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Survey Finds Only 3 Percent Of American Jews Think "Support Of Israel" Is Vital To Their Identity

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 1999

Among the findings in the American Jewish Committee’s 1999 Survey of American Jewish Opinion is that only 3 percent chose "support for Israel" as essential to their Jewish identity.  

According to The Washington Jewish Week (June 10, 1999), "Over a quarter of respondents feel ‘fairly distant’ (21 percent) or ‘very distant’ (5 percent) when asked how close they feel to Israel."  

Pamela Nadell, director of the Jewish Studies program at American University said this was a sign of a "significant minority" of Jews "repudiating" what she called "a key element of Jewish identity."  

In the survey, respondents gave a low priority to religious observance, only 15 percent saying they considered it important to their Jewish identity. Ninety-eight percent said "remembering the Holocaust" was "important" to their identity, 46 percent said "being part of the Jewish people" was important, and 21 percent said the same of "a commitment to social justice."  

Sponsors of the survey were surprised that by a margin of 62 to 32 percent, respondents said that anti-Semitism is more of a threat to Jewish identity than intermarriage.  

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, humanities professor at New York University, said the reason for a continuing fear of anti-Semitism at the same time in which it has diminished dramatically may be that many Jewish organizations continue to "school" American Jews in "anti-anti-Semitism." He declared: "I deplore the survey results" and said that he believes Jews are "absolutely free and equal in America. When you say ‘Remember we have enemies,’ it simply feeds a neurosis. I maintain that Jewish life is not fear, but affirmation." (The Washington Times, June 2, 1999).  

Elliot Abrams, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, lamented that Jewish identity seems to be based upon fear of anti-Semitism and remembrance of the Holocaust rather than on a positive and affirmative affirmation of Judaism, the religion, and said that, "I would view it as a very unfortunate refusal to change . . . I find it really bizarre, and bad for the American Jewish community to the extent that they are organized to deal with imaginary threats . . ."  

Professor Nadell said, "I just don’t get it. Anti-Semitism is so negligible (now) as to not be a significant threat."  

Concerning Holocaust remembrance, she said, "I don’t think it’s healthy. Jews can’t hang their identity on that forever."  

With regard to the fact that only 3 percent of respondents believed that support for Israel was an essential part of their Jewish identity, The Washington Jewish Week noted that, "This statistic seems to highlight what many Jews have been whispering about for quite awhile — the ties between the Jewish state and Diaspora Jews are fraying."  

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