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Jewish Values and Israel’s Use of Force in Armed Conflict: Perspectives from World Jewry


This is the second year the Jewish People Policy Institute has led a structured Dialogue process in Jewish communities throughout the world on topics of significance and influence on all Jews. Last year, in the framework of an Israel Ministry of Justice process and several legislative proposals, the Dialogue was conducted on the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel. Professor Ruth Gavison, who prepared recommendations for the Justice Minister, asked the Institute to examine Diaspora Jews’ attitudes toward Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and the implications of the legislative initiatives on their lives abroad.

This year’s Dialogue was conducted under the broader umbrella of the Institute’s Pluralism and Democracy Project, supported by the William Davidson Foundation.1 Following Operation Protective Edge, and in parallel with a similar project requested by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we decided to focus in 2015 on one of the more sensitive subjects in the Jewish Diaspora discourse: Jewish Values and Israel’s Use of Force in Armed Conflicts.

As in the previous year, JPPI conducted more than 40 seminars in Jewish communities around the world – from Melbourne and Sydney in Australia; through Johannesburg in South Africa; Paris and London in Europe; from New York, Washington DC and Atlanta on the East coast of the US and through Dallas in the South and Los Angeles in the West; from Chicago and Cleveland in the Midwest; and Toronto, Canada to the North through Sao Paolo, Brazil in South America.

The State of Israel was established as the core state of the Jewish people. Unlike other countries, Israel carries the responsibility not just of its citizens without regard to differences in religion or race, but it also shoulders the heavy onus for the future and security of the entire Jewish people. The Jewish communities provide Israel not only a first line of support, they are a strategic asset. This is at the foundation of Israel’s raison d’etre, which is expressed in conferring citizenship to all Jews.

Most Diaspora Jews, who are loyal to their countries and local communities, feel a special closeness and common destiny with the Jewish state. They were involved in its establishment not only through political lobbying and financial support. Many volunteered or encouraged their children to volunteer for the IDF and assisted in its wars of defense and survival. A significant part of World Jewry feels that through the State of Israel they are partnering in the principle of Arevut Hadadit – Mutual Commitment among all Jews.

Over the years, there has been no small number of disagreements between Jews in Israel and throughout the world. Such differences have occurred with respect to religion and the recognition of various religious streams; the question “Who is a Jew?”; on ideological issues around the Jewish character of the state; on questions of the treatment of minorities; and on political decisions regarding the contours of its borders. The Six-Day War was a source of inspiration for many and led to a large increase in Jewish pride and Aliyah, but it has also led to some ideological distance regarding its rule over the lives of another people.

The eternal connection between Israel and all Jews demands constant dialogue. This dialogue has been hampered in real and ongoing ways due to ingrained differences between the communities. Israeli Jews live under a sovereign government based on a democratic majority and subject to political structure, while world Jewry is organized through voluntary frameworks in their countries or communities. At times, this gap has led to communication difficulties, as well as to each side patronizing the other.

JPPI took upon itself a heavy and vital mission: to assist in structuring a dialogue and encouraging better mutual understanding of the aspirations, constraints, challenges and opportunities that stand before the communities and before Israel. We try to contribute to deepening the connection and helping to bridge disagreements as they arise.

Many Diaspora Jews feel that Israeli decisions affect their lives in their own countries in many ways: from personal security, through issues of identity and religion, and their broader relations with the non-Jewish world. They understand that Israel must make decisions that affect its own future and destiny. And still they expect Israeli decision-makers to understand their points of view – to listen to them, to be sensitive to their needs and relate to their realities as part of the decision-making process.

One of JPPI’s first papers was dedicated to the need to gather advance intelligence regarding the possible ramifications of Israeli actions on the security of Jews and Jewish communities abroad. This recommendation was not meant to increase the burden of ensuring the existence of the Jewish state on Israeli decision-makers, but to relate to the effects on Diaspora Jews as part of a series of considerations to assist in their security as much as possible.

The current project expands this scope significantly. It allows an integration of Diaspora feelings with dilemmas – at times existential – with which the leadership of Israel must contend.

The 2015 Dialogue, led by Shmuel Rosner and Brig. Gen. (Res.) Mike Herzog – both senior fellows at the Institute – resulted in a clear conclusion: Jews in the Diaspora appreciate the IDF’s high ethical standards during wartime and its efforts to prevent harming innocent civilians. They understand the heavy dilemmas, but many are not convinced that the State of Israel is doing enough to prevent situations that lead to violent conflict. This cannot change Israel’s “Middle East Neighborhood,” but it affords a greater mutual understanding of the constraints on both Israel and the Diaspora. I would like to express my appreciation for the efforts they invested in the project and the impressive integration gained from the summaries of these meetings under their leadership.

JPPI’s Dialogue project is still in its early stages. The lessons will be internalized and implemented in the coming year. As always, your comments are more than welcome. I wish to thank the William Davidson Foundation for their confidence and trust, and the opportunity granted us to hold this dialogue in the wider Pluralism and Democracy framework.

Special thanks go out to the Institute’s leadership as well, chief among them Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, Ambassador Dennis Ross and Mr. Leonid Nevzlin, for their guidance and support.

Avinoam Bar-Yosef

  • The Jewish People Policy Institute’s (JPPI) project investigating Diaspora positions and perspectives on Jewish values and Israel’s use of force in armed conflict concludes that the Jewish world understands the need and approves of the way Israel and the IDF use force in asymmetrical confrontations.
  • Despite this positive conclusion, many in the Jewish world are critical of particular Israeli policies that lead to the use of force. Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one.
  • A sense of crisis has emerged in many Jewish communities regarding their relationships with Israel, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to discuss Israel because of the bitter political disputes these discussions spark. This difficulty may lead to the exclusion of Israel from Diaspora community agendas, and is an obstacle to communicating Israel’s actions and policies to the Jewish public within a sympathetic communal framework.
  • There is a significant generation gap. Younger Jews have less faith in Israel and its policies, and a greater tendency to object to its actions. They are more critical of Israeli decisions and their outcomes, and more inclined to expect Israel to take Diaspora Jewry’s opinions into account.
  • World Jewry does not view “Jewish Values” as the main operative tool with which Israel should conduct its military policy; at most they consider it a general reference point, that emphasizes their demand that Israel uphold a high moral standard.
  • Diaspora Jews generally agree that Israel is in a difficult position, one that sometimes makes the use of force necessary, and they understand that the circumstances in which Israel has to fight can, at times, cause innocent civilians to be harmed. They mostly blame Israel’s enemies for this, not Israel or the IDF.
  • Their belief that the IDF has a high moral caliber is very strong. Many Diaspora Jews agree with the widespread Israeli contention that the IDF is “the world’s most moral army.”
  • Many Jews’ confidence in Israel’s desire for peace with its Palestinian neighbors has eroded, and this erosion also affects their belief in the necessity of using force. Israel needs to make an effort to persuade Diaspora Jews that it still genuinely wants peace.
  • There is a clear correspondence between the degree of confidence in Israel (whether Israel wants peace, is making an effort to find diplomatic solutions) and the depth of support when armed conflict does erupt. The lower the degree of confidence in Israel, the more deeply eroded the sense that the IDF is acting morally.
  • This correspondence between overall levels of faith in Israel and the degree to which Israel’s justifications for military action are accepted is influenced by pre-existing political views (regarding Israel). Those whose political outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in contradiction with that of the Israeli government have a stronger tendency to also cast doubt on Israel’s moral conduct in battle.

• Diaspora Jews expect Israel to abide by a particularly high moral standard in its military conduct – a higher standard than that to which the rest of the world, including the West, is held.

• The justifications for this expectation are partly ideological-moral and rooted in Jewish values – i.e., being a “light unto the nations,” the need for “tikkun olam” – and partly practical, i.e., how Israel can defuse international criticism and maintain Jewish support.

• Nevertheless, many Jews express a degree of disappointment and dismay that Israel is not managing to “win” its wars unequivocally. This conclusion expresses the inherent difficulty of asymmetric armed conflict with non-governmental forces that entrench themselves within civilian populations while targeting Israeli civilians. The more Israel uses “disproportionate” force to achieve a clear victory, the higher the risk that Israel will be accused of acting immorally.

• Many Jews around the world feel that their lives are directly affected by Israel’s actions in the security sphere. Some feel physically threatened in the wake of Israeli actions, but even those who do not may still feel that Israel’s actions affect them on many levels, from Jewish intra-communal relations to their interaction with the non-Jewish world.

• Many Jews openly express discomfort with, or only reluctantly accept, the role of Israel “ambassadors” they are forced to play, whether they want to or not.

• Within the Jewish community it is increasingly hard to talk about Israel without getting into a political dispute – leading some Diaspora Jews to conclude that it is best to keep discussions of Israel at a minimum.

• The rising prevalence of Jewish intermarriage is producing a growing number of Jews who have to talk about Israel with non-Jewish family members and don’t know how to go about it. In many instances these problems are causing people to “lower their Jewish profile” in order to avoid confrontation.

• Despite their awareness that only Israeli citizens can decide issues related to Israeli security, Diaspora Jews want to be consulted and have their opinions taken into consideration, even on these sensitive topics, as they feel that Israeli security policy directly affects their lives.

• This demand that Israel consult them is even more prevalent among younger Diaspora Jews.

• There are many other issues of concern to Diaspora Jews beside security, and they have a long litany of complaints about Israel’s behavior in areas that relate to them directly, such as conversion, the treatment of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, Chief Rabbinate policy, and the like. They are also dissatisfied with “civil rights” issues, especially those related to minorities (non-Israeli minorities, such as foreign workers; non-Jewish Israeli minorities, such as the Arabs; and minorities within the Jewish community, such as the Ethiopian community).

  • Most Jews accept Israel’s contention that it strives resolutely to uphold moral values in combat and to refrain from harming innocent civilians. It is critically important that this image be preserved, both through continued adherence to “purity-of-arms” ideals (irrespective of Diaspora Jewish attitudes), and through effective hasbara (public relations) vis-à-vis the Jewish communities. Among other things, Diaspora Jews should be apprised of the dilemmas that arise from the use of force and encouraged to discuss them in Jewish forums.
  • Israel should pay more attention to the possible effects of its security-military decisions on Diaspora Jewry. This consideration should not necessarily be dominant in all cases among other Israeli considerations, however it should be represented and expressed during decision-making processes.
  • In this context, separate and serious consideration should be given to the question of how Israel’s use of force affects relations between Diaspora Jews and the non-Jewish world. This is especially true in those communities where Jews are deeply involved with their surrounding environment. New challenges arise from the need to explain Israel to non-Jews who are part of the Jewish community (mostly non-Jewish family members).
  • Israel would do well to listen to Diaspora Jewish criticism of its hasbara efforts. Diaspora Jews who seek – and are sometimes forced – to be involved in explaining Israeli positions to the world, deserve to have their many criticisms heard by Israel. In this context, official Israeli spokespeople should take into account the impressions their statements make on Diaspora Jews.
  • The IDF’s image as a moral army is a vital asset to Israel vis-à-vis the Jewish community, one that should be cultivated and preserved. It is crucial to refrain from making statements or conveying messages that undermine this image. It is also important to ensure the quality and appropriate professional preparation of all of the frameworks that bring IDF soldiers and officers together with Diaspora Jews – whether programs such as Taglit-Birthright Israel or high-level forums in which senior officers meet with Jewish community leaders. The preparation should specifically address the Jewish viewpoint, rather than being confined to general hasbara messages.

The Jewish People Policy Institute’s 2015 Dialogue was held under the wider umbrella of its Pluralism and Democracy project, which is supported by the William Davidson Foundation. The Dialogue process encompassed unmediated study of Jewish public positions highly relevant to Israel via 40 discussion groups and seminars involving members of Jewish communities around the world.2 Questionnaires were also administered in this framework, and research on the Jewish public as a whole was analyzed – including studies on Jewish populations with thin attachments to Israel and organized Diaspora Jewish life. The findings that emerged from these activities formed the basis for an integrative concluding discussion in the form of a brainstorming conference held in Glen Cove, NY (May 18-19, 2015). Senior figures in American Jewish leadership, rabbis, intellectuals and academics took part in the conference discussions.

In 2015 the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) conducted, for a second consecutive year, a large-scale and complex dialogue involving different groups within Diaspora Jewry. The aim was to enable decision-makers in the Jewish world to assess intra-Jewish processes and trends with a deeper understanding, and to foster fruitful discussion among all Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities on the fundamental challenges facing the Jewish people. Last year’s dialogue focused on Israel’s character as a “Jewish and democratic” state (against the background of proposed legislation to enshrine Israel’s legal designation as such a state). This year’s dialogue focused on Jewish values and Israel’s use of force in armed conflict. The topic was chosen shortly after the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer (2014), and in light of the various responses the operation elicited within the Jewish world.

This year’s dialogue, as in the past, took place via structured seminars in several dozen communities around the world.3 Hundreds of participants were presented with several “test cases” typifying asymmetrical warfare scenarios, of the kind Israel has been faced with in recent decades.4 The aim was to elucidate the operational and moral dilemmas that arise in such instances. Participants dealt with questions posed in three main areas: how they understand the way in which Israel acts in wartime and what they know about Israel’s actions; how the way in which Israel uses military force squares with their understanding of “Jewish values,” and what ideological-moral standard by which they expect Israel to abide; how Israel’s actions affect their attitudes toward the country, and their own lives. In addition to taking part in the discussions, participants completed a comprehensive survey on these issues.
There is a dual working assumption behind this kind of Dialogue.

On the theoretical plane: recognition of the need for a broad-based intra-Jewish discourse on moral and ethical issues, and of the benefit that intellectual cross-pollination brings to Jewish communities and sub-groups by diversifying and enriching discussion of essential issues, such as the use of force.
On the practical plane: recognition of the possibility that instances in which Israel uses force, and Diaspora Jewry’s responses to these incidents, actively affect Israel-Diaspora relations, Israel’s status in the eyes of World Jewry, World Jewry’s status in Israel’s eyes. These two assumptions will be explored in depth in the chapter, Is Israel Willing to Take Diaspora-Jewish Opinions into Account? and in other sections of the report.

