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Israel’s 51-Year Occupation and Growing Intolerance Is Widening Division with American Jews

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2018

An opinion poll published in June shows deep divisions between Israelis and American Jews. The survey of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found that 11% of Israelis approved of President Donald Trump’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, while only 34% of American Jews did. Eighty five per cent of Israelis supported the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, upending decades of U.S. foreign policy and an international consensus that the city’s status should be decided through peace negotiations. Only 46% of American Jews supported the move.  
The poll also found that 58% of American Jews favor the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but only 44% of Israelis supported the idea. The two communities also differ sharply 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, the more liberal streams of Judaism. In Israel, Reform and Conservative rabbis cannot perform weddings, preside over funerals or conduct conversions. American Jews overwhelm­ingly support religious freedom and separation of religion and state. Israel, quite to the contrary, is a theocracy. There is no such thing as civil marriage. If a Jew and non-Jew wish to marry, they must leave the country to do so. On one of the most contentious issues, regarding mixed-gender prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, 73% of American Jews expressed support, compared with just 42% of Israelis.  
Asked to choose a familial metaphor to describe how close they feel to each other, 31% of the Americans and 22% of the Israelis went so far as to respond “not part of my family” about the other. Only 28% of the Israelis consider American Jews “siblings” — and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way.  
Writing in The Jerusalem Post (Inter­national edition, June 12-21, 2018), Lawrence Grossman, the AJC’s director of publications, notes that, “The message of the AJC survey is clear … If the concept of a global Jewish community … is to retain any meaning, each of the two major components must develop a greater appreciation for the priorities and needs of the other. If not, the next AJC survey will find even more American and Israeli Jews writing off those in the other country as ‘not part of my family!”  
In another recent survey, only a minority of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians. When 18-34 year olds were asked if they were “very attached” to Israel, only 11% said yes, compared to 45% of those 50 and older. Only 40% of the young said they were “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.”  
Part of the reason for this alienation is Israel’s retreat from democr­atic values, its 5l-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and intolerance and racism which is growing in the Israeli society.  
Young people feel uncomfortable with the idea of a “Jewish state,” argues Professor Steven Cohen of the Hebrew Union College, who conducted some of the recent surveys, because they have an aversion to “hard group boundaries.” and the notion that “there is a distinction between Jews and everyone else.” Other polls, he reports, show that among younger non-Orthodox Jews, only 30% think that “caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish.”  
According to Cohen, “What we are seeing is that younger Jews are moving towards a more neutral position regarding Israel … They are more spiritual and less ethnic. Amd Israel falls into the ethnic compartment … Israeli policies are far more appealing to political conservatives and more alienating to political liberals.”•  

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.