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Poll Shows Attachment of American Jews to Israel Has Fallen in Past Two Years

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March - April 2005

The attachment of American Jews to Israel has weakened measurably in the last two years, a recent survey demonstrates, “continuing a long-term trend visible during the past decade and a half,” writes Professor Steven M. Cohen of the Melton Center for Jewish Education of Hebrew University in The Forward (March 4, 2005).  

The survey was sponsored by the Jewish-Zionist Education Department of the Jewish Agency for Israel between Dec. 14, 2004 and Jan. 15, 2005 and included a representative sample of American Jewish households.  

According to Cohen, “The weakening is apparent in almost every measure of Jewish connection to Israel except for interest in travel to Israel ... Respondents were less likely than in comparable earlier surveys to say they care about Israel, talk about Israel with others or engage in a range of pro-Israel activities. Strikingly, there was no parallel decline in other measures of Jewish identification, including religious observance and communal affiliation.”  

The survey found 26 percent who said they were “very” emotionally attached to Israel, compared with 31 percent who said so in a similar survey conducted in 2002. Some two-thirds, 65 percent, said they follow the news about Israel closely, down from 74% in 2002, while 39 percent said they talk about Israel frequently with Jewish friends, down from 53 percent in 2002. Those who talk about Israel frequently with non-Jewish friends dropped to 23 percent this year from 33 percent in 2002.  

Israel also declined as a component in the respondents’ personal Jewish identity. When offered a selection of factors, including religion, community and social justice, as well as “caring about Israel,” and asked, “For you personally, how much does being Jewish involve each?” 48 percent said Israel mattered “a lot,” compared with 58 percent in 2002.  

Cohen notes that, “The drop from 1989 appears consistent with a widely noted, long-term generational decline in attachment to Israel. However, generational change is unlikely to explain the dramatic shift during the last two years, which appears to reflect responses to current events in the Middle East. Tellingly, as many as 37 percent agreed that they were ‘often disturbed by Israel’s policies and actions,’ while another 30 percent were not sure. Just 33 percent said they disagreed, 4 percent of them ‘strongly.’ ... More than two-thirds said they are at least sometimes ‘disturbed’ by Israel’s policies or actions, and nearly as many said they are ‘confused.’ Almost half said they are at least sometimes ‘ashamed,’ and fully 39 percent said they are at least sometimes ‘alienated’ by Israel.  

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