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American Jewish Opinion Is Increasingly Divided About Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2016

American Jewish opinion concerning Israel is increasingly divided about West  
Bank settlements, the nuclear agreement with Iran, the lack of religious  
freedom for non-Orthodox strains of Judaism, and a host of other issues.  
“There are really two Jewish Americans,” the journalist Peter Beinart has  
written, “One is older, more Republican, more Orthodox and more interested  
in shielding Israel from external pressure than pressuring a two-state  
solution. The other is younger, more secular, less tribal, overwhelm¬ingly  
Democratic, less institutionally affiliated and more troubled by Israel’s  
Polls show that only a quarter of Jews aged 18-29 (compared to 43% of those  
over 50) believe that the government of Israel is making a sincere effort to  
make peace with the Palestinians. A quarter of young Jewish Americans  
(compared to 5% of their elders) say that U.S. support for Israel is  
In June, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) issued a warning to the  
Israeli Cabinet. According to JPPI’s findings: “The liberal, Reform,  
Conservative and secular parts of the American Jewish community may become  
more distant from Israel as the country’s demography becomes more Orthodox  
and nationalistic.”  
JPPI’s President, Avinoam Bar-Yosef explained that while there is  
significant support for Israel in North America, it isn’t compensating for  
“the young generation of liberal and secular American Jews which is  
increasingly critical of the Jewish state, and concerned that Israeli  
society is becoming more religious and more right-wing.” (The Jerusalem  
Post, June 30, 2016).  
In a new book, Trouble In The Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over  
Israel, Dov Waxman, professor of political science at Northeastern  
University, argues that for younger, non-Orthodox American Jews, who have  
grown up in a country in which Jews are powerful and privileged, and have  
married non-Jews in large numbers, solidarity with Israel and an “us versus  
them” worldview has diminished dramatically. Indeed, only 30% of them think  
that “caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish.”  
Dr. Waxman predicts less common ground, growing mistrust, and a face-off  
that may pit Orthodox Jews against less religious Jews. Discussing his  
thesis, Prof. Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University notes that, “Secular  
liberals who are committed to human rights, equality and post-ethnic,  
multicultural societies, increasingly perceive Israel as a violent,  
oppressive pariah state. As their inter-marriage rates skyrocket, moreover,  
their attachment to Israel may decline even more. For Orthodox Jews in the  
U.S. … support for Israel is a political litmus test.” (International  
Jerusalem Post, May 20-26, 2016).  
Dov Waxman has been harshly criticized for his analysis. Responding to  
critics, in an article in The Forward (June 10, 2016), “Right-Wing Critics  
Who Slammed My Book Proved Its Point,” he writes: “Instead of addressing the  
claims and evidence I actually present, these critics have misrepresented my  
arguments or even deliberately distorted them. They have also resorted to ad  
hominem attacks. I have been accused of being a self-hating Jew … Sadly, the  
American Jewish conversation about Israel has not only become argumentative  
and angry … It has become a dialogue of the deaf. Nowadays, it seems  
impossible to have an honest, reasoned nonpoliticized discussion of Israel,  
or even of the American Jewish relationship with Israel. Rather than address  
the real challenges facing American Jews and Israel today, it’s easier to  
simply shoot the messenger. The cheapening and coarsening certainly of  
American Jewish public discourse about Israel and anything to do with it is  
probably bad for Israel itself. It’s bad for American Jews.” •

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