JPPI’s 2015 Dialogue was characterized by severe dissonance. On one hand, the discussions held indicate that, by and large, Jews in communities around the world understand and accept Israel’s need to use force in its dangerous and hostile surroundings, identify with the modes of action that Israel employs, accept Israel’s contention that it does its best to avoid harming civilians and to wage war as ethically as possible, agree that the criticism to which Israel’s actions are subjected in international forums and the international media are exaggerated and biased, and affirm that Israel suffers from unjustified discrimination compared to other countries.

In many of the dozens of seminar discussions, Jews used the word “we” when talking about Israel and the IDF. “We are held to a high standard”;5 “We value life”;6 “The Palestinians want fatalities, we don’t”;7 “This is war – them versus us.”8 Many participants took stands supporting decisive Israeli action when drawn into armed confrontation, and frequently made comparisons to other armies that act aggressively but are not subjected to the same criticism that the IDF is forced to counter again and again. “No one asks how many civilians were killed in the Saudi Arabian air force attacks on Yemen,” a participant in the Stamford, Connecticut dialogue noted.9 Similar remarks were made at other seminars, and many other examples are available.

On the other hand, the discussions also revealed a certain amount of distress. They called attention to a growing difficulty that many Jews have understanding Israel’s long-term policy – which they see as contributing to, if not actually creating, the need to engage in repeated violent confrontations with its neighbors. They also evinced a rising tendency among Diaspora Jews to regard their ties to Israel as a disruptive factor in their personal and communal lives. Although they are not the ones who have to fight – none of the participants was confused on that point – they, nevertheless, at times feel that they are positioned on a certain kind of frontline where they would rather not be.

Many – most – Jews still feel close to Israel, are concerned about Israel, want the best for it and to see it succeed. One cannot, however, ignore the many voices testifying to a growing difficulty in accepting the price this closeness entails. “Israel’s wars have an immediate and, usually, a negative effect on Diaspora Jewry,” concluded the summary of one of the Brazil discussions.10 The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania seminar noted that, “We are all held accountable for Israel’s actions… [There is] no separation between Zionism and Judaism; how Israel acts and negotiates peace affects all Jews.” “Whether I want to or not – I become an ambassador of Israel,” said one participant in St. Louis, Missouri.11 “It affects me at work because I work with mostly non-Jews. People come to my office and ask my opinion,”12 explained one Cleveland, Ohio participant.

Jews around the world feel that their relationship with Israel complicates their interactions with the local non-Jewish community. This feeling is particularly pronounced in places where safety is a real concern, especially when Israel is in the midst of a confrontation and tensions are on the rise – as was seen in several major European cities this past year, particularly Paris. But they also feel that way in places where there is no great fear of physical harm– just awkwardness due to the constant need to defend and apologize for Israel, and to explain Israel’s actions (which they themselves may not fully understand). They may find themselves clashing with others over Israel (on college campuses, with anti-Israel activists), or feeling embarrassed to be identified with Israel. The discussion in St. Louis concluded, succinctly, with the group’s stated belief that, “Israel’s actions and the focus on them have diminished the St. Louis Jewish community’s willingness to celebrate Israel (for example, scaled-down celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut). The group feels that the Jews want to keep their heads down.”13 Participants in the Melbourne, Australia seminar felt that, “Harassment and intimidation of Jewish/Zionist students in universities and a lack of ‘support’ and counter actions left them feeling ‘morally betrayed’ by Israel and dispirited in their Zionism and defense of Israel.”14 At one seminar, an embarrassed Jewish father related how, during a tour of colleges with his son, he had been shocked into silence by a guide who bragged about his achievements as an anti-Israel activist on campus. And he was not the only one to behave this way. At the seminar in Tenafly, New Jersey, an Israeli-born participant told how he had often “chickened out” of opportunities to defend Israel from criticism.15

Jews around the world also feel that their connection to Israel complicates things for them within their own communities. Israel, which seeks to be a unifying force for World Jewry, has become, over the years, a source of tension. “There are deep rifts between Israel and the Diaspora, especially among younger Jews,” said one participant in Cleveland. “I support Israel, but prefer not to get into arguments with others (both within and outside of the Jewish community) because it is not worth being attacked,”16 said a participant in a young-adult group. At the Glen Cove brainstorming, one participant pointed out that liberal Jews “are unhappy with Israel, ashamed.”17 Other participants mentioned the 2013 Steven Cohen and Jason Gitlin study, according to which many American community rabbis are “reluctant” to talk about Israel in their synagogues.18 The study found that a fifth of American rabbis conceal dovish positions on Israel and the Palestinians from their congregations, while a tenth conceal hawkish views. Nearly 40 percent of the rabbis prefer not to express their “real feelings” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fearing that it might “hurt” their congregants.

This sums up the situation of Jewish dissonance regarding Israel: sympathy and concern on one hand; growing internal and external discomfort on the other. This contradiction is causing quite a few dialogue participants to request, or even demand, that Israel take their opinions and feelings into account. A participant in the seminar in South Africa said, “Israel has to do what it needs to protect its citizens regardless of [the] fallout. Israel should, nevertheless, be open to hearing views of Jews in the Diaspora. Not only because unpopular Israeli policies impact negatively on Jewish communities elsewhere, but the latter are primarily motivated by a desire for Israel to do what is best for itself. And since their own wellbeing is tied up with that of Israel, their views should be taken into account.”19 In Brazil the same demand was formulated as follows: “One fundamental justification for Israel’s existence is that Judaism is clearly applied when it is necessary to take crucial decisions that involve life and security… Israel, as the Jewish state, willing or not, talks in the name of the Jewish people. Because of this, Jewish communities all over the world must be consulted as a main partner…”20

Interestingly, most specific requests for consideration were not connected to security, a sphere in which Israel enjoys the support of most dialogue participants. The requests focused, rather, on the diplomatic sphere, where many are critical of Israel – some due to political views contrary to those of the current Israeli government, and some out of an incomplete understanding of the circumstances in which Israel has to operate. And the requests focused no less on areas this year’s Dialogue did not directly address – domestic policy issues in particular (treatment of Israeli Arabs, the Bedouin, foreign workers, and the Ethiopian-Israeli community, which recently staged highly-publicized protests), as well as religion-and-state issues (the power wielded by the Chief Rabbinate, conversion, marriage, women’s status, discrimination against progressive streams). In some instances discussion participants explicitly stated that, “[N]o one expects Israel to do what we ask on an issue like Gaza, but consideration could be shown on other things that are important to us.”21

To what extent, if any, is Israel prepared to respond to this request for consideration? A separate, internal-Israeli discussion of the issue is urgently needed.

• • •

We would like to thank the many people who participated in this process, especially the community seminar organizers who took on the challenge. Although the questions posed to them were difficult and complicated, participants in all the communities strove to answer them seriously and sincerely, out of an understanding that the questions were important and that they, the participants, had a role to play in addressing them. The discussions were sometimes tense and opinions were often divided, but a great effort was made to keep a free and open exchange going, characterized by respect for differing views. The names of all of the communities and many of the discussion participants appear in Appendix D. We would also like to thank those who took part in the Jewish People Policy Institute brainstorming conference in Glen Cove, New York, which contributed greatly to further developing our thoughts on the subject of this report. Additional information on the process, its advantages and disadvantages, is available in Appendix A.

The densely-populated and complex arena in which battles are being fought (and the deep controversies over Israeli policy as a whole) make it hard for Israel to convey that its actions are justified and moral – certainly more so than those of its enemies. The operations in Gaza have exposed Israel to harsh criticism, fueled the de-legitimization campaign against Israel, and led to international investigations of its conduct.

The Dialogue on Israel’s use of force was conducted in the months following Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Israel undertook this operation in the summer of 2014 with the overall aim of keeping Hamas – the Islamic terrorist organization that controls Gaza – from carrying out acts of violence and terrorism against Israeli citizens, whether by launching rockets or infiltrating Israel via attack tunnels; it was hoped that Hamas would be deterred from such activity for as long as possible. Ever since Israel evacuated its settlements and military forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, this arena has witnessed a regular cycle of escalation and confrontation. Hamas fires rockets into Israeli population centers,22 Israel responds aggressively from the air, and, sometimes, when the rocket attacks intensify and air strikes are insufficient to halt them, IDF ground forces enter Gaza. The outcome is turmoil and a frustrating cycle of violence.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has launched three major operations against the terrorist organizations there – in 2008-09 (Operation Cast Lead), in 2012 (Operation Pillar of Defense), and in 2014 (Operation Protective Edge). In each of these operations Gaza – and its inhabitants – suffered much greater damage than did Israel.23 These Gaza confrontations throw into sharp relief24 the inherent problems of what is referred to as “asymmetrical warfare,” “low-intensity warfare,” or “warfare in densely-populated areas.”25 This kind of warfare presents the engaged military force with both operative and moral-ethical challenges (sometimes framed as “legal” issues).26 And in recent decades this has been the main form of warfare in which Israel has been obliged to engage. The days when Israel fought the regular armies of enemy states have long passed; the country is now drawn into campaigns of a different, complicated and nebulous nature. The actors involved are not sovereign countries, and they alternately employ tactics of terrorism and military engagement. These forces – Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon – have large missile reserves, mainly target Israeli civilians, and base themselves in civilian population hubs, where there is a ready supply of “human shields” in the face of military retaliation. The fact that civilians on both sides are exposed to harm highlights dilemmas that, from Israel’s point of view, are hard to resolve. Continuous rocket fire on Israel’s civilian population is what drove Israel to send ground forces into Gaza in summer 2014 – where nearly any measure taken by Israel entailed a balancing act between military-operational needs and the fear of harming unarmed and, in many cases, innocent civilians.

The densely-populated and complex combat arena (and the deep disagreements about general Israeli policy on the Palestinian issue) make it difficult for Israel to present a clear picture of the situation, one that shows Israel’s actions to be justified and moral, particularly in comparison to its enemies. The Gaza operations have exposed Israel to harsh criticism on the part of foreign governments and international organizations. They have fueled the de-legitimization campaign against Israel and led to international investigations of Israel’s conduct. The best known of these investigations was documented in a comprehensive report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict – the Goldstone Report.27 But this was not the last investigation held; in 2014 the UN’s Human Rights Council appointed a commission of inquiry, headed by legal scholar William Schabas,28 to investigate claims that Israel had violated international law during Operation Protective Edge.29 Israel withheld its cooperation with the inquiry,30 arguing that the commission’s mandate had been formulated unilaterally.31 Ultimately, Schabas was obliged to resign,32 under persistent accusations of anti-Israel bias. In March 2015, the commission declared that it interpreted its mandate to include “investigation of the activities of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza; including attacks on Israel, as well as the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip and Israeli actions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”33 (The commission’s report was published in June 2015.) Another report, that of a United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry on incidents that occurred during Operation Protective Edge, was submitted to the UN Security Council in late April 2015. This report criticized Israel for attacking UN facilities in Gaza, and Hamas for its “unacceptable” misuse of the facilities – i.e., to stash arms.34

It will be useful to present, briefly, a few examples of what Israel has been accused of in Operation Protective Edge – allegations similar to those mounted following other Israeli wars and campaigns of the past few decades – and Israel’s responses to them.

A. Israeli actions are “disproportionate.”
The essence of this argument is that Israel uses excessive force and endangers (or kills) too many civilians in its responses to Palestinian aggression, e.g. rocket attacks do not constitute a serious threat to Israeli citizens. The laws of “proportionality” in war are complex; no one denies that more people “on the other side” than on the Israeli side are harmed during armed confrontations, but Israel – like any other country in wartime – does not feel that this fact justifies the “disproportionality” accusation. International law does not require “game theory equilibrium.”35 Proportionality, according to Israel’s understanding, is not measured in terms of each side’s casualty figures but rather in terms of the potential and deliberate (“cumulative”) damage that may be attributed to the thousands of rockets that were fired on Israel, and with reference to necessary countermeasures, including the creation of long-term deterrence to prevent future damage. Beyond this, Israel maintains that it cannot be blamed for investing in the defense of its citizens (e.g., the Iron Dome system), even if the other side fails to do so, or if it uses its citizens as human shields during combat.

B. Israel does not try hard enough to avoid harming civilians.
Israel points out that its enemies (Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and others) generally operate from within the local civilian population. They deliberately try to trap Israel into generating the highest possible civilian casualty figures – thereby enabling them, later on, to accuse Israel of war crimes. This modus operandi creates structural difficulties for the IDF. Israel maintains that enemy combatants should not enjoy immunity simply because they operate from within civilian populations. On the other hand, it is exceedingly difficult, in densely-populated areas, to strike enemy combatants without harming civilians. Israel’s policy is to avoid harming civilians, insofar as possible. Israel has developed sophisticated mechanisms for warning civilians of imminent action, and is constantly occupied in developing and deploying precision-guided munitions in order to prevent “collateral damage.” Israel frequently endangers the lives of its own soldiers to avoid harming civilians. Compared with the norms of other armies, Israel can point to a superior ratio of combatant to civilian casualties (i.e., Israel harms fewer civilians while operating in populated areas than do other armies active in similar areas).36

C. Israel’s use of force is not merely a last-resort option
“Was Israel’s use of force in self-defense a last resort? Did Israel have any other option but to launch its war against Hamas?”37 In many cases, this “last resort” accusation is tossed around by critics who do not believe that Israel makes sufficient efforts to negotiate with its enemies. Regarding Hamas, with which Israel does not negotiate directly per official policy, this allegation is meaningless. Israel maintains that its refusal to negotiate with Hamas is a legitimate political stance, given the anti-Semitism that is enshrined in the Hamas charter and the organization’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Others view this stance as proof that Israel turns to the use of force without giving due consideration to other alternatives.

D. The Israeli occupation makes all military actions immoral/illegal.
Israel has a duty to protect its citizens wherever they live. Israel asserts that its control of the West Bank is not illegal or immoral, and that responses to terrorist activity that originate in the Gaza Strip or Lebanon – two areas from which Israel has withdrawn – can hardly be judged on the basis of this proposition.

Israel’s international public-opinion woes echo and are also felt throughout the Jewish world. This problem relates both to the reasons behind the war – for which some Diaspora Jews view Israel as partly responsible – and to the war’s outcomes, which give no sense of completion, neither victory nor defeat. Of course, the problem also has to do with the nature of Israel’s recent wars, which have involved civilian populations to a much greater degree than in past wars.

