In the space of a year, following the murderous attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and in Poway, a suburb of San Diego, the American Jewish community entered a new state of consciousness. These two incidents, the first of which was the most serious act of aggression ever perpetrated on a US Jewish institution, as well as an overall uptick in attacks on Jews (online insults, public statements, physical harassment, and the like), have had a real impact on American Jews’ sense of security – as can be seen in the Integrated Anti-Semitism Index in this report. As the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) annual survey (conducted between April 10 and May 7, 2019) showed, nearly two-thirds of American Jews now feel that the status of the Jews is less secure than it was a year ago (65 percent). Last year as well (2018), a majority of American Jews (55 percent) said that the status of Jews in the United States was less secure than it had been the previous year.
Debate within the community has erupted over the causes and effects of this state of affairs, with many Jews looking to the political arena, President Donald Trump’s administration in particular.
These Jews, who constitute the majority according to the Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI), feel that the president bears at least “some responsibility” for the synagogue attacks. JEI’s poll also looked at what Jews think should be done to fight anti-Semitism and found that most believe the solution lies in political action. “Help people get elected with the right values” was the most commonly-chosen response (43 percent), followed by “Work to get Donald Trump out” (39 percent), and “Press Democrats to condemn anti-Semitism” (31 percent). Interestingly, compared with the political options offered, practical solutions on other planes received much less support. US Jewry has relatively little trust in “armed security” (12 percent), or in the idea of becoming more involved in “Jewish social action groups” (12 percent), or in synagogues (4 percent). These findings indicate the degree to which American Jews are directing their concerns about rising anti-Semitism toward the political arena. They also show that there is no data to support the idea that the anti-Semitic upsurge will cause more Jews to strengthen their ties to the Jewish community.
Next year is a US election year, and it already appears that topics of concern to the Jewish community, directly or indirectly, will be playing a major role in the elections. These topics include attitudes toward Israel, its policies and elected government, and responsibility for manifestations of anti-Semitism. The political left (i.e., most Jews) lays the blame on President Trump, but the right points an accusatory finger at the radical left, and even at elected officials, whose attitude toward Jews is unsympathetic, to say the least. These groups and leaders often focus on Jews’ identification or relationship with the State of Israel, aiming to undermine the legitimacy and status of the American Jewish community. Among other things, they argue that so long as Jews support Israel (the prevailing opinion within these circles is that Israel’s actions, and for some, its very existence are illegitimate), the American Jewish community is, by extension, complicit.
It must nevertheless be noted that, as we saw in earlier rounds of elections, most American Jewish voters do not place specifically-Jewish issues nor Israel at the top of their voting agendas. Though most US Jews agree that “caring about Israel” is a “very important part” of being a Jew (62 percent, in the AJC’s 2019 Survey of American Jewish Opinion), a majority rank Israel relatively low on their scale of political priorities. The issues of greatest importance to US Jews are health insurance and Social Security, gun control legislation, and efforts to counter the radical right, white supremacy, and terrorism. Still, it should be noted that about two-thirds (65 percent) of American Jews say that candidate positions on Israel affect their voting choices. That is, even if Israel is not a high-priority issue for them, pro-Israel attitudes nevertheless carry weight in American Jews’ voting decisions.
US Jews were less concerned this year – at least, they were less publicly and less intensively preoccupied – with issues unrelated to anti-Semitism or politics. Major trends regarding identity and demographics remained unchanged, as shown in the AJC survey. The AJC survey also provided data on respondents’ personal status. Nearly half (45 percent) were unmarried. And of those who were married, only two-thirds (34 percent of the total) were married to Jews, while the rest (20 percent) were married to non-Jews. This picture is consistent with the trend identified a few years ago in several different studies, including one published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (Cohen and Fishman). These studies pointed to demographic erosion due not only to mixed marriages, but also, and perhaps primarily, to a paucity of families and children in some Jewish communities.