank settlements (24%).

Very few agreed that a lack of “mutual understanding or shared values” was an important reason for criticism.

“The findings are particularly important in light of the tensions that have emerged in recent years between both sides, including around the Western Wall and the attitude toward US President Donald Trump,” the foundation’s statement said.

The prayer rights of different denominations within Judaism at the Orthodox-controlled Western Wall, and the failure to properly establish a mixed-gender prayer plaza adjacent to the iconic site have been a source of anger among US Jews over Israeli government policy.

The survey also found a clear link between engagement in US Jewish communities and a feeling of attachment to Israel.

Among those who described themselves as “very engaged” in Jewish community groups, 90% said they have an emotional attachment to Israel and 67% said they are “very” attached, the survey found. Only 42% of those who are “not at all engaged” said they feel a tie to the Jewish state.

Overall, while 56% of US Jews feel that the need to “sustain and continue the Jewish community for future generations” was a reason to become involved in community organizations, only 35% said that helping Israel was an important reason.

Members of the Reform movement hold Torah scrolls during a mixed men and women prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 16, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Fenton)

Nearly half of US Jews (44%) have visited Israel or lived there, and 7% visited during the last year. Over half (55%) have visited or have family living in Israel, according to the poll.

In 2016, the government and non-Orthodox Jewish leaders reached an agreement to refurbish a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, but Netanyahu later froze the plan at the behest of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

Netanyahu’s decision was met with outrage from a large swath of Diaspora Jewry, creating a rift between Israel and the US Jewish community.

The survey was carried out in December 2019. It was ordered by the Ruderman Foundation and conducted through the Mellman Group, and has a statistical deviation of 1.96%.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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