Recent decades have witnessed a growing polarization in Diaspora Jewish communities into different “camps,” and a shrinking of the “middle.”38 This trend is not unique to Jews. Societies and regimes the world over are having trouble locating a middle path, one that reflects a broad consensus. This is pushing individuals and groups toward opposite poles on a variety of issues – diplomatic, political, economic, and religious. In the Jewish world too, this trend is visible in several spheres – religious, cultural, and social – and also applies to the relationship with Israel, and attitudes toward Israel. According to Professor Theodore Sasson, there has been a trend toward “fragmentation and weakening of the center” in the wake of Israel’s recent elections.39 Many communities in which Diaspora Jews live take a dim view of Israel,40 and even those with generally positive opinions of Israel, such as the American communities, exhibit greatly varying attitudes toward Israel.41 Their reactions to negative attitudes and to the controversy surrounding Israel span a broad spectrum, encompassing active opposition to criticism, active participation in criticism, profile lowering, or the adoption of a detached or indifferent stance. Naturally, these trends are more conspicuous during periods when international political attention is focused on Israel and during periods of diplomatic or political crisis, and they have a dual outcome:

  • Intra-communal tension in some communities, due to the (sometimes very wide) variation in community member views regarding the appropriate position to take or the right response to developments on the ground (e.g., is the U.S. or the Israeli government stance on the nuclear agreement with Iran the correct one?).
  • Possible tension between each specific community and Israel – in a situation where a large swath of the community sees recent developments as grounds for criticism, anger, disappointment or alienation vis-à-vis Israel. This kind of tension can, of course, increase in instances where large numbers of community members oppose Israel’s actions. But it can also emerge when the group opposed to Israel’s actions is not large numerically, or when such groups are particularly adept at conveying its messages and thus achieve prominence in the public discourse, regardless of their size in proportion to the Jewish community.

When the Israeli government was involved in a heated dispute with the American government over the nuclear talks with Iran, debate erupted within the Jewish community over policy vis-à-vis Iran (a number of surveys have indicated broad American-Jewish support for an agreement with Iran).42 Also at issue were the various Jewish positions (in contrast to surveys indicating American-Jewish support for the agreement, others showed a decline in Jewish support for President Obama due to the emerging agreement), and the conduct of the Israeli government.43 For example, several commentators have expressed the view that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran had “split” American Jewry44 to such a degree that some communities were finding that discussion of Israel had become “impossible.”45

When, in the wake of this year’s bloody terrorist attacks in France, the Israeli prime minister and several other senior officials called upon European Jews to immigrate to Israel, internal debate arose within the Diaspora Jewish communities, and between some community leaders and Israel. These events focused debate on the issue of whether Israel should be calling for Jews exposed to anti-Semitism in their home communities to make Aliyah to Israel – as well as on the question of whether and to what degree Israel and its elected officials represent the Jewish people as a whole.46 The debate carries on throughout the Jewish world, but also within the French Jewish community itself, which encompasses a diverse range of viewpoints.47 At an Institute seminar in France the opinion was voiced that “Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to French Jews to immigrate to Israel put the French Jews in an embarrassing situation. They had to explain to their fellow French citizens that they are not ‘Israelis living [in France] on borrowed time.’”48

When the outcome of the 2015 Israeli elections dissatisfied many Diaspora Jews, debate ensued over whether, and to what degree, the results might affect Diaspora Jewry’s relationship with Israel. At the Pittsburgh seminar it was noted that the issue of how Israeli conduct affects World Jewry had “flared up during the war, but even more so during the last weeks of the Israeli election, regarding Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments which have made Jews everywhere uncomfortable.”49

This is not an entirely new phenomenon. When Ariel Sharon won his bid to become prime minister of Israel in 2001, there were reports that his election was “dividing” World Jewry.50 When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a friendly visit to President George W. Bush, whom most American Jews did not support politically, it was reported that the visit had “illustrated the distance between the two major Jewish communities, not the closeness between them.” 51 The 2015 elections also provoked a wave of news articles and public statements. The election results, it was said, “are going to make Israel an ever more complex cause for many American Jews.”52 The publisher of Los Angeles’ main Jewish magazine, Rob Eshman, wrote that “Bibi tacked hard right to win the Israeli election. If he keeps sailing in that direction, he’ll leave American Jewry on a distant shore, waving goodbye.”53

When controversy over Israel engages Diaspora Jews, it is not always easy to identify, in each particular instance, the precise demarcation lines between different camps. When does a given debate address a problem that concerns most of the community, and when is it a disagreement to which local Jews are largely indifferent? What are the majority and dissenting opinions, how are these views arrived at, and how often do they change? Do younger and older community members have different views, and why? Does some consensus exist alongside the disagreements? We will address most of these questions in greater depth later in this report. What is relevant at this stage is the fact that it is not only “political” or “diplomatic” incidents that spark lively discussions within the Jewish community. This also happens, and in recent years with greater frequency, when Israel is in the news due to a military conflict with one of its neighbors.

“Israel’s security policy is making it increasingly harder for Diaspora Jews to present a unified voice vis-à-vis the Jewish state,” asserts the author of a comprehensive study of Diaspora Jewry and Israel.54 This argument is based on a hidden assumption that, while debatable (Israel’s security policy, rather than changing Diaspora-Jewish viewpoints, is the root of the problem), nevertheless reflects a reality well known to those who follow the vagaries of Israel-Diaspora relations. Although Jewish communities around the world once tended to unite in support of Israel when it became mired in violent confrontation or war – to raise money, take political action, send solidarity missions and the like – this solidarity has eroded in recent years.

This erosion is natural, almost inevitable, given the changing character of Israel’s wars, as noted earlier. It is rooted both in the reasons for war – some Diaspora Jews assign Israel responsibility for some confrontations (due to policies unfavorable to producing a peace agreement), and in the outcomes of war – which provide no sense of closure, no victory or defeat, and thus make it difficult for outside observers to identify with Israel. And, of course, it is connected with the nature of the wars being fought today, which involve civilian populations to a much greater degree than Israel’s past conflicts.

Last summer, while Operation Protective Edge was being waged in Gaza, the divergence in attitudes toward Israel was all the more pronounced. Clear support for Israel’s actions was expressed in Diaspora Jewish communities; yet quite a few voices were raised in criticism – even harsh criticism. Objection to Israel’s actions, along with other signs of eroding Jewish support for Israel,55 are a source of concern for the Israeli government and for Israeli citizens. This concern has a practical side: Israel depends on Diaspora Jewish support and draws strength from it. But an ideological element is also at play: Israel sees itself in the role of World Jewry’s protector (whether its services are solicited or not) – the nation-state of all Jews. Wartime attacks on Israel by Jews in the name of “Jewish values” challenge Israel’s self-perception as the Jewish homeland, and may even exacerbate the sullying of Israel’s image by non-Jews.

Operation Protective Edge was not the first or only occasion in recent years when criticism of Israel was voiced in Diaspora communities. During the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, the organized Jewish community at first rallied around Israel and its assault on Hezbollah; but breaches in this support quickly emerged, and reservations about Israel’s actions were expressed.56 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (2008-09) garnered less support for Israel to begin with, and several instances in which objections were raised within World Jewry. One of the most prominent voices was that of J Street, which self-identifies as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” This criticism sparked debate within the community – as well as criticism of the organization for having “misread the issues and misjudged the views of American Jews,” as the Reform Movement’s then-president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, put it.57 Similarly, J Street’s (cautious) support for Operation Protective Edge also generated debate. This time J Street was criticized by those who felt that it had abandoned its mission; these disappointed parties sought out other organizations whose criticism of Israel was harsher.58

Israel’s international public opinion problems during Operation Protective Edge were sometimes reflected by Diaspora Jewry. A broad range of responses to Israeli actions – from discomfort to repugnance – were expressed within the Jewish world, via articles, speeches, sermons, and statements by opinion-makers, leaders, academics, rabbis and journalists. “The Israeli case for the bombardment of Gaza could [have been] foolproof,” wrote New York Times columnist Roger Cohen – who, however, concluded that Israel had no such case.59 “I can’t defend killing children […], and I believe Israel should have avoided bombardment of UN safe harbors,” wrote a Duke University professor.60 A British academic who presents himself as belonging to the camp of Jews who “have traditionally supported Israel but in recent years are feeling less and less comfortable doing so due to Israeli policy” has raised doubts regarding Israel’s claim that it adheres to international law.61

Jonathan Freedland, executive editor of The Guardian and a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, reported in the latter publication a “weariness in the liberal Zionist fraternity. Privately, people admit to growing tired of defending Israeli military action when it comes at such a heavy cost in civilian life, its futility confirmed by the frequency with which it has to be repeated.”62 New York Magazine commentator Jonathan Chait exhibited a similar weariness, “the unintended deaths of Palestinians [that are] so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes.”63

Chait’s article, like the others quoted above, is just the tip of the iceberg of opinion pieces written explicitly in a “Jewish connection” framework. And like many others, the article attempts to persuade the reader that its author has an instinctive empathy for the object of his or her criticism – Israel. Jewish critics of Israel mount their arguments affirming that they are not hostile to Israel, but simply (and in spite of themselves) having trouble identifying with it; or else they have identified with Israel in the past but are no longer able to do so. Leon Wieseltier, in the New Republic, controversially asserted, “It is not sickening that Israel is defending itself – it is, by the standard of Jewish historical experience, exhilarating; but some of what Israel is doing to defend itself is sickening.”64

Although the articles and statements quoted above were published either during the war or shortly after it, they have continued to resonate and to generate discussion. Nearly a year after the war Yehuda Kurtzer wrote, “liberal Zionism is in crisis. Last summer’s war in Gaza provoked a spate of essays purporting that the confrontation between liberal values and the policies of a hawkish Israel were making the ideology untenable.”65 One participant in the JPPI’s Glen Cove brainstorming conference stated, “[T]here are groups of Jews who have completely lost faith in Israel and in what it is doing.”66 Mention was also made of declining enrollment in the Taglit-Birthright Israel and Masa Israel programs, and concerns were expressed that this could be attributed to the Gaza war.

Do these criticisms and statements reflect the frustration of a small minority of Jews, or do they reflect something larger? Do they indicate a misreading of reality by Jews who observe Israel from a distance, or are they the manifestation of fundamental differences in perspective that result in differing interpretations of reality? These are some of the questions that we sought to address in the 2015 Dialogue framework – questions that also trouble Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as noted in a letter to JPPI that warned of “wide gaps in the reading of realities” and underscored the need for a systematic investigation of Jewish attitudes in this sphere.67

 As noted above, Diaspora Jews’ expectations of Israel with respect to the use of force relate to two different planes – that of cause and that of effect; these two separate planes, as we shall see, are linked. One has to do with Israeli conduct during war: how much force is used, which moral-ethical code is embraced, what standard is to be upheld, and the like. The other has to do with Israel’s conduct on the paths leading to and from war. This plane is subject, far more than the other, to ideological and political interpretation: Is the survey respondent for or against a two-state-for-two-peoples solution?; Does s/he feel that Israeli policy advances efforts to establish peace in the Middle East?; Does s/he or does s/he not believe there is a chance for a peace agreement with the Palestinians?, etc.

Most of the exploration that took place in the Dialogue framework related directly to the first plane, that of Israeli conduct in wartime. And the reassuring insight that emerged from this exploration was, as one Glen Cove participant put it, that “that’s not the problem.” Both regarding the Gaza operation when, in the words of a Glen Cove participant, Israel “made a decent hasbara effort,” and regarding Israeli actions in general over the past few years – in Gaza, Lebanon and other places where Israel has operated less intensively and less frequently – most Jews feel that Israel has been meeting their ethical expectations.

Make no mistake, the standard is high. A Pittsburgh participant asked, “Why should Israel compare itself to anyone, especially to those neighbors in the region setting a low bar?” “The Jewish past is an important part of what Israel stands for, the value of life in Judaism as a persecuted nation should be upheld (even if the other side does not do so). The Jewish past demands a high moral standard from Israel, higher than usual,” said a young participant.68

Two different approaches are generally encountered in this context. One views Israel as bound by the behavioral norms adhered to by Western countries, while the other sees even this standard as insufficient, insisting that Israel distinguish itself by upholding moral values above and beyond the prevailing norms. “Israel is a democratic country and should abide by the standards of other Western democracies and the international law. It is not the place for outsiders to demand that Israel go beyond such standards,” said a South African seminar participant. This statement, however, did not reflect a consensus view. At the same seminar an opinion was voiced that, as the state of the Jewish people, Israel should act “in such a way as to be an example to others – a ‘light onto the nations.'”69 Many participants also gave expression to a pragmatic aspect of the moral argument. Israel should behave ethically because it is better to be ethical – but also, and no less importantly, because only by behaving ethically will Israel be able to retain the support of the rest of World Jewry. “Diaspora Jews need to know that Israel is behaving morally,” said an Atlanta seminar participant. In Dallas someone said, “In order for Jews to support Israel it must be better than other countries.” However, another participant in the same seminar said, “It’s good that Israel is moral – but not too much so.”

Many seminar participants expressed a degree of discomfort and questioned their own ability to hold Israel to a particular ethical-moral standard. “It’s strange to me that we get asked what Israel should do,” said a Los Angeles seminar participant, “We don’t live there.” On the other hand, another participant in the same seminar used the term “we” when noting, “The question is whether we want to be butchers.”70 And again, at the same seminar, “We have to set the bar higher.” In New York, by contrast, a participant stated that decisions should be made “more on a pragmatic basis, not just a moral one.”71 Arguments based on Jewish values were raised frequently in the seminars. “There aren’t a lot of Jews but they are a ‘light unto the nations,’ I have a higher standard for Israel and for all Jews,” said one Washington participant.72

The participant survey gave respondents four possibilities for Israel to choose among: being “like everyone else,” “like Western countries,” holding to the “highest standard,” or “striking a balance between morality and the fact that it faces ruthless enemies that want to destroy it.” It is interesting that the survey respondents expressed a desire to set a special standard for Israel, one unlike that to which the rest of the world is held – “every country” or “Western countries.” About half of the respondents stated that Israel should determine its own balance between the aspiration to be moral and the need to address security challenges, while a third felt that Israel should set the bar higher than all others. Ultimately, only a little over 10 percent of participants chose one of the two options that set for Israel a standard similar to that of other countries.

It should, however, be noted that in the group discussions themselves at least two viewpoints were heard that depart from the overall picture described here.

