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2019 Annual Assessment

The depth and quality of relations between Israeli and Diaspora Jews are perennially on the public agenda. The Kotel compromise and Israel’s conversion and nation-state laws are just some of the topics that have sparked controversy and fueled fiery debate. Many articles have been devoted to the issue of Israel-Diaspora relations, and JPPI has also addressed it on numerous occasions.1 This paper examines trends and data with the aim of delineating the current status of these relations.

When the findings of many relevant surveys are taken together, a number of issues of importance to Israeli and Diaspora decision-makers surface:

  1. The Integrated Index suggests that Israel-Diaspora relations are eroding. This trend is particularly evident in the younger generation, and among those groups that are less attached to Jewish (religious) identity.
  2. US Jews, in most instances, occupy the lowest rung of the ties-to-Israel scale. They rank low on their sense of attachment to Israel; on their sense that caring about Israel is an essential part of being Jewish; on thinking about the future of the relationship; and on the percentage who visit Israel.
  3. Signs of erosion in Israel-Diaspora relations can also be discerned in communities outside the United States. For example, there has been a significant decline in agreement with the statement that caring about Israel is an essential part of being a Jew. Data from France is particularly worrisome. French Jewry’s ties to Israel were once considered among the strongest in the Diaspora. However, although the percentage of French Jews that think relations with Israel will strengthen in the future is substantially higher than among US Jews, it is also true that an equal percentage of French Jews think the relationship will weaken. This data may be rooted in demographic changes underway in France, and in the fact that many of the Jews who had felt committed to Israel relocated there (27,542 French Jews immigrated to Israel between 2012 and 2018).2
  4. Unlike the objective indicator of Israel visits (excluding the US, which shows no significant change in trend), there has been a slight increase in the number of Diaspora Jews who have visited Israel at least once.
  5. Jews in Israel are optimistic about the relationship, compared with their Diaspora counterparts. However, they have an understanding (if partial) that Israel has to make active efforts and invest resources in strengthening ties with the Diaspora.

The Challenge

Despite the extensive discussion and the many studies that have been devoted to the topic, producing an index that would allow one to form a broad view of the state of Israel-Diaspora relations poses a challenge in several respects:

  1. Many of the surveys conducted focus on specific target samples, usually respondents in a particular country or region. Few surveys have provided uniform coverage of different parts of the world.
  2. Some of the surveys do not represent the entire Jewish population but are limited to those who agreed to take part in the surveys. Therefore, respondents are usually more attached to the Jewish world, to the Jewish community, and to Israel.
  3. Most of the surveys were not conducted on a regular, annual basis. Some were conducted once every few years, others on specific occasions. An exception is the AJC survey, which provides nearly 20 years of survey continuity.
  4. Question wording is not uniform across surveys, which makes comparison difficult.
  5. Many of the studies are based on surveys examining subjective feelings that can vary depending on the events respondents can access through memory, the manner in which respondents are contacted/addressed, and other environmental factors.

Notwithstanding these reservations, we contend that by gathering the data and presenting the findings side by side, we can provide a needed service to decision-makers and policy professionals.

Integrated Index of Israel-Diaspora Relations

Like the Integrated Anti-Semitism Index JPPI has been publishing in recent years, we are offering, for the first time, an Integrated Index of Israel-Diaspora relations. The Index is based on four main questions pertaining to different relational indicators. Together, they form a broad picture of the current state of affairs. Because most existing studies offer the limited perspectives of specific populations or points in time, integrating the data allows one to make cautious comparisons and to try to identify long-term trends. In the Index, a question that directly measures respondents’ sense of attachment (emotional connection) is complemented by a question that looks at the sense of attachment as part of one’s Jewish identity (“caring about Israel is an essential part of being a Jew”). A question examining what respondents think about the future of Israel-Diaspora ties is offset by a question that provides an objective, rather than a subjective, indicator of attachment, i.e., familiarity with “the other” (number of visits to Israel). We believe that displaying the responses side by side makes it easier to understand the data in greater depth.

The Integrated Index relies on major surveys, as well as a few secondary surveys. The major surveys are:

  • American Jewish Committee (AJC) surveys (2000-2019) – a broad status report on US Jewry. In 2019 the survey also covered French and Israeli Jewry.
  • European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) surveys in cooperation with the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) – a status report on European Jewry. The JPR report relies on 2012 FRA data. The sample includes 5,919 Jewish respondents ages 16 and over in nine European countries. The report covers eight countries: Hungary, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Latvia.
  • The second FRA report is Young Jewish Europeans: perceptions and experiences of antisemitism. The study included 16,395 respondents ages 16 and over who self-define as Jews from 12 European Union countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The survey was also administered in Latvia, but due to problems with the data, the findings for Latvia were not included in the study.
    Gen08 and Gen17 – status reports on Australian Jewry. The Gen project is a collaboration between the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) and Monash University researchers.

    • The Gen08 project included 5,100 participants from Sydney and Melbourne, ages 18 and over.
    • The Gen17 project included 8,047 participants from Sydney and Melbourne, ages 18 and over.
  • Survey of Jews in Canada – the Canadian survey was conducted in 2018 by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in cooperation with researchers from the University of Toronto and York University. It included 2,335 participants (half from Toronto, the rest from Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver) ages 18 and over.

In addition, as noted, we drew on several other surveys that enabled us to complete the picture, especially with regard to Israel –

  • The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) 2014 survey on Israeli Views of Diaspora Jewry.
  • The Ruderman Family Foundation poll of 2018.

JPPI’s survey conducted as part of its 2018 Structured Jewish World Dialogue project was extensively consulted. We do not use this survey on its own, as most of its participants have ties to Israel and it does not, therefore, offer a representative picture. However, because of its broad scope, in terms of the number of participants and their geographic distribution (it is the only survey that includes participants from the US, a variety of European countries, and Israel), and due to the way it was organized, it allows us to present a kind of expert panel that serves as a reference point. A number of other JPPI surveys, including its Israeli Judaism and Pluralism surveys, also provide us with reference points.

Next are the questions and their findings.

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