2021 Annual Assessment

Key Points

  • Processes related to the Covid-19 pandemic, social and cultural developments, Israeli policy, and political polarization are driving an upsurge in antisemitism around the world.
  • The pandemic caused the Jewish world to move online in many spheres – a situation that could have a major impact on Jewish communal life and culture.
  • There is a new Israeli government based on a very small Knesset majority, trying to survive through constant compromise between the different elements of the coalition characterized by large ideological rifts.
  • The American Jewish community continues to grow, and is becoming more culturally, ethnically, and ideologically diverse, with fewer commonalities between its subsectors.
  • There is a widening ideological and attitudinal gap within the younger generation of American Jews between the growing population of “Jews of no religion” and the growing population of Orthodox Jews, with a concomitant decline in Jews’ sense of attachment to Israel.

Introduction


This year’s JPPI Annual Assessment considers myriad trends in many different areas of life, all of which have an impact, whether primary or secondary, on the Jewish people. The COVID-19 pandemic, the potential consequences of which were explored at length in last year’s Assessment, remains a global reality, and as such affects the Jewish people. Some measure of clarity has been achieved on a number of levels with regard to those consequences, but there is no real certainty about whether humanity is on the way to getting the virus under control. Uncertainty still surrounds the pandemic’s long-term impacts on the global economy, employment and education patterns, the healthcare system and medical research, fertility and migration, and culture and tradition.

A number of developments in other spheres with implications for the Jewish people reflected continuity no less than change this year. In Israel, a prolonged political crisis led to a fourth round of elections within two years. These elections demonstrated, to a large extent, that the conflicting priorities of Israel’s various ideological and political camps make it very hard to form stable coalitions under widely acceptable leadership. However, the end result of the complex negotiation process was a change of government, and a ruling coalition based on a small Knesset majority whose members are ideologically polarized but determined, at this stage, to bridge the gaps and sustain a pragmatic and stable government. This government includes, for the first time in Israeli history, an Islamic-Arab party that has de facto decision-making power like any other party in the coalition.

Another round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza ended quickly but revealed cracks in Jewish-Arab relations within Israel, as well as Israel’s problematic standing in public opinion around the world and among certain groups in the United States. The confrontation ignited a wave of antisemitic rhetoric and actions in many countries, including against American Jews with greater intensity than in previous years.1 In Europe, various processes – themselves continuations of trends observed in the last decade – continued to push Europe’s Jewish minority into a state of isolation and seclusion.

One development that sharpens earlier trends was noted in a new Pew Research Center survey of Jewish Americans – the largest Jewish community outside Israel. New data released by Pew indicate that the American Jewish community has grown, even if there is debate over the reasons for the growth and the rate of growth. The debate is rooted in a more substantive discussion about who should be included in the community and considered, or counted as “Jewish.”2

Along with this growth trend, the community is becoming more polarized, and it has become difficult for some elements to see themselves as sharing a fate with other Jews.

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