One maintains that Israel’s status in military situations is so dubious because of its general policy (referring primarily to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), that no standard that it might set for its conduct in actual combat would make that conduct ethical. “Jews have no problem understanding Israel’s response to rocket attacks – even an aggressive response – but not the daily impact of the occupation,” said one Glen Cove brainstorming participant. Another agreed: “The occupation is what may erode Jews’ identification with Israel.” A Toronto participant said that Israel’s actions before and after the war made “what it does during war very problematic, since it’s impossible to take them out of this context.”73

Echoes of this sentiment can also be found in the survey question that assessed the respondent levels of agreement with the statement, “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank makes all of its armed confrontations with Palestinian groups immoral.” Although the vast majority of participants rejected this argument (57 percent strongly disagreed, and 29 percent “somewhat” disagreed), there were some who somewhat agreed with the statement (13 percent) or even strongly agreed with it (about 1.5 percent). It is worth noting that this is one of the questions that was answered differently by older and younger people. Most of the younger respondents also disagreed with the statement, but did so less decisively than their older counterparts.

The other dissenting viewpoint was that Israel tries too hard to be moral and that it should focus on winning its wars, rather than on addressing an internal-Israeli or external need (of the international community, or Diaspora Jewry) to set a high moral standard. “It’s one thing to sacrifice soldiers for peace, but to sacrifice soldiers in order to save enemy lives is a major mistake,” said a Toronto participant. “Israel needs to use as much force as necessary to protect its citizenry,” a St. Louis participant stated. The London seminar summary stated that “[T]he standard for IDF policy should be self-defense. First, to defend its citizens; second, to defend citizens on both sides; third, to use minimal force; and fourth, take into account world and media opinion.”74 At a seminar of Israeli-Americans, one woman stated that “[S]ometimes we need to do less [than what is required) by international law. We must remember that Hamas’s goal is to destroy the Jews.”

Moreover, many seminar participants expressed disappointment and dismay over the fact that Israel has not been “winning” the wars of the past few decades. “We have to examine the issue of deterrence (and not just morality),” said a participant in the Stamford, Connecticut seminar. “I’m 35 years old, and Israel has not won a single war since I was born,” noted an AJU seminar attendee. He – like others – was not blind to the possible contradiction between demanding a high moral standard and expecting clear Israeli victories; but this kind of awareness did not prevent many participants from expressing their desires in just this way. Clear victory should involve no compromises and reflect outstanding military performance (“Israel should be a start-up nation in this as well,” said one Toronto participant) – but without sacrificing an exacting code of combat ethics.

Many Jews around the world feel that they are entitled to express an opinion and to have the State of Israel take their views into account, even on major security issues. The justifications given are varied: Diaspora Jewry’s support for Israel, the fact that Israel is a Jewish state, the impact of the events on their own lives.

Last year’s Dialogue report discussed in depth the issue of Israelis’ desire or willingness to take World Jewry’s views into account, in the framework of dialogue about issues that are, first and foremost, of domestic Israeli concern. It is worth reviewing a few of that report’s insights and expanding on them with some additional data from this year’s process.75

One could certainly debate the benefit to Israel of policy input from Jews who do not live there, most of whom have no intention of ever becoming Israeli citizens. Clearly, given that it is their country that is facing security challenges, the opinions of Israelis on the issues in question are much more important than those of people who live in other countries and not generally exposed to the dangers with which Israelis have to cope, not subject to IDF conscription, and not expected to actively defend Israel in a military service capacity.

Thus, like last year only more so, seminar participants and organizers devoted considerable attention to the question of how valuable Diaspora Jews’ input on these domestic-Israeli matters actually is. A participant in the Cleveland, Ohio seminar, who had served in the IDF, disputed the legitimacy of consulting with Diaspora Jewry on security policy: “Speaking as an IDF soldier – there is no legitimacy for us to have judgment on this situation … This discussion is not appropriate for us to have.”76 Other Cleveland participants mentioned that Diaspora Jews have trouble understanding what goes on in Israel. They sit safely in the U.S. and their children do not have to serve in the army – which disqualifies them from judging Israel’s actions. “We as Americans write checks, but don’t send kids to war. We’re not hiding in bomb shelters. We can’t sit here and judge.”77 A Paris participant said, “We trust Israel to weight in a correct manner the moral dilemmas and to choose the most moral decisions.”78

Not everyone agreed with this stance. Attendees at many of the seminars (including the Cleveland discussions) disputed it. They felt that Israel should at least involve Diaspora Jews in its discussions, and also, at times, take their views into consideration. An interesting example of this discord came up at a seminar in Australia, where some participants suggested that, “Some consideration should be given to World Jewry.”79 They were met with opposition from Israeli residents of Australia who were taking part in the seminar and who felt strongly that Israeli decisions should be made without reference to Diaspora Jewry.

For the survey question posed to all of seminar participants on this topic, the responses were distributed as follows: a little less than a third (30 percent) opposed any Israeli consideration of Diaspora views on armed confrontation. All other participants chose one of three pro-consideration options, each for a different reason. One reason was obviously rooted in World Jewry’s interests, one in Israeli interests, and one in the desire for pan-Jewish unity.

More specifically, 38 percent of respondents chose “consideration” for Diaspora Jewish views because of “the impact that confrontation might have” on their lives. 20 percent said that Israel should show consideration for Diaspora Jews’ opinions if it wants their support. Another 11 percent said that Israel should take World Jewry’s positions into account because all Jews are partners in defining how conflicts are managed according to Jewish morality. A separate analysis of the younger participants’ responses to this question finds that a slightly larger proportion of them (45 versus 34 percent) believe that Israel should give consideration to Diaspora Jewry because of the potential impact of its policies on Jews around the world. A smaller percentage of younger Jews (22 percent) felt that Israel should act without taking World Jewry into account at all.

As the response breakdown shows, a fair number of Diaspora Jews feel they are entitled to express their opinions and that Israel should take them into account, even on major security issues. Their justifications are varied – their support for Israel, the fact that Israel is a Jewish country, the impact of the events on their own lives (a topic to be discussed later on at length), and the like. A Chicago seminar participant said, “Israel has to consider non-Israeli Jews and vice versa to benefit World Jewry. See things as a people. Not voting does not mean you don’t have a voice.” In Brazil it was argued that “Israel, as the Jewish State […represents] the Jewish people. Because of this, Jewish communities all over the world must be consulted as a main partner and support for Israel.”80 A South African attendee stated, “Israel should nevertheless be open to hearing views of Jews in the Diaspora. Not only because unpopular Israeli policies impact negatively on Jewish communities elsewhere, but the latter are primarily motivated by a desire for Israel to do what is best for itself, and since their own wellbeing is tied up with that of Israel.”81 Participants in St. Louis said, “Israel should take into account the impact on World Jewry and World Jewry’s position. However, World Jewry can’t try to tie Israel’s hands.” On the other hand, a majority of St. Louis attendees agreed, “most Israelis feel that if one does not live in Israel, they are not entitled to have an opinion or a say in what happens in Israel.”

This is not necessarily the case, as we explained in last year’s report. But before we lay out some of the reasons that led us to this conclusion, we will note that the justification for including World Jewry’s voice in the debate on Israeli policy is not based solely on Diaspora Jews’ ability to influence the Israeli public or Israeli governmental policy. Clearly, the very decision to ask World Jewry for its opinion on Israeli policy reflects the view that Israel is a state in which all of the world’s Jews have a stake. This is, indeed, a widely held opinion in Israel, as we shall see later on. In any case, there are other important reasons for including World Jewry in discussions regarding Israeli actions, even if their actual influence on these actions would be limited. Some of these reasons have been presented in numerous earlier JPPI publications– documents that called for improved Israeli-Diaspora dialogue:

  • Because Israel sees itself as a “Jewish” state that is, to some degree, responsible for, and authorized to represent, the entire Jewish people, it is natural for Diaspora Jews to be involved in explicating issues that touch on the State of Israel’s character. The discussion taking place this year deals not with military tactics but with the attempt to determine how Israel should define its ethical-moral aspirations given the unavoidability of fighting – and this is an issue with obvious bearing on the character of the State.
  • The world’s Jewish communities have played a major role in reinforcing Israeli security, and it is hoped that they will continue their support, as active partners, especially in emergency situations. Israel would therefore do well to consult with them, even on security-related issues.
  • Israel was founded in order to realize “the natural right of the Jewish people”82 and sees itself as a country in which all Jews have a stake. So long as this premise holds sway, it should be natural for Israel to consult with non-Israeli Jews on issues pertaining to the state’s character.
  • Israel’s image, which is also affected by its security policy, could potentially influence the way in which Jews are perceived by non-Jews, and might even expose Jews to hostile actions on the part of non-Jews.
  • Israeli policy has an impact on World Jewry’s attitude toward Israel. Consultation that facilitates advance preparation for this impact is crucial.

Diaspora-Israel relations have evolved over the years since the State of Israel was founded. In the past, the mere idea that Jews in their communities around the world could have a real influence on Israeli policy seemed strange, as Diaspora Jews were focused more on providing aid and support to Israel as it was. However, in recent years the expectations of Diaspora Jews in communities around the world have changed,83 and they now wish to have such influence.84

Of course, individual Jews around the world expect to influence Israel on different issues, and aspire to differing levels of impact – from those who feel duty-bound to make themselves heard on all issues, including ones that are clearly security-related, to those who prefer to focus solely on issues of Jewish life in Israel.85

And yet, the expectation of being involved and having some influence is highly prevalent among non-Israeli Jews.86 This is a sign of change in the Israel-Diaspora relationship. At the Glen Cove brainstorming conference, when the round of seminars had concluded,87 senior Jewish leaders strongly expressed the opinion that Israel should take the views and perspectives of World Jewry into account “if it wants to continue to see them as partners,” as one participant put it. It is worth noting, however, that the Jews who had been invited to participate in a discussion of Israel’s security issues understood the invitation as an opportunity for dialogue, but were also somewhat concerned that Israeli Jews’ tolerance threshold for a dialogue might have been trespassed in raising such sensitive issue.

Decisions that Israel made over the past year indicate that the country’s diplomatic-political system does not feel obligated to conduct its affairs according to Diaspora Jews’ preferences. As noted above, Israel acted this year, in some key areas, in a way that many Diaspora Jews viewed unfavorably. Confrontations between Israel and high governmental officials of countries with large Jewish communities (the U.S., of course, but also France); public Israeli appeals for mass Aliyah, signaling Israel’s lack of confidence in the abilities of countries such as France and Belgium to curb anti-Semitism; and most recently, the formation of a new Israeli government whose basic policy orientation is antithetical to the views and desires of most Diaspora Jews with respect to political matters, and, no less importantly , over issues of religion and state. All of this raises doubts that Israel-Diaspora dialogue truly holds the potential to affect Israeli policy.

Glen Cove brainstorming participants raised many objections to the Israeli government’s handling of a wide array of issues, from the continuing occupation to conversion and the status of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. All of these issues had been voiced at previous gatherings, and highlight where Israeli policy is out of alignment with the values and viewpoints of many, perhaps most, Diaspora Jews.

A decisive majority of Israeli Jews feels that its relationship with World Jewry, especially with the large American Jewish community, is vital to Israeli interests. Accordingly, many hold the view that Israel should consult Diaspora Jewry on a range of issues.

In recent years, “official” and “non-official” Israel have gradually come to accept the changing pattern of relations between World Jewry and Israel. As far as Israel is concerned the relationship with World Jewry is part of its raison d’être, and many Israelis understand the vital importance of the Israel-Diaspora relationship. In last year’s Dialogue report, we presented survey findings indicating that Israelis, to a large extent, accept the idea of World Jewry criticizing its actions.88 The Israeli establishment has also, over the last few years, taken measures that point to a gradual understanding of the change in Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry, and of what that change means.89 The previous Israeli government decided to invest millions of dollars in strengthening Jewish identity around the world – and there is no indication that the new government intends to deviate from that policy.90

Israeli surveys do not always present a clear picture of Israelis’ willingness to have World Jewry intervene in their domestic affairs. In certain instances Israelis (Jews) overwhelmingly support symbolic gestures that give Diaspora communities a voice. For example: 76 percent of Israelis have said they would agree to have one of the twelve Independence Day torch-lighting slots “reserved for a representative of Diaspora Jewry.”91 Seventy-one percent supported the idea that “Israeli government officials should always be willing to meet and be in contact [even] with Diaspora Jewish organizations that criticize their policies.” Israelis also express a desire for World Jewry to be more resolute in its support of Israel.92 When Israelis are asked, however, about World Jewry being officially involved in formulating Israeli policy, the numbers favoring involvement decline. 63 percent of Israelis oppose the idea of Diaspora Jews being able to elect “a few” Knesset members to represent their interests.93 Forty-nine percent oppose “creating a mechanism that would oblige the Knesset to discuss issues relevant to Diaspora Jewry.”

Surveys from past years show that Israelis approve94 of measures taken by Israel aimed at reinforcing Jewish identity in other parts of the world. They also support the idea of Israel taking Diaspora Jewry “into consideration” when major decisions have to be made. In an Israel Democracy Institute survey, 71 percent of respondents stated that Israel should take Diaspora Jewry into account when making decisions, versus 26 percent who felt that Israel has no need to do so.95

It is one thing for Israel to acknowledge the changing dynamics of its relationship with the Diaspora, its need to work harder at strengthening Jewish communities abroad, and even the desirability of taking Diaspora Jewry’s views into consideration (while also recognizing the major implications of this process for the Zionism’s “negation of the Diaspora” ideology). It is another thing to agree to World Jewry’s intervention in Israeli affairs. Especially in security related matters, on which Israelis have a very different perspective from Diaspora Jews. Nevertheless, a new survey conducted this year by pollster Menachem Lazar shows that even when a more focused question is asked regarding topics on which, in the words of the survey, “the Israeli leadership should consult with the American Jewish leadership,” the Israeli-Jewish public is not alarmed by the idea of such consultation.96

The survey question was: “Of the following, which issue is the most important for Israel’s leadership to consult about with the American Jewish leadership?” Respondents were presented with the following list of options: “Cultivating Israel-US relations”; “Military and security issue”; “Social issues”; “Issues of religion and state”; “Their opinion should be sought on all issues”; “Their opinion need not be sought on any issue”; and “Don’t know.” The response breakdown was as follows:

Cultivating Israel-US relations – 54%
Military and security issues – 15%
Social issues – 4%
Issues of religion and state – 2%
Their opinion should be sought on all issues – 8%
Their opinion need not be sought on any issue – 13%
Don’t know – 4%

When the survey responses are analyzed via an array of parameters (age, gender, level of religious observance, political stance), only a small minority showed no interest in consultation, despite differences of several percentage points between different groups. The religious and right wing public show a slightly greater tendency than the secular-left public to oppose “consultation.” For example, 16 percent of religious respondents chose the “Their opinion need not be sought on any issue” option, compared with 9 percent of secular respondents; this aligned them closely with the masorti or “traditional” respondents, 15 percent of whom chose that option. Seven percent of right-wing respondents answered “Their opinion should be sought on all issues” against 12 percent of left-wing respondents.
This analysis somewhat contradicts earlier surveys that pointed to differences between Israeli sub-groups around Israel-Diaspora relations and the sense of closeness to World Jewry – factors that, of course, influence Israeli willingness to involve Diaspora Jews in formulating Israeli policy. According to these earlier surveys, the sense of “belonging” to a wider Jewish world is stronger for traditional and religious (Orthodox) Israelis than among secular Israelis.97

However, this survey substantiates past conclusions, namely that Israelis relate to non-Israeli intervention in their country’s affairs mainly in terms of the specific costs and benefits intervention could have for specific political objectives.98 The point is that the opinions and views of World Jewry are seen through an Israeli political prism.99 An earlier survey question on Israelis’ desire for Diaspora involvement in “Israeli social issues” – a question relating to a possible area where Diaspora Jews could actively affect the character of the State – elicited highly supportive responses for such involvement.100 However, this support for Diaspora involvement was lower than support for the “traditional” roles Israelis have ascribed to non-Israeli Jews, such as lobbying for Israel, donating money to Israel, and visiting Israel.

