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70 Years of Israel-Diaspora Relations: The Next Generation

BASIC DATA ON THE DIALOGUE

Participants in the Dialogue:
Number of groups: 33
Number of participants: 675
Groups moderated by the Institute: 27
Groups moderated by the communities: 6

This special JPPI report is based on discussions held throughout the Jewish world. It is also based on extensive data collection, and makes use of an abundance of research studies, documents, books, and articles published in the past. Comments on some of the background materials we utilized appear in the references. Additional research was used mainly to strengthen our understanding of the background of the discussion topics, while the seminars enabled us to learn first hand the positions of the Jewish leaders, professionals, philanthropists, activists, and other Jews involved in the community. Discussions were held between November 2017 and March 2018.

Alongside the discussion groups, all Dialogue participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire enables us to obtain additional and focused information on the approach of the participants and allows a more accurate and detailed picture to be presented of the groups participating in the process (such as the participant age, religious affiliation, and the number of times they have visited Israel). These data are also used in comparing the participants in this year’s Dialogue and participants in previous JPPI Dialogues, and describing the Jewish population in general, by comparing the data of all the studies. Given the subject of the Dialogue this year – an attempt to outline the way forward in Israel-Diaspora relations – a greater number of Israelis, almost all of them young people, participated in the process than in the past. We also sought out and included more groups of young Diaspora Jews.

Naturally, the conclusions arising from the seminars, the survey, and the background materials are liable to meet reservations and criticisms, and we cannot present them without calling attention to a number of factors, that will explain the context in which the seminars were held, and without clarifying what they can achieve for certain, and what they cannot.

Structure and content of the seminars:

The majority of the seminars lasted between one and a half hours and two hours. All the discussion groups included fewer than 20 participants. In communities where there were more participants, they were divided into separate discussion groups, which were documented separately. Seminars opened with the presentation of background data on Israel-Diaspora relations from before the establishment of the state to the present day, including a brief explanation of some of the subjects that have been in most dispute and have resulted in the greatest strains on the relationship. Participants were also shown a graph depicting the demographic development of Diaspora communities in comparison with Israel.

After a brief presentation of the background material, and before the discussions started, participants were asked to fill out the survey questionnaire. Then the seminars continued to the main subject – a number of test cases were presented for practical and more detailed discussion. Among other things, participants were asked to help us fill out a table of Israeli “duties” with respect to the Diaspora and of the Diaspora duties with respect to Israel. Participants were also challenged with a number of test cases – what Israel should do in the case of rising anti-Semitism in the Diaspora, what Diaspora Jews should do in the case of a Hezbollah attack on Israel, what would the right response be when there is a disagreement such as that over the Western Wall, or when Israel identifies worrying demographic trends in the Diaspora, and so on.

Participants were asked to express their opinions with regard to these subjects in connection with specific tasks, for which they were given information and examples of specific implications of different responses to these questions.

Bias in favor of the core population of the Jewish community:

An understanding of the process, its advantages and its limitations, necessitates first noting that the process relies on the local communities (and local organizations). Each community was responsible for enlisting the participants the seminar groups. Accordingly, there are significant differences in the composition and size of the groups between the different communities. However, one thing is common to them all: the established community – usually the federation, but sometimes also other organizations, and this year also quite a number of Israeli emissaries – was the organizing body that assembled the participants. In many cases the convening body reported on the discussions and their findings to JPPI. Because we rely on reports from the seminars in all the communities, it is important to recognize that these reports reflect the attitudes of Jews connected to the organized Jewish community, often the attitudes of Jews in different positions of communal leadership. They do not accurately reflect the positions of Jews whose connection to established Jewish life is weak or non-existent. We know from previous studies that affiliated members of a community attribute greater importance to their Jewish identity, are more active both in their personal Jewish life, and as members of the community, are more connected to Israel, and in certain cases also tend to be less liberal than other Jewish groups. The information we have collected indicates, for example, that the Dialogue participants tend to visit Israel much more frequently than “the average Jew” (see data below). Naturally, these characteristics are likely to affect the attitudes of Dialogue participants.

