The depth and quality of relations between Israeli and Diaspora Jews are perennially on the public agenda. The new Pew report, Jewish Americans in 2020, provides insight into our current point in time. It allows us to examine whether and how relations between the two largest Jewish communities – in Israel and the United States – are in a state of flux.
The most notable difference between the current Pew data and past data from various surveys relates to whether caring about Israel is central to Jewish identity. According to Pew’s new data, eight out of ten Jews say caring about Israel is an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them. These numbers are much higher than we saw in Pew’s 2013 data, and as we can see in Figure 1, they are also higher than AJC data from the last decade.
Figure 1: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew” (Cross-section from selected Surveys)
AJC’s 2020 Survey of American Jewish Opinion asked, “How important is being connected with Israel to your Jewish identity?” Fifty-nine percent of respondents said that it is important (29% said very important, and 30% said somewhat important; 24% referred to it as not too important, and 17% as not at all important). The current Pew data is inconsistent with its own data from 2013 as well as data collected by AJC over the last decade. These gaps suggest that the high numbers in Pew’s current data are probably not due to better relations between the two communities but rather the result of a technical matter, such as how the the questions and possible answers were phrased or methodological issues.
Unlike the question regarding Israel and the Jewish identity, data regarding attachment to Israel were significantly lower compared to surveys conducted eight or more years ago. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents in the new Pew report said they are either very emotionally attached (25%) or somewhat emotionally attached (32%) to the State of Israel. These results are much lower than in the 2013 Pew study, which found that 69% were very (30%) or somewhat (39%) emotionally attached to Israel. A similar question was asked in the 2000-2005 AJC surveys. The respondents back then felt more connected to Israel: 74.3% (in 2000) and 76% (in 2005) said that they felt close or attached to Israel.
In the new Pew report, as in many other Jewish Diaspora surveys, age, religiosity, and political affiliation affected the sense of closeness to Israel. Interestingly, although we know that the younger age cohort reported a weaker sense of closeness in almost every question regarding Israel, the older age cohort had the most significant decline (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Percentage attesting that they feel close to Israel, by age cohort
American Jews are more distanced from Israel than other Diaspora Jews. The 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada found that 79% of Candian Jews are very emotionally attached to Israel (48%) or somewhat attached (31%). And according to FRA surveys in Europe, 69% of European Jews feel strongly attached to Israel.
Pew’s question regarding travel to Israel doesn’t provide us with new insights: 45% of U.S. Jewish adults have been to Israel at least once (19% have visited once and 26% have visited multiple times or have lived in Israel). These results are similar to those of other surveys. It is important to highlight that although the percentage in the Pew study is slightly higher than any previous studies, U.S. Jews are still behind most other Diasporas Jews, as can be seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Traveled to Israel at least once
The Pew study includes the distinct category “Jews of no religion” (those who said they presently have no religion but who consider themselves Jewish aside from religion and have at least one Jewish parent or were raised Jewish). We can see that this distinction provides us with more profound insights. When religious identity is weak, the connection to Israel is weak as well — in almost every aspect.
 This question was phrased differently this year, therefore we can’t compare it and offer trends and changes from previous years.