Similarly, the Lazar survey indicates that support [for non-Israeli involvement] is significantly higher when Israelis are asked about “consultation” where the benefit to Israel is clear – improved relations with the home country of the Jews being consulted – compared with the desire to consult with non-Israeli Jews on matters of domestic Israeli policy, e.g. religion and state, or economic and social issues.101

At the same time, it is interesting to note that “Military and security issues” was the second-most important option in the survey respondents’ eyes. This could, of course, reflect a sense that this is the issue of greatest importance to Israel’s future (though one on which Diaspora Jewry is less able to help than that of improving relations with their home countries). Even so, this choice indicates that at least a quarter of Israeli Jews, and likely many more, have no problem with, and even support, the idea of Israel consulting with American Jewry even in the sensitive military-security sphere (15 percent selected “Military and security,” while another 8 percent chose “all issues” – a total of 23 percent).102

Last year we noted a connection between differing Israeli expectations of World Jewry (regarding support for Israel) and Israelis’ assessment of the overall state of World Jewry.103 For example, we pointed out that over 80 percent of religious and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews (89 percent) are convinced that assimilation and weak Jewish identity constitute the greatest danger to the Jewish people, while the percentage of secular Jews greatly concerned by assimilation is much lower (22 percent are “certain” of the danger, versus 31percent who “think” it is a danger).104

Lazar’s 2015 survey adds nuance to this conclusion by asking respondents how American Jewry could best be “defined.” Jewish Israelis were asked to choose one of two options: a “strong and thriving community” or an “assimilated and weak community.” The responses indicate that a large majority of Israelis have a very positive impression of the state of American Jewry. Most (62 versus 26 percent) chose the “strong and thriving” option. As expected, an even larger majority of secular Israelis (72 percent) chose this option, compared with a smaller majority (almost parity) among religious Israeli Jews (46 percent “strong and thriving” versus 44 percent “assimilated and weak”).105

Under these circumstances, we can understand why many Israelis are willing to say, at least in a survey framework, that Israel should consult with American Jews, especially with regard to maintaining good relations with their home country. The impetus for this is a widespread Israeli-Jewish belief that the relationship with a “strong and thriving” American Jewry is essential to Israeli interests. This view was reflected in responses to a survey that asked, “To what degree is Israel’s future linked to or dependent upon Diaspora Jewry in general, and American Jewry in particular?”106 Nearly 80 percent of survey respondents said that Israel is dependent on World Jewry to a “very great” or “great” degree.

There is a significant correlation between participants’ political-diplomatic views and the way in which they interpret Israel’s actions. The greater the number of Jews with doubts regarding Israel’s overall policy, the more inclined some of them are to doubt Israel’s actions even in wartime.

Political views of Diaspora Jews impact their opinions regarding Israel’s use of force.

Nonetheless, it should be stated from the outset that the effect of Diaspora Jews’ political stance on their connection to Israel is complicated and confusing. Often, findings regarding the magnitude of Israel criticism are conflated with the intensity of Israel connection. Different measurements often produce different, or even conflicting, results about the effect of political stance on the strength of connection. In this chapter and those that follow we will present several of these findings, and the difficulties in deciphering the reality.

Many studies have already shown that Jews belonging to groups that differ politically (i.e., the various religious streams occupying different points along the liberal-conservative spectrum) also differ in terms of the strength of their attachment to Israel,107 as well as the position Israel occupies in their priorities (i.e., what weight does Israel carry in their home-country electoral decisions).

The issue of how Diaspora Jews’ political viewpoints influence their attitudes toward Israel and the strength of their Israel attachment has been a point of controversy for quite some time (the relevant studies have used different terms to describe Diaspora-Israel interaction dynamics: attachment to Israel, closeness to Israel, concern for Israel, centrality of Israel, etc.). At one end of the spectrum are those who feel (or argue, as a means of advancing their political views)108 that Israeli policy is the main reason non-Israeli Jews become distanced from Israel, while at the other end are those who feel (or argue, as a means of advancing their political views) that Israeli policy on diplomatic-security issues has no real impact on its relationship with the Diaspora.

The debate over the political impact of Israel attachment joins an even longer-running and no less ardent debate over whether World Jewry is “distancing” itself from Israel. The main question concerns the strength of young American Jews’ attachment to Israel, with particular emphasis on whether the decline in their exhibited attachment compared with older generations is a “lifecycle” issue (their attachment will deepen as they get older) or a generation gap within the Jewish people that is bound to persist. On one hand, troubling indications from a number of surveys, including the 2013 Pew study, do indeed suggest a major generation gap. On the other hand, a long-term assessment of average levels of attachment to Israel (e.g., by comparing American Jewish Committee surveys) shows that at this point attachment data are still very similar to those of earlier decades, with no evidence of erosion.109

This, of course, does not guarantee that erosion will not set in over the coming years. Any number of things might trigger it, whether political issues related to the use of force in the Middle East or, perhaps, the non-Jewish world’s attitude toward Israel. Recent years have witnessed eroding support for Israel among left-leaning groups the world over, including in the US and other countries where general public support for Israel has traditionally been very strong.110 Declining support for Israel on the part of left-leaning groups was clearly evident in the US during Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) and Operation Protective Edge (2014) in Gaza.

A number of studies111 from the past few years, including the Pew Research Center’s comprehensive Portrait of Jewish Americans (2013), found a correlation between the Jewish respondent’s basic political outlook and his or her “emotional attachment” to Israel – even when controlling for religious affiliation.112 Ultimately, the religious and political rankings are the same – the more right-leaning the respondent, the stronger the sense of attachment to Israel. Among liberals, 61 percent of American Jews feel “very” or “somewhat” attached to Israel, compared with 73 percent of moderates and 81 percent of the politically conservative.113

The evolution of these figures will likely result, of course, in a chicken-and-egg conundrum: Is it Israeli policy that makes it difficult for left-leaning Jews to feel attached to Israel, or are changes in the political outlook of left-leaning Jews themselves causing the difficulty? The answer to this question cannot be expected to change the current situation – but it should be taken into account when considering whether ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry’s left-leaning factions might best be strengthened via Israeli policy modifications or through a change in the political stance of non-Israeli Jews.

Seminars that directly addressed Israel’s foreign and security policy tended to underscore the impact of Israeli policy on participant views (the question asked is the one that gets answered). Still, even among dialogue participants there are many who realize that Israeli policy is by no means the sole factor, or even necessarily the dominant factor, determining Diaspora Jews’ level of attachment to Israel. The strength of the attachment, as one American Glen Cove participant put it, is also determined by “our side, mixed marriages, Jews not by religion […].”114 All of these factors, as well as other social trends related to the internal dynamics of the Diaspora communities, strongly affect levels of Israel attachment.

Among the factors known to have, or likely to have, an impact on Diaspora Jewry’s attitude toward Israel, four stand out in particular:115

1. The historical memory factor – i.e., the impression dramatic events have left on the collective Jewish consciousness and their impact on the sense of attachment to Israel. This factor is generally assumed to weaken as both Israel and the Diaspora communities gain temporal distance from the 20th century events that shaped the Jewish world, first and foremost the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel, followed by second-order-of-magnitude events such as the Six-Day War and the struggle to free Soviet Jewry (today’s Israel is no longer the “Nachas Machine”116 it was when it was fighting wars for clear reasons, and against more obvious enemies).
2. The Jewish identity factor – i.e., the significant correlation between Diaspora Jews’ level of “Jewishness” and the strength of their attachment to Israel. Many studies have shown the existence of such a correlation and have shown that it can be tested along a range of parameters. We learn from this that attitudes toward Israel cannot be distilled in isolation, but must rather be understood within the larger context of Jewish identity in the Diaspora.
3. The social-demographic factor – this refers to a dramatic rise in the number of mixed marriages among Diaspora Jews, particularly within the large American Jewish community. Intermarriage, as many studies have shown, has a significant impact on attitudes toward Israel. The higher the incidence of Jews married to non-Jews, and the higher the proportion of Jews who are themselves the products of mixed marriages, the larger the sub-group with weak Israel attachment.117
4. The political factor – this refers to differences in outlook on an array of issues between Jews living in Israel (as reflected in the policies of Israel’s elected government) and Jews living outside of Israel. In an earlier study we discerned four main spheres in which outlook differences could potentially complicate relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry: Israel’s foreign and security policy; Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and their treatment of Israeli Arabs; the relationship between the state and Israel’s religious establishment – particular dissatisfaction has been noted with respect to the dominance of the Orthodox-Jewish establishment; and general dissatisfaction with Israel’s prevailing culture and discourse.118

Again, all of these factors influence Diaspora attitudes toward Israel. But the question about the relative importance of each of individual issue is also relevant to the discussion of Israel’s use of force. That is, because only two of the factors noted here – history and politics – relate to it directly.

Regarding the historical factor, as mentioned in the previous section, Israel’s ability to present a clear and readily appreciated picture to World Jewry has eroded. It may well be that the more complex the regional picture becomes – the more the use of force is concentrated in civilian-populated areas where thornier operational and ethical dilemmas arise – the harder it then is for Diaspora Jews to square Israel’s violent confrontations with unequivocal and immediate support. With regard to the political factor, as noted above, the greater the number of Jews harboring doubts about Israel’s general policy (mainly on the Palestinian issue), the greater the tendency of some to also doubt Israel’s actions when it goes to battle.

Naturally, those who feel that Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Arab world are reasonable or good (or who think Israel displays insufficient resolve when interacting with that world) tend to defend Israel. Some even wonder about the need to question the morality of Israel’s use of force in the first place. One Glen Cove attendee said, “[T]o even talk about the morality of the IDF is wrong. The Palestinians are held hostage by the Arab world. But the finger is pointed at Israel.” Another participant, in contrast, stressed the fact that “We have not had an Israeli government of the past five or so years that looks like it really wants to resolve [the]conflict.”119 He, and other participants who share his views regarding Israeli policy on the conflict, tended to feel, as one New York seminar attendee put it, that “If there are diplomatic talks showing a sincere attempt to reach a peace agreement – it will also be easier to justify the military measures.” A Cleveland participant said, “There is a growing segment of the community who are uncomfortable with the situation in the West Bank. [They] cannot divorce discomfort with West Bank from morality of other situations.”120 In South Africa the point was made much more vehemently: “Policies that undermine Israel’s standing as a non-racist democracy, and therefore its legitimacy, make it very difficult for Diaspora Jews to defend it or even be associated with it.”

The Dialogue survey also revealed clear, unsurprising gaps between those who take a more critical view of Israeli policy and those whose view is more favorable. These kinds of gaps are evident even in surveys of an overwhelmingly factual nature. For example, in a survey that asked Israeli respondents how many Israelis had been killed during the Second Intifada, there were clear discrepancies between the answers given by right-wing voters (many of whom thought the number is higher than it actually is – about a thousand Israeli fatalities) and those given by left-leaning voters (many of whom gave figures lower than the correct one).121 Such discrepancies unquestionably characterize the responses to questions relating not to factual reality but rather to assessment/judgment of reality, as in the Dialogue participant survey.

The JPPI questionnaire did not include direct questions about respondents’ political views or ideologies (the meanings of “right,” “left,” “liberal,” “conservative” vary from person to person and place to place and could be confusing). But it did ask a question that enabled each participant to be identified according to his or her basic political stance on Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian issue: “Do you think the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians?” The wording of this question was identical to that used by Pew researchers in their comprehensive survey of American Jewry from two years ago (incidentally, the Pew and JPPI survey response distributions were quite similar – see Appendix B).

To assess how the participants’ political views affect their attitudes toward Israel’s use of force in wartime, we cross referenced the responses to this question with participants’ levels of agreement with two survey statements: “In general, Israel uses military force only as a last resort,” and “Israel’s military did as much as possible to avoid civilian casualties in last summer’s armed conflict in Gaza.”

The distribution of agreement levels for these two statements clearly shows that those who feel that “The current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians” agree with the statements far more than do those who feel differently. Put another way, there is a significant correlation between participants’ political-diplomatic views and how they interpret Israel’s actions in armed conflicts.

Eighty-eight percent of those who felt that Israel is making “a sincere effort to bring about a settlement” agree that Israel “uses force as a last resort,” compared to 67 percent of those who do not feel Israel is making a sincere effort to reach a settlement (the discrepancy within the “strongly agree” group is even larger – 54 and 20 percent respectively). Ninety-seven percent of those who answered that Israel is “making a sincere effort to reach a settlement” agreed that “Israel’s military did as much as possible to avoid civilian casualties in last summer’s armed conflict in Gaza,” versus 81 percent of those who do not feel that Israel is making a sincere effort to achieve peace (the gap within the “strongly agree” group is much larger, 79 and 42 percent respectively). Nearly a fifth of those with a more critical view of Israeli policy did not agree that the IDF did “as much as possible” to avoid harming civilians. Of the group that felt Israel is making a sincere effort to reach a peace settlement, only a negligible percentage did not agree with the statement that Israel’s military strove to avoid civilian casualties.