This year, a relatively large number of participants from Israel were included, as well as from the U.S., Australia, and some European countries. Below is the breakdown of participants by geographic region:

DIASPORA PARTICIPANTS

In analyzing the data, we divided the participants from the Diaspora into two main groups: participants over the age of 30, and those who are under the age of 30 – a large number of them took part in the framework of specific groups of young people (in particular in a number of universities). Of all the participants in the Diaspora, % were under 30, and the rest (%) were over 30. The following graphs present a few more characteristics of the participants, divided by age:

By political breakdown, Diaspora Jews in the Dialogue clearly tended to the left, as can also be seen in the data of many other surveys. The young participants have a slightly greater tendency to the left than the older participants in the Dialogue.

When examining these data as compared to general surveys on the political position of American Jews – who make up the major Jewish community of the Diaspora – it can be seen that the Dialogue participants, at least in the U.S., are not very different in their political leanings from the overall Jewish population as sampled by the Pew Research Center in 2013.

In a separate examination of the Dialogue participants from the U.S. by age against parallel data on all American Jews, once again it can be seen that there is no significant difference in the political derivation between the Dialogue participants and the general Jewish population.

The breakdown of Diaspora Jews participating in the Dialogue by religious stream emphasizes the Conservative stream as against its relative weight in the Jewish population. In addition, significant gaps can be identified between young and older Dialogue participants, with a much stronger tendency among the young people not to be affiliated with any stream – a situation that exists not only among the Dialogue participants but also among the general population of Jews around the world. Around one-third of the participants under the age of 30 do not identify with any stream, and call themselves secular, compared with a much smaller percentage (6%) among the older participants.

As can be seen from a comparison of the different Dialogues to date, and the comprehensive Pew survey of American Jews in 2013, this year too, as in previous years, Jews who are not affiliated with any stream are underrepresented in the Dialogue (this is not surprising, since they tend to be less involved in Jewish activity and contacts with the Jewish community, and therefore their tendency to come to Dialogue meetings will be relatively low). On the other hand, representation of Conservative Jews in the Dialogue is very high by comparison with their representation in the overall Jewish-American population. This year a certain increase can also be seen in the representation of the number of Orthodox Jews in the United States relative to Dialogues in previous years.

VISITS TO ISRAEL

One of the main characteristics differentiating the Diaspora Dialogue participants from Diaspora Jewry in general is the considerably greater number of them who have visited Israel, usually many times, and some have even lived in Israel. Therefore, it may be assumed that the groups taking part in the discussions exhibited a certain bias on the subject of Israel, especially in a Dialogue whose main objective was to discuss relations between Israel and the Diaspora. Around a quarter of all Dialogue participants had visited Israel more than 10 times, only 2% had never visited Israel, and only 10% had only visited once.

These data on the number of visits to Israel are significantly higher in comparison to the rest of the Jewish population. They are very similar to the data of previous Dialogues, where participants were also mainly Jews who had visited Israel, usually many times – many of them because of the fact that they served in communal leadership roles and were very involved in their communities.

In a comparison of the data on the number of visits to Israel by age, significant gaps can be seen between the group of young people in the Diaspora and the group of older people. This should not come as a great surprise, among other reasons because the young people have had fewer years in which to visit Israel. It, therefore, is to be expected that even if the young people have a basic interest in visiting Israel, the number of trips they have taken to date will almost certainly be fewer than their older counterparts. It is worth mentioning the fact that even among young participants, only 2% have never visited Israel, and almost 90% of them have visited Israel more than once. According to Pew Research Center data on U.S. Jews, more than half (56%) of young people aged 18 to 29 have not visited Israel – so relative to this group, it is clear that the Dialogue participants have a more active and closer familiarity with Israel than many of their generation of Jews. It should be noted that the Pew data relate to the Jews of the United States. There are communities in which the number of visits to Israel is higher. A study of Australian Jews by the University of Monash found that 86% of the respondents had visited Israel, where 50% of the respondents from Melbourne and 45% of the respondents from Sydney had visited three times or more.

