World Jewry is finding it increasingly difficult to support Israel due to its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, leading many communities to shun discussing the Jewish state altogether, a new major study has found.
The trend is eroding the Diaspora’s support for the Jewish state, warns the report by the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank, to be formally published next week.
While most Jews sympathize with Israel’s needs to wage war in self-defense and believe that its army acts according to high moral standards, there is growing discomfort with some Israeli policies they believe unnecessarily perpetuate conflict, according to the 100-page report by the JPPI, which was made available to The Times of Israel.
Diaspora Jews are not convinced that Israel is doing enough to prevent military conflicts and are troubled by the number of civilian casualties they often produce, though they generally blame Israel’s enemies for the bloodshed. The accusation of the use of “disproportionate force” makes it difficult for these Jews to defend Israeli actions. Somewhat paradoxically, however, Jews in the Diaspora are disappointed that Israel doesn’t manage to end its wars with decisive victories.
“Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one,” according to the study’s author, Shmuel Rosner.
“A sense of crisis has emerged in many Jewish communities regarding their relationships with Israel, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to discuss Israel because of the bitter political disputes these discussions spark,” writes Rosner, a journalist and senior fellow at the JPPI. “This difficulty may lead to the exclusion of Israel from Diaspora community agendas, and is an obstacle to communicating Israel’s actions and policies to the Jewish public within a sympathetic communal framework.”
The report is partially based on surveys of members of Jewish communities across nine countries, including the US, France, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Hungary.
Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents said they think the current Israeli government is not making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
Some 46 percent of respondents over 30 years of age agree with the assertion that Israel is not making sufficient diplomatic effort to avoid another armed conflict in Gaza (41% for those under 30). At the same time, 92 percent of respondents in that age group agreed that Israel did as much as possible to avoid civilian casualties in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge (for those under 30, the number is 81%).
The report from the Jerusalem-based JPPI, which is affiliated with the Jewish Agency and regularly briefs the Israeli cabinet on Diaspora-related issues, is also based on dozens of meetings with representatives from Jewish communities around the world.
Summing up the Diaspora’s “dissonance” vis-à-vis Israel, Rosner found “sympathy and concern on one hand; growing internal and external discomfort on the other.”
‘Israel’s wars have an immediate and, usually, a negative effect on Diaspora Jewry’
Most Jews feel close to Israel and want the country to thrive. They also believe it only wages war if it is really necessary, he writes in the study, which is being published next week. Two-thirds of survey respondents who believe that Israel is not making sincere efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians nonetheless believe Israel uses military force as a last resort (naturally, among those who believe Israel’s peace-making efforts are genuine, the number is even higher at 88%).
“One cannot, however, ignore the many voices testifying to a growing difficulty in accepting the price this closeness entails,” Rosner writes. “Israel’s wars have an immediate and, usually, a negative effect on Diaspora Jewry.”
Jews in the Diaspora often feel that Israeli military actions automatically turn them into ambassadors for the Jewish state, whether they want to or not, the study found.
“We are all held accountable for Israel’s actions… [There is] no separation between Zionism and Judaism; how Israel acts and negotiates peace affects all Jews,” the participants of a seminar in Pittsburgh remarked.
Some participants complained that this link negatively affects them during their interaction with gentiles in the work environment. “People come to my office and ask my opinion,” a participant from Cleveland said.
The Jewish world used to rally around in support of Israel whenever it was threatened or attacked, but this solidarity has declined in recent years, JPPI’s study asserts.
“This erosion is natural, almost inevitable, given the changing character of Israel’s wars,” Rosner writes. “It is rooted both in the reasons for war – some Diaspora Jews assign Israel responsibility for some confrontations (due to policies unfavorable to producing a peace agreement), and in the outcomes of war — which provide no sense of closure, no victory or defeat, and thus make it difficult for outside observers to identify with Israel.”
Additionally, he notes, the Diaspora is also growing ill at ease with Israel’s recent wars because they are fought in urban surroundings and thus cause more civilian casualties than Israel’s previous wars.
World Jewry wants Israel to take its views into account
The JPPI’s report also focuses on Diaspora Jewry’s wish to be taken into consideration by Israel as it fights its wars, and how it imagines the IDF should operate morally on the battlefield.
“Many Jews around the world feel that they are entitled to express an opinion and to have the State of Israel take their views into account, even on major security issues,” Rosner found. “The justifications given are varied: Diaspora Jewry’s support for Israel, the fact that Israel is a Jewish state, the impact of the events on their own lives.”
Only a third of survey participants said Israel shouldn’t pay attention to Diaspora Jewry’s desires. The rest wants to have their concerns taken into consideration whenever Israel fights wars, citing several reasons. Twenty-one percent, for instance, said that Israel should care about the views of others Jews if it wants to maintain their support for its armed conflicts. The demand to be heard by Israel is more prevalent among younger Diaspora Jews, the study showed.
“In order for Jews to support Israel it must be better than other countries,” a discussion group participant from Dallas is quoted as saying. In Atlanta, someone said that “Diaspora Jews need to know that Israel is behaving morally.”
Half of survey respondents said the Israeli army should strive for “a balance between morality and the fact that it is facing ruthless enemies who wish to destroy it.” A third said Israel should aim for the “highest level of moral conduct.” Ten percent said the army should model its ethical code on “Western” countries,” and only five percent said it should fight “like all other countries.”
The Diaspora’s wish to be heard by Israelis is not falling on deaf ears. A large majority of Israeli Jews feel that their country’s relationship with world Jewry, especially with American Jewish community, is so important it should have a say in what Israel does, the study indicates. In a previously unpublished survey of Jewish Israelis, 15 percent of respondents said that “military and security issues” are the most important topic for Israel’s leadership to consult about with the American Jewish leadership.
“At least a quarter of Israeli Jews, and likely many more, have no problem with, and even support, the idea of Israel consulting with American Jewry even in the sensitive military-security sphere,” Rosner writes.
The study issues several recommendations to Israeli policymakers. For one, Rosner writes, they should take “pay more attention to the possible effects of its security-military decisions on Diaspora Jewry.” This should not overrule other more urgent concerns, he allows, but at the very least the position of world Jewry should be represented in the country’s decision-making process.