Jews around the world are uncomfortable with a security policy based on “Jewish values,” due to definitional concerns, or because problems might arise vis-à-vis the international community. Most prefer “international law” as a basis for Israeli security policy, despite their harsh criticism of the international community and the way(s) it interprets Israeli policy.

The use of force as a “Jewish” issue is too complex to be summed up in this paper. Jewish tradition forbids the taking of life, but also commands that Jewish life be defended. Ecclesiastes explicitly refers to a “time for war;” accordingly, a dual fear will arise at such times: “… In all wars there are two fears: that one will be killed and that one might kill […] Both are Torah transgressions.”122 Jewish law views war as a necessary evil that is “devoid of aesthetic value.”123 Aviezer Ravitzky, a scholar of Jewish thought, argues that “the prohibition [of war] is the starting point for any specific discussion” of the laws of war in Jewish tradition. Professor Ruth Wisse, in her 2007 book Jews and Power, reminds readers that even before Jews were scattered throughout the world, the Prophets had “linked a nation’s potency to its moral strength,” not to its military prowess.124

The Torah gives rules for two types of war, which Jewish tradition refers to as either “obligatory” or “optional.” However, later sources disagree as to how this paradigm might be applied in future situations. Michael Walzer, an American political theorist and intellectual, put it bluntly: “There is no Jewish theory of war and peace.”125 Not everyone shares this unwavering view, but a consensus exists that if one is to determine what Jewish tradition says about war and peace, one needs to make creative use of the relatively small body of Jewish source material on the subject.126

The absence of commonly-accepted laws of war in Jewish tradition is hardly surprising, given the conditions under which Judaism evolved. In any culture, historical developments greatly affect theological approaches to all issues, including waging war.127 The Jews, for most of their history, were unable to wage war, and consequently had no need to explore the laws of combat in a practical context. When they did need to wage war, it was clear to all that defensive war is permitted, or even obligatory (a mitzvah, or commandment).128 However, the meaning of the term “defensive war” isn’t fixed, and a discussion of how one ought to fight wars that are not in response to a clear and present danger remained open. The question of who has the authority to declare war also remained a point of contention. The traditional sources refer to “the king” or “the Sanhedrin,” two authoritative entities that have long since disappeared from Jewish tradition. The issue of whether a contemporary institution exists that might, halachically, take the place of these institutions – e.g., the Israeli government or the Knesset – has remained open as well.

The applicability of any tradition under modern Israeli conditions also remains an open issue. Does Israel need to plumb the depths of Jewish tradition and sources when formulating its policies for war and peace? Should it merely make symbolic use of Jewish sources (as in the Declaration of Independence, with its vague reference to the Prophets),129 or should it treat those sources as a true guide for policymaking, as a number of Religious Zionist rabbis have suggested?130 And if so, what relative weight should be ascribed to international law and Jewish values/tradition in the formulation of Israeli policy?

Israel is a Jewish-majority state that looks to “Jewish values” as the populace and its various sub-factions understand them. Because politics, even the politics of security policy, are “inevitably influenced by values,” Jewish politics are “necessarily influenced by Jewish values,” in the words of scholar Yehudah Mirsky.131 According to Mirsky, “Jewish values” affect Israeli policy whether Israel wants them to or not. At the Glen Cove brainstorming conference, several participants argued about the kind of influence “Jewish values” should have on Israeli policy – that is, the degree to which Israel should consciously aspire to such an influence (as distinct from any subconscious influences), and how.

Some expressed concern that in today’s Israel the concept of “Jewish values” is merely a code term for the kind of hawkish policies dictated by the religious right; others noted that, on issues of war policy, Israel has to engage in “discussion with other countries and so it has to speak a language that the rest of the world understands”132 – i.e., not in the “Jewish-values” language that is specific to Israel. Similarly, a seminar participant from Melbourne raised the “difficulty in applying such subjective concepts [as Jewish Values] on a global scale.” Others, in contrast, felt that a Jewish state cannot formulate a code of conduct on issues of the utmost importance without looking to Jewish tradition. Accordingly, the conclusion that emerged from the discussion was, more or less, that Jewish tradition can serve as a cultural inspiration, but not as an authoritative source, for the shaping of Israeli policy.133

Most JPPI seminar participants expressed discomfort with the notion that solutions to complex situations currently faced by Israel should be drawn from Jewish tradition. Opinions ranged from “completely irrelevant,” as one rabbinical student at the Los Angeles seminar put it,134 to general statements about Israel needing to occupy the moral high ground in wartime because “as Jews the Torah commands us to be a light unto the nations,” as one Dallas seminar attendee put it.135 At the South Africa seminar it was also argued that “Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, ought to act in such a way as to be a ‘light unto the nations,’” though most other participants felt that “Israel, as a democratic country, should abide by the standards of other Western democracies and the international law. It is not the place for outsiders to demand that Israel go beyond such standards.”136 The St. Louis seminar found that “the group generally did not think that ‘Jewish standards’ were either meaningful or applicable.” Participants in Sao Paulo, Brazil also felt that “in practice, there is very little specific guidance on how to cope with war, and so the international standard should be used.”137

Sometimes, rather than focusing on Jewish tradition in the intellectual sense, participants switched the emphasis to tradition in the Jewish-history sense. As one attendee at a seminar for young Masa participants put it: “The Jewish past is an important part of what Israel stands for, the value of life in Judaism as a persecuted nation should be upheld …. The Jewish past demands a high moral standard from Israel, higher than usual.”138 The JPPI Dialogue survey responses reveal that many understand the term “Jewish values” as something that dictates an especially high standard of conduct in wartime – higher than that enshrined in international law. Only a negligible minority of participants associated the term with “a lower level of moral conduct” than that required by international law.139

A survey question asked seminar attendees which of several “frameworks” Israel should “consider most in guiding its military’s code for the use of force.” Their responses clearly indicate a preference for international law as a basis for policy, with the remaining responses divided between the options “Middle East realities,” “Jewish values,” and “Western norms.” A tiny percentage chose “Jewish halakhah.” Among younger respondents, a slightly higher percentage (45 percent) chose “International law,” while a slightly lower proportion (18 percent) selected “Jewish values.”140

It is interesting that respondents selected the “International law” option (and the “Western norms” option as well), given the harsh criticism expressed at nearly all the seminars at how the international community interprets international law and its discriminatory attitude toward Israel. (That is, it may be that Diaspora Jews, to the extent they are familiar with international law, feel that it reflects the right principles, though its implementation is lacking). Criticism focused particularly on the global media, an array of organizations (especially the UN and related agencies), and a large number of governments, especially in Europe (the US government under President Obama was also mentioned at many seminars by participants who are obviously not politically aligned with the Obama administration).

On this issue, at least, the views of World Jewry are, to a certain degree, similar to those of Israeli Jews. Israelis have little patience with international condemnation of IDF actions. Although many Israelis were dissatisfied with how Operation Protective Edge was conducted and concluded,141 their support for the operation was nevertheless quite high, and their rejection of outside criticism almost unanimous (among Israeli Jews). Very few Jewish Israelis doubt the IDF’s moral caliber;142 a sweeping majority trust the IDF;143 very few trust or respect the UN, its personnel,144 or its commissions of inquiry;145 and only a minority believe that the outside criticism to which the IDF is subjected is appropriate or fair.146 A majority of Israeli Jews believe that the moral standard that the international community sets for Israel is different than the standard required of other countries.147 Israeli Jews tend more toward the opinion that the army did not go far enough during the war, than to the view that the IDF was overly aggressive.148

“Israel is always expected to have higher standards,” said a Dallas, Texas participant. “The biggest problem is the international media, other countries bombard more,” a Los Angeles attendee said. “There is a global problem of major anti-Semitism and anti-Israel feeling,” another attendee noted. “Bomb, because one way or another they’ll vilify us,” another Los Angeles seminar participant said.149 “It doesn’t matter what Israel does, they will condemn it,” agreed a Washington attendee, adding, “The older I get, the more I think that Israel shouldn’t take into consideration what others say.” “There’s a double standard,” said an Atlanta participant. “Other armies, even if they behave the same way, will be judged differently,” another Atlanta participant added. “There’s a double standard of morality, America doesn’t have to worry about delegitimacy,” a Chicago attendee said.

Unwavering repudiation of the “world’s” treatment of Israel, and the way Israel is castigated in all sorts of forums, are also abundantly evident in the participant surveys, which revealed near-total agreement that Israel is the target of excessiv criticism, and is judged according to different criteria than applied to other countries. The vast majority of respondents – nearly 91 percent – said that Israel has been unjustifiably singled out for criticism in international forums. Only 9 percent feel that Israel is treated in the same way as other countries under similar circumstances, and only a fraction of a percent said that criticism of Israel is insufficient and needs to be intensified.

Most dialogue participants agreed that the IDF is an ethical army; many also agreed that it is more ethical than most if not all other armies in the world. In the Jewish communities, it is widely understood that Israel invests considerable efforts in preventing harm to innocent civilians in its military actions.

Israel often calls the IDF “the most ethical army in the world.”150 Its operations are carried out in accordance with “Ruach Tzahal” (IDF Spirit), the IDF’s ethical code. It states, “A soldier shall act…out of recognition of the supreme importance of human life. In fighting, he will imperil himself and his comrades to the extent required to carry out the assignment.”151 In practice, Israel argues that it acts within international norms and laws.

Each Israeli soldier is commanded to internalize and adhere to the ‘Purity of Arms’ principle, which has a long and convoluted history,152 starting with internal discussions held in the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine before the founding of the state.153 Nowadays, Purity of Arms constitutes a seminal principle in the education of IDF soldiers and commanders.154 The Israeli army frequently deals with ethical questions and holds numerous discussions on the significance of its moral commitment in order to ensure that it adequately adjusts to changing military conditions.155 There is also a well-developed IDF mechanism that involves legal experts in operational discussions (through the army division level) in order to examine the legality of specific actions prior to reaching operational decisions.156

Opinions as to the justifiability of calling the IDF an “ethical army” are, naturally, varied. Critics of Israel and the IDF tend to judge the army’s conduct in a more negative and harsh manner. Some argue that Israeli policy renders every discussion of IDF conduct meaningless because Israel’s policy, by definition, is unethical. Others, unimpressed by any contradictory evidence or details, point to specific instances in which they claim the IDF is guilty of “war crimes.”157 But there are also those who come to the defense of the IDF emphasizing the complex conditions of battle. Israel must defend itself, they argue, and various measures have proved that IDF has succeeded in preserving a low ratio of civilian casualties when fighting in populated areas – as compared to other armies.158 All this leads to the claim that Israel is being held to a double standard.

A great many seminar participants agreed with the claim that the IDF is indeed an ethical army; many also agreed with the claim that it is more ethical than most or all other armies in the world. Unlike what seemed apparent in several articles critical of Israel during Operation Protective Edge, it appears that there is widespread understanding in the Jewish communities that Israel invests effort, even considerable effort, in preventing harm to innocent individuals in its military actions.

The dialogue group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania responded with an “absolute yes” to the question of whether Israeli combat policy is ethical, as did the Hungarian participants. In the Glenside, Australia seminar, 17 out of 19 participants agreed that Israel upholds an ethical combat policy, as was the case in a sizeable majority of the other groups. Many seminar participants asserted that the IDF takes exceptional measures to protect human life and agreed that Israel is the exception, in the positive sense, as compared with other countries. During seminars held in numerous communities, participants referred to various precedents in military conduct taken from different regions and wars that underline the gap between the IDF’s conduct and that of other armies.

Examples cited included events such as the bombing of Dresden during World War II, or the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of that war. But there were also references to more contemporary examples, such as the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (1999), the Libya campaign under NATO’s Joint Force Command (2011), as well as the Saudi bombing of Yemen (2015). A majority agreed with the survey statement that the IDF is “more ethical than other armies in the world” as well as with the assertion that Israel made an effort to avoid harming innocent civilians during the war in Gaza last summer. “President Truman worried firstly about the welfare of American soldiers; only after that did he ask how many Japanese were killed,” asserted a participant in Stamford, Connecticut.159 “Hiroshima and Dresden too, were bombed in order to shorten the war,” said a Dallas participant. “Jenin is like Iraq and Afghanistan when they tried to avoid urban warfare,” commented a participant in Ocean County, New Jersey.160 “American soldiers don’t enter a built-up area without bombings from the air,” said a Los Angeles participant.

It’s worth mentioning that there was a significant gap between the responses of participants over 30 and those of younger participants to the question regarding Israel’s morality during wartime. When survey results were sorted by age cohort, it turned out, for example, that young Jewish respondents tended to think to a much lesser extent than older participants that the IDF “made every effort to avoid civilian casualties in last summer’s war in Gaza” (this despite our working assumption that they have a basic interest and relatively close connection with Israel).161 Almost one-fifth of younger survey respondents did not agree that the IDF made “every effort to avoid civilian casualties during the war in Gaza,” while only a tiny percentage of the older respondents felt similarly. In contrast, 15 percent more of older participants “absolutely” agreed with the statement that the IDF made “every effort…” than the younger participants (an expanded discussion of the gaps between older and younger respondents can be found in this report’s final section):

In addition to understanding Diaspora Jewry’s perceptions of what happens in war, it is fitting to devote a few words to the question of Israeli PR (hasbara) around wartime events. Discontent with Israeli PR was expressed in numerous seminars. Obviously, this may reflect Jewish frustration at Israel’s lack of success “convincing the world” of its justness more than a criticism that reflects a genuine problem with Israel’s hasbara efforts. Still, the number and intensity of these criticisms necessitates that they be brought to the attention, at least in summary form, of decision-makers.