ISRAEL PARTICIPANTS

Among the Israeli participants in this year’s Dialogue, some 160 in number, a large majority were under 30 – and, in fact, a considerable number of them were under 20 years old, that is, young people about to be conscripted. These Israelis were mostly in preparatory course frameworks (mechinot), some of which emphasize the partnership between Israeli and Diaspora Jews. This means that a priori the Israeli participants had a significantly greater interest in Diaspora Jewry than that of young Israelis in general.

A small majority of Israeli participants were female (56%). About half of the Israelis defined themselves as secular (or used another definition that can be included under the umbrella of “secular”). About one-third defined themselves as religious. The lack of young Haredi was conspicuous in the Dialogue – a significant group among all Jews in Israel (Haredi Jews in total constitute 10% of the Israel’s Jewish population, but among young people, their number is greater).

According to political segmentation, Dialogue participants do not exactly represent Israel’s Jewish population and lean somewhat to the left. The gap is notable mainly in the percentage of Israeli participants defining themselves as left-center, which is considerably higher than that of Israeli society in general. The absence of Haredi youth in the Dialogue process surely had a certain effect on this political breakdown, as well as the choice (which was to considerable degree by chance, according to the response of different institutions) of mechinot where the political leanings of those who join them do not necessarily reflect those of general Israeli society (it can be assumed that the population of mechinot, other than religious mechinot, has more of a left-leaning slant than the overall Israeli society). The graph below shows the data of the Dialogue survey by political orientation, as against JPPI’s 2018 Pluralism Survey, which is an opinion poll representing Israeli society carried out by Panels Politics Institute’s pollster Menachem Lazar.

THE QUESTION OF PEACE: COMPARISON WITH PREVIOUS YEARS

This is the fourth consecutive year that we have asked the same question with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in order to obtain an idea about the political affinities of Dialogue participants. The question – “In your opinion, is the current Israeli government making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians?” – is presented in several other surveys. In this way we can show the way in which the answers of the Dialogue participants change from year to year, and also compare the composition of the Dialogue participants with that of Jewish groups in other surveys.

The following diagram compares the four Dialogue surveys with two other surveys asking the same question: one survey of American Jews by the Pew Research Center (from 2013), and the second, a survey of American Jews by the Jewish Journal (from 2015). Of course, these surveys are not really comparable in scientific terms. JPPI included participants from all around the world, while the Pew Research Center and the Jewish Journal surveys are a statistical representation of American Jewry. In addition, the surveys were carried out in different years, and the circumstances relating to the Israeli-Palestinian issue are not the same each year. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that it is possible to see a degree of uniformity in the results obtained. First of all, it is clear that the majority of the Jews have doubts with regard to whether Israel’s efforts are sincere. In addition, it seems that the skepticism of the Jews is increasing. As can be seen, the fact that the Jewish People Policy Institute’s Dialogue includes people who are very connected to Israel and have visited many times does not make this question about the degree of sincerity of Israel’s efforts less interesting.

This year’s Dialogue included a greater number of Israelis than in previous years, and therefore it is possible to present a more intriguing examination of the disparity between what the Israeli Dialogue participants think about Israel’s sincerity in achieving peace with the Palestinians and what the Diaspora participants think. In addition, the relatively large number of young survey respondents enable a comparison to be made between older and younger Jews (in the Diaspora; in Israel almost all the Dialogue participants were young). As can be seen, there are gaps, where the hierarchy is: older Diaspora Jews have slightly more faith in Israel, younger Israelis slightly less, and young Jews in the Diaspora least of all. It should be said that the data presented here with regard to the Israeli participants are not significantly different from the data from surveys with the statistical validity to represent the entire Jewish population of Israel.72

This document does not deal individually with questions relating to the political process and the way Diaspora Jews understand Israel’s position on this issue. At the same time, it should be said that this issue was brought up repeatedly by the participants themselves in many of the discussions, usually in connection with a subject that does not bring Israel and the Diaspora closer together but creates distance between them. The data presented here, which show how Israel appears in the eyes of those who define themselves as friends, and who visit frequently, should be cause for concern. It is possible to argue over the question of whether Israel is indeed sincere in its efforts to achieve peace – but it is hard to argue with clear evidence of the fact that the Jews themselves do not express any great faith in these efforts.

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