1. Many participants claimed that Israel doesn’t invest enough in PR, and that the Arab case is heard much more clearly during war. They cautioned that while Israel invests considerable money and other resources equipping the IDF, there is an insufficient understanding that “in today’s world, victory on television is more important than victory in Gaza,” as articulated by an Atlanta seminar participant. Her position – whether ultimately right or wrong, represented the positions of numerous participants in many communities.
2. Numerous participants focused on the personal capabilities of Israeli advocates, diplomats, military spokespersons, and politicians. They argued that Israel is not selective enough in choosing people to speak on its behalf, and that it utilizes many in its media campaign who are not suitable and do not understand how to speak to the world. Participants complained that Israeli politicians, both the left and right, speak on Israel’s behalf and this causes damage to Israel – from the left, because they are critical of Israel, and from the right because they behave irresponsibly. As one participant in Ocean County put it, ” [T]hey continue addressing their domestic audience, even when they speak English.”
3. Diaspora Jewry’s frustration that it does not have the real time information/tools that will allow them to engage in their own PR efforts came up in several seminars. As a Parisian participant stated, “Israel should do whatever it believes necessary to protect Israeli citizens, but please provide us on the spot with material to defend the Israeli case.”
4. The expression “mowing the lawn” employed by Israeli spokespersons during the war garnered vigorous disapproval. This served as an example of the belief that Israel does not properly prepare its spokespersons and does not understand what type of language “works” in the international media and among foreign audiences – especially the liberal audiences with whom Israel has an ongoing problem. Other problematic language formulations were mentioned to bolster this claim.
5. A repeated criticism of Israeli PR touched upon the fact that Israel has lost its ability to persuade the world that it truly wants peace. There was a recurring assertion in numerous seminars that so long as Israel does not restore confidence in its desire for an agreement with the Palestinians, its spokespersons will not have much success in persuading the world that Israel acts ethically.
6. It should be mentioned that alongside dialogue participant complaints over PR, there was virtually sweeping agreement that Israel is forced to contend with an increasingly hostile global arena, and that the international media casts Israel as the aggressor and the other side as the victim. This characterization is based on casualty figures rather than why Israel engaged in battle in the first place and who bears responsibility for its perpetuation.

It is difficult to decipher the effect of Israel’s wars on Diaspora Jews’ Israel attachment. On one hand, data reveals that World Jewry has traditionally supported Israel in wartime; but on the other, many Jews warn that Israel is losing the support of young Jews as a result of the continuing clashes.

In this year’s Dialogue process, which dealt with a subject that clearly touches upon questions of security, many participants argued that Israel must also take their positions into account. In the participant survey, however, a substantial group maintained that, “Israel needs to wage its wars without considering the positions of Jews who live outside of Israel.”162 But a more complex position was voiced in the discussions, supported by the rationale that Israel should consider the positions of Jews around the world because its actions affects Diaspora Jews. Participants were more conscious of this effect this year than in the past, due to rising European anti-Semitism, and the harsh atmosphere regarding Israel on several American campuses.

During the discussions this effect was divided into two main fields:

1. The manner in which Israel’s actions influence the attachment of Diaspora Jews to Israel.
2. The manner in which Israel’s actions impact Diaspora Jews within their surroundings.

As explained in the previous section, the effect of Israeli policies on the propensity of non-Israeli Jews to feel a close connection with Israel and to view it as a vital component of their Jewish identity is not entirely clear. On one hand, as already mentioned, numerous past studies have found no evidence of a clear linkage between the political views of Jews and the intensity of their attachment to Israel.163 It is clear that Jews with the strongest connection to Israel generally have a higher level of commitment to their Jewish identity. On the other hand, leaders, writers, and opinion shapers reiterate that Israel’s conduct has tremendous implications on the manner in which it is perceived in the eyes of Jews around the world, mainly those who disagree politically with government of Israel policy.

Rather than describing how one’s political positions affect his or her perceptions of Israel’s conduct in war, the following paragraphs describe instead how one’s opinions about Israel’s wars may affect his or her general connection with Israel.
Apart from the dialog process under discussion, JPPI, in 2015, conducted a structured iterative consultation, a scaled down Delphi study, with invited experts on American Jewry, which found that most participants believed that last summer’s Gaza war led to “a lessened global Jewish connection with Israel.”164
Among participants in JPPI’s Glen Cove brainstorming conference, too, the opinion that the recent wars have had a distancing effect on World Jewry was frequently expressed, an opinion that was also voiced in many of the seminars. “There are so many negative things here, with no positive vision that will draw us towards Israel,” warned a young participant in Los Angeles.165 “Jews also uphold a double standard and they too are part of the problem,” said a participant in New York. “Because of Israel’s actions, it is losing support among American Jews. That’s going to have a price,” asserted a UCLA student.

Even so, at least one empirical study has actually shown a significant trend of strengthened connections as a result of the war.166 According to this study, during the Gaza operation young American Jews identified with and increased their support for Israel. (The study examined Taglit-Birthright, both those who participated in the program and those who registered but did not participate during the summer of Operation Protective Edge.) This increased support held true for Jews with conservative or moderate political positions, but also for those with liberal positions, i.e., whose basic attitude toward Israeli policy is more critical. The study’s survey results167 showed that a large majority (79 percent) of young people who took part in Taglit-Birthright thought that Israel’s actions in the war were “totally justified” or “generally justified”; this was also true for a considerable majority (67 percent) of the registrants who did not ultimately take part in the program.

According to the study of Taglit-Birthright registrants, there is no evidence for the claim that “the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has brought about a distancing from Israel among young, politically liberal Jews.” In fact, the study’s data show an opposite effect: “Registrants (for Taglit-Birthright) from the entire political spectrum – including those on the extreme left –exhibited a considerable increase in their connection to Israel as a result of the confrontation in Gaza. The Gaza confrontation did not deepen the gap between liberals and conservatives (in the intensity of their connection to Israel); rather, it increased the intensity of the connection among both groups,” wrote the researchers.168

JPPI’s survey of 2015 Dialogue participants found that many of them also had a hard time deciphering the nature of the war’s effect on the connection of Jews to Israel. This difficulty was evident in the discrepancy between their answers to a question addressing their own personal positions and their answers to the same question addressing the position of the “Jewish community.” Despite the fact that most said that Israel’s actions during war causes them to be “prouder” of Israel, when asked to characterize how they thought “other Jews in the community” felt in the same regard, a higher proportion also identified feelings of “detached,” and even “embarrassed.” In other words: Jews know what they feel, but they also hear Jewish voices around them warning of alienation and estrangement, and, perhaps, they also personally know Jews who feel such alienation and estrangement (and who, therefore, probably did not attend a dialogue seminar). Whether a participant’s personal (and more positive) feeling is representative of the community’s majority position, or whether the fear that other members of the community feel less positively toward Israel is a more accurate reflection of current Diaspora realities remains open to assessment and interpretation.

A similar doubt over the war’s influence on Jews was also discernable in seminar discussions. A Cleveland seminar participant said, “Israel’s use of force affects how other Jews see it, but doesn’t affect my own position.”169 Many participants cautioned against how the wars affect young Jews. “Young people are asking what’s the significance of being Jewish; and if the answer to that means being a state that’s constantly dropping bombs, then maybe there’s no point in that,” a Washington seminar participant commented. “Young people feel that Israel uses too much force,” said a participant in Stamford, Connecticut. Others said: “Young people in colleges feel insecure when Israel uses force”170 ; “It’s not easy to walk around university and defend what people see on TV. Go explain to them that what they see isn’t really what’s happening and that they’re not being given the whole background. It’s better to just shut up and not be overly connected with Israel.”171; “Jews have a very comfortable life here, so why would they want to be connected to a state that’s constantly giving them trouble?”172 and, “From what I see around me, Israel is totally losing the young generation in America. Children here really aren’t interested, they have their own things, and what they see on TV doesn’t give them the desire to talk about Israel – certainly not with their non-Jewish friends.”173

When Israel is at war there is a “domino effect,” said one seminar participant in Cleveland. Many of the discussions stressed the way in which Israel’s wars, the manner in which these are presented in the media, the attention they draw and the automatic tendency in the non-Jewish environment to see the Jews as representing a pro-Israel stance – all of these summarize the direct influence of the combat on the relationship Jews have with their surroundings. “When Israel bombs Gaza, I feel it,” remarked a discussion participant in Dallas, Texas.

Israel’s actions have ramifications for non-Israeli Jews as well. They are often subject to criticism if they support Israel, and on occasion, to unpleasant demonstrations or even violence purportedly in response to Israel’s actions. As last year’s Dialogue report also highlighted, “There is clear evidence that periods of tension between Israel and its neighbors increase the frequency and intensity of harassment/attacks against Jews in various places around the world. This is true for places where there are only a few Jews as well as places where the Jewish communities are larger and stronger.” This year such insights were particularly emphatic in light of the bloody incidents against France’s Jewish community, with one discussion participant noting that “any time [Israel uses force] synagogues are burned.”174

Following the attack on the Paris Jewish market in January 2015, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls claimed that anti-Semitic incidents are related to “the difficult neighborhoods, with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who have turned anger about Gaza into something very dangerous.”175 Former President Jimmy Carter took things one step further in suggesting that “one of the origins” of the attacks in France is “the Palestinian problem, and this affects people who are affiliated in any way with the Arab people who live in the West Bank and Gaza.”176

If Israel’s use of force supplies rationale for attacks on Jews the world over, it is totally natural for Jews the world over to feel they have a stake in Israel’s policy toward its Palestinian neighbors and its image overseas. Jews around the world, whether they want a connection with Israel or not, are forced to bear some of the cost for the way Israel is perceived by the world.
“The Jews of Europe feel the impact of Israel’s actions after every military operation,”177 said a young dialogue participant. “Jewish institutions often need to increase their security as a result of [Israel’s] conflicts,” a London participant explained, “Israel’s battles have an immediate influence, and mostly negative, on Diaspora Jewry in the media and the universities,” according to the seminar discussions in Brazil. “We are all held accountable for Israel’s actions,” we were told in Pittsburgh.

Thus, it would appear that the feeling that when Israel shoots, Jews feel it applies not only to Jews residing in communities under the direct and outright threat of violence, such as the European communities, but also to relatively safe communities, such as in the United States. Dialogue participants shared many stories that shed light on how IDF actions impact their lives. In Atlanta, one seminar participant remarked that Israel’s battles “make the interaction with non-Jews more complicated.” A St. Louis participant said, “Whether I want it or not I am forced into acting as an ambassador for Israel.” Another participant told of how he “chickened out” when he happened to be someplace where strong criticism was being leveled at Israel. In many other discussions, participants described incidents when they chose to remain silent, and sometimes did not identify themselves as Jews, so as not to be dragged into conflict and debate with adamant Israel detractors.

In several seminars, participants reported the problems that Israel’s actions create for them within their own families.178 For one parent in Los Angeles, the conflict engenders confrontation in his relationship with his own children, who are more critical of Israel and chastise their father for his support of the Jewish state. At a seminar in Dallas, one participant spoke of her conflict with non-Jewish family members. This topic came up in several other seminars and reflects the changing face of the Jewish world, a process that, in recent years, has been most evident in the North American Jewish community.

Presently, roughly half of all 18-year-old American Jews has one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent.179 This is a dramatic change in the makeup of the U.S. Jewish community (there is less data available on most Jewish communities in other countries, but we know that intermarriage rates in some of them are also very high),180 and this has some effect on how Jews relate to Israel.181

Certain aspects of intermarriage’s influence on Israel attachment have already been extensively documented. According to Prof. Steven Cohen’s analysis of the 2013 Pew report’s dataset , Jews who are not connected to Israel have distinct characteristics: they are younger (almost 20 percent of young people feel alienated from Israel), they are not affiliated with any particular stream of Judaism, they are politically liberal, and were raised in homes with at least one Jewish parent. Among those who grew up in intermarried homes, almost 20 percent have a weak connection to Israel, and believe that the United States is overly supportive of Israel. Among those who grew up in homes where both parents were Jewish, less than 5 percent feel the same way.

But the 2015 JPPI Dialogue discovered another angle regarding the influence of intermarriage on the connection to Israel – an influence that derives from the necessity that some Jews feel to justify their connection to Israel to non-Jewish family members, including close relatives. Jews married to non-Jews often have to explain to their spouses, in-laws or other family members their feeling of support and sympathy for Israel.

It also arises among Jews-by-choice (whether they have converted officially or perceive themselves as being part of a Jewish community without a conversion process).

In one seminar, a female Jewish convert reported that, “My family asked me, ‘this is the religion you joined?’ They watched TV and couldn’t understand what this had to do with me.” In another seminar a participant described a serious argument he had with his non-Jewish brother-in-law who felt that the United States needs to stop supporting Israel. “When the argument is within the family you have to be more cautious because no way do you want to ruin the relationship, even if you feel [the other side] is completely wrong. And besides, I sort of understand him: If I were not Jewish then maybe I wouldn’t understand why we should support Israel and why it is important.”

Discrepant worldviews between Israeli Jews and Jews living outside of Israel are sometimes significant, and the many reasons for those gaps exceed the scope of this paper. As shown in previous chapters, these gaps are even more prominent among the young when it comes to Israel – the generation which, for various sociological, demographic, and political reasons, is not as close to Israel as the older generation. In the previous chapter we presented research that found American young adults – including those who support the left – felt closer to Israel during Operation Protective Edge.182 But data is one thing and feelings are something else entirely. In the seminars and at the Glen Cove brainstorming conference, the opinion that Israel has a problem with the younger generation of Diaspora Jews was pervasive. There was also a consensus that this problem becomes more acute when Israel goes to battle or undertakes a military operation (the previous chapter also dealt with the question of whether this particular detachment is generational and long lasting or a temporary result of a particular lifecycle phase.)

The discussion of the younger generation’s attitude is of interest to both Israel and World Jewry for one obvious reason: This is the generation whose attitude (and the attitude of the Jewish leadership that will come from it) will define the status of Israel-Diaspora relations in the future. In recent years there has been much concern regarding the tendencies of the younger generation of Diaspora Jews, particularly in North America. This report discusses this concern from the relatively narrow angle of attitudes on questions raised in the 2015 Dialogue. But even a discussion from this angle will enable us to understand the significant attitude gaps between (non-Orthodox) young adults (18-30) and their older counterparts with respect to Israel, which seem especially pronounced when Israel engages in armed conflict.

This year’s Dialogue made an effort to include several groups of young adults, most of whom – but not all – were from the United States, in addition to the young people who participated in the general seminars (which tend to skew toward an older demographic).183 The bulk of this chapter relies on the attitudes JPPI Dialogue participants expressed in their survey responses. Our purpose is not to describe the attitude of the young participants toward all the questions presented in previous chapters, but to demonstrate how they differ from their older counterparts.

Concern over the attitudes of the younger generation of Jews is shared by Israel and Diaspora Jewry – and was frequently expressed in the seminar discussions. In other words, not only is Israel itself worried over the question of whether it is “losing” or is likely to lose young Diaspora Jews, older generation non-Israeli Jews are also alarmed. Some of them are worried because of the importance they ascribe to Israel and their desire that the next generation also be a source of support. Some are dismayed because they understand that the young adults who do not feel close to Israel will, in most cases, also be alienated from the Jewish community and their own Jewish identity.

The question of the “young people” and their affiliation with Israel was emphasized by many seminar participants. Seminar attendees in Tenafly, New Jersey raised the argument that “young people find it difficult to connect to something negative.” “Young people want to be like everyone, to be part of the world [and therefore] it is hard for them to identify with Israel” reported a Washington participant. In Dallas, we were told that if there is alienation from Israel, “it was mostly being tired of seeing violence – but there is also a great deal of criticism from young people on the left.”

One Toronto participant said, “What Israel does [during war] makes me feel proud… but naturally the young people have less of an instinctive feeling such as this.” In Cleveland, the question of the “young people” was raised by participants in all of the discussions: “College kids feel insecure when Israel uses force”; “There are huge gaps between Israel and the Diaspora, mainly among young Jews who lack the knowledge and understanding”; “There are fewer Zionists among the younger generation.”184

Numerous participants expressed the belief that for young liberal Jews in the Diaspora,185 the debate on “moral behavior” is sometimes a pretext for holding Israel to a higher moral standard than is expected of other countries.186 Many participants wanted to focus their outreach efforts on the younger generation – with an emphasis on left-leaning young Jews – whose fundamental beliefs and lack of knowledge make them tougher customers in terms of affiliation with Israel. “We need public diplomacy with progressive young people,” we heard in Atlanta. “Something must be done with regard to educating young people,” said one Stamford, Connecticut participant.

Indeed, young people think about Israel during an armed conflict differently from older adults, and this incongruence is significant in both general attitudes toward Israel and its position in the world – that is, the extent to which Israel is threatened, and the appropriateness of its policy in response to that threat – and, more specifically, attitudes about Israel’s actions when engaged in military operations or war. Some young Dialogue participants expressed a general resentment of Israel over various issues. For example, that Israel “acts as if it represents all Jews,”187 or the impression that “a large number of the wars it fights are unnecessary and could have been avoided.”188 Younger participants also tended to demand that Israel uphold a particularly high moral standard, with statements such as, “All lives have equal value, we cannot prefer our lives over theirs [the Palestinians].”189 Some aired the concern that “Israel leaves people [in
Gaza] homeless, and if and how Israel would compensate the innocent civilians [in Gaza] that were harmed [as a result of Operation Protective Edge].”190

Gaps between young Jews (up to age 30) and older Jews are also seen quite clearly when participant survey responses are sorted by age cohort.

As noted previously, we can see these gaps across a variety of questions. First, they are already obvious in the general questions, for example, the question of whether Israel’s enemies constitute an “existential threat.” Although the majority of young respondents answered this question affirmatively, it was a much smaller majority compared to older respondents. Among all respondents, 84 percent answered “Yes” to the question of existential threat, but this percentage consists of responses by both adults and young people. The gap between the age groups is almost 20 percent.

Nearly one-third of the young Jews who responded to JPPI’s Dialogue survey did not agree that Israel’s enemies pose an “existential threat.” Of course, this gap likely stems from a different understanding of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, or from information disparities between older and younger participants. It is also probably related to differing levels of existential concern over the fate of the Jews, among other things, because of different sets of historical memories and experiences between younger and older Dialogue participants. Those in the younger age cohort were born after Israel became a strong nation vis-à-vis its neighbors. They did not experience the anxiety that attended Israel’s War of Independence or the Six-Day War, not to mention the severe blow of the Yom Kippur War, and this, in all likelihood, factors into their reluctance to acceptthat Israel faces existential threats.

Previous chapters included graphs showing that young people, more than older adults, feel that control of the Palestinians makes it more difficult for Israel to present itself as “moral” in the context of armed conflict with the Palestinians. They also tend to think less than their older counterparts, that Israel did everything in its power to avoid injuring civilians during Protective Edge. Where do these gaps originate? Some, obviously, are related to the fact that younger Jews detect less of a threat against Israel, but, undoubtedly, the gaps also stem from a more critical approach to Israel’s conduct in the Middle East among the young. They feel, in large measure, that Israel is not doing enough to advance peace with its neighbors.

When we asked survey respondents whether “the current Israeli government is making an effort to bring about a peace treaty with the Palestinians,”191 the gap between younger and older respondents was obvious, but not vast. This is mainly because the level of faith in Israeli government in this context is fairly low across age cohorts.

Similarly, the gaps were pronounced, but still relatively limited, when the participants were asked to express their agreement/disagreement with the statement: “Israel is not making a sufficient diplomatic effort to avoid another armed conflict in Gaza.” Particularly among those who responded that they “strongly agree” there was a difference between older and younger participants, who were more inclined to believe that Israel is making an inadequate effort. Almost one-fifth of the younger participants believe that Israel is not doing enough, almost twice the number of older participants. Nevertheless, as with the question regarding the belief that Israel is sincere vis-a-vis the peace process, this question also touches on a similar issue (diplomatic arrangements in Gaza). The faith in Israel’s efforts is generally low (of all respondents, younger and older, some 44 percent “strongly agree[d]” or “somewhat agree[d]” that Israel “is not making enough of a diplomatic effort” – nearly half of all respondents).192

Gaps between younger and older participants were more pronounced, and perhaps also more important, when they were asked questions relating to them themselves. Younger participants, more than their older counterparts, felt that Israel should consult with them when it comes to delineating its security policy. Around a third of older participants did not feel that Israel is obligated to consult in any way with Diaspora Jewry, but among their younger counterparts only a fifth agreed with this position, while a large majority felt that Israel should consult with the Diaspora. This was mainly due to the perception that Israel’s policy directly impacts Diaspora Jewry – an effect that younger Dialogue participants emphasized in seminar discussions (“All participants in the group agreed that Israel’s military policy affects Diaspora Jews,” reads the summary of one seminar that only included young people.193)

Similarly, when asked to analyze reactions in the Jewish community to the Gaza conflict, many more of the younger respondents said that the conflict caused them to feel “worried about Israel’s character” or “detached” from Israel, than their older counterparts. Among the younger people, only half (compared to two thirds among the older group) said that the war in Gaza caused them to feel “proud” of Israel.194

The bottom line regarding young people is clear. Young JPPI survey respondents had at least a basic interest in Israel and in Israel-Diaspora relations – in other words, young people for whom “detachment” from Israel does not appear to be entrenched – gave significantly different answers than older respondents to each of the questions examined. And the gap is always in the same direction. Less trust in Israel, more of a tendency to recoil from its actions, more criticism, more demands of it. When asked whether Israel uses force “only as a last resort,” around 80 percent of older respondents answered yes, compared to 60 percent of younger respondents. Ten percent of the younger respondents “strongly disagree[d]” with the claim that Israel only uses force as a last resort, and another 28 percent disagreed “to a certain degree.” In other words, almost 40 percent of the younger survey respondents did not agree that Israel uses force only “as a last resort,” compared to less than 20 percent among the older respondents. Young people had less belief in Israel, accepted its claims about regional threats (existential danger) less. At bottom, younger participants, were less accepting of Israeli actions and responded to them with greater criticism than their older counterparts.

This Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) special report is based on discussions held all over the Jewish world on questions relating to Jewish ethics and values, and the use of force by the State of Israel in armed conflicts. These discussion seminars enabled us to learn firsthand about the opinions of Jewish leaders, professionals, rabbis, donors and activists. Most of the encounters were held in March and April 2015.

Alongside the discussion groups, all participants were asked to complete a questionnaire. Beyond the fact that it provides us with additional and focused information on participant attitudes, this questionnaire enables us to present a more accurate and detailed picture of the individuals who took part in the process (such as the age of participants and how many times they had visited Israel). It can also be used as a tool to compare JPPI Dialogue participants to the general Jewish population by looking at our data side-by-side with that of other studies.195 In preliminary research leading up to the Dialogue seminars we made extensive use of studies, surveys and articles, and we have relied on many of them in the process of drawing conclusions. References to all of the background materials used appear in the footnotes.
Naturally, the conclusions drawn from the seminars, the survey, and the background materials are subject to reservations and critique, and we cannot present them without raising several “warning flags” to explain the context in which the seminars were held, and to clarify what they can accomplish for certain, and what they cannot.

Structure and Content of the Seminars:

The vast majority of the seminars were between one and a half and two hours long, and in most cases each discussion group had fewer than 20 participants. In communities where there were a greater number of participants, they were divided into separate discussion groups, which were summarized separately.
Prior to the start of discussions, seminar participants were asked to complete a survey questionnaire. Discussions began with a brief presentation of the reasons behind the seminar and the main questions that would be raised. Later, two or three “case studies” were presented for more detailed examination (the materials prepared for facilitators included three case studies, and the facilitators made use of them according to their own discretion and time constraints). The first case had to do with the fighting in the refugee camp in Jenin and the decision to send IDF units into the camp at the beginning of Operation Defensive Shield (2002). The second dealt with the Second Lebanon War (2006) and the decision not to cause serious damage to civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. The third case related to the decision to destroy high-rise buildings in downtown Gaza toward the end of Operation Protective Edge (2014).
Following a detailed exchange on some of the examples, the discussion returned to central questions in three spheres, which had been defined as the main focus of the Dialogue:
1. What do non-Israeli Jews know about how Israel operates during armed conflicts, and what insights do they have about these methods of operation? (Perceptions)
2. What are their expectations of Israel, and how do they think the conflict should be handled? (Expectations)
3. How do Israel’s conflicts affect the lives of non-Israeli Jews and their connection with Israel? (Relations)

Specific questions were presented to discussion group participants, and their opinions about the three spheres were elicited, as were their thoughts on case studies they had discussed, which provided them with additional information – some of which was unfamiliar to many of them – on how the IDF operates.

Bias in Favor of the Jewish Community’s Core Population:

Understanding the process, its advantages and limitations, requires that we first understand that it relied heavily upon the local community (and local organizations). Each community was responsible for recruiting its seminar participants. Therefore, the composition and size of the groups varied. But one thing was common to all of them: The established community – usually the federation but sometimes other organizations as well – was the organizing body that gathered the participants. In many cases, particularly in the seminars held outside the United States, it was also the body responsible for submitting a discussion report/summary to the Jewish People Policy Institute. It is important to recognize that the vast majority of seminar participants are connected to the “core” of the organized Jewish community. Our findings do not necessarily represent the attitudes and opinions of Jews with weak or no connection to established Jewish life. We know from previous studies that members of the core community tend to be more connected to Israel, attribute greater importance to their Jewish identity, and, in certain cases, are less liberal than other Jewish groups.196 The information we gathered indicates, for example, that Dialogue participants tend to visit Israel more frequently than your “average Jew.”197 Naturally, these characteristics influence the attitudes of JPPI seminar participants.

Adding the Voices of Younger Community Members:

Since the groups convened for discussions were, by and large, composed of people with high standing in the community, they tended to include fewer young people. We know that, on average, the world view of younger Jews tends to be more liberal and more critical of Israel’s policies, and their connection to Israel tends to be more tenuous.198 We understood that young people were underrepresented in JPPI’s 2014 Dialogue process on Israel’s character as a Jewish and Democratic state, and having concluded that greater representation of young adults was essential, we made a concerted effort this year to include several young adult groups. University groups (Hillel at UCLA and the American Jewish University in Los Angeles), and several groups of Masa Israel participants, whom we met a very short time after their arrival in Israel took part in JPPI’s 2015 Dialogue.199 As a result, this year we can present findings based on a younger median age cohort than last year. Accordingly, this report includes a special section on the differences between the attitudes of young adults and those of their older counterparts. Age distribution data, which appears further on in the report, indicate that the number of young people participating in the 2015 Dialogue corresponds, more or less, with the proportion of young people in the Jewish community as a whole. Of course, with the help of these groups we could also compare and contrast the perspectives of older and younger participants as expressed in the survey results and in the discussions themselves.

Interest in Israel:

It can be assumed that the groups taking part in the discussions exhibited a self-selection bias. In other words, we must assume that Jews who have little interest in Israel probably did not participate in the seminars, even in cases when they received an invitation to do so from their local communities. Thus, the general picture we get from the seminars undoubtedly skews toward those members of the worldwide Jewish community for whom Israel is important, and who are interested in participating in the discourse with and about Israel. We can find clear-cut evidence of this in the fact that the percentage of visitors to Israel among seminar participants is much higher compared with the rates among the general Jewish population.

Religious Composition:

JPPI’s 2015 Dialogue process included very few ultra-Orthodox participants. This is a Dialogue limitation that has repeated itself (this was also the case last year), and our efforts to correct it were not sufficiently successful.200 What we know this year that we did not know last year is the specific religious makeup of the discussion groups. Below is a table that presents this data, and compares it to other studies. Generally speaking, the percentage of participants who define themselves as “Conservative” is higher in the Dialogue than their share in the general Jewish population. In contrast, the percentage of participants who are not affiliated with a specific stream of American Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist or other) is lower than their proportion in the general Jewish population. In other words, those participating in the 2015 Dialogue were more “religious” (not necessarily in terms of observance, but in terms of identity and identification) than the “average Jew.”

Geographic Distribution:

The geographic distribution of the seminars was quite diverse. Communities from several continents took part in the 2015 Dialogue process. The impressive representation of North American Jewry corresponds to the relative size of the Jewish population there.201 This year quite a few new communities joined the process, mostly in the United States. We were less successful than we had hoped in adding additional non-American communities to the process. Communities in countries such as the Czech Republic and Belgium expressed an interest in participating, but ultimately could not organize their discussions in time. We hope to expand the number of participating communities next year, and for now we have attempted to overcome the under-representation of these communities by analyzing existing background materials and research.

Gaps in the Process Itself:

We relied, in certain cases, on the communities to record protocols of their seminars and summarize them for us, and in other cases JPPI staff was responsible for the summaries. In some communities the Institute’s researchers facilitated the seminars, while in other communities the seminars were run by the communities themselves. Additionally, the length of the seminars varied, as did discussion intensity and level of the summation. Full details regarding each community’s seminars appear in Appendix D below. It should be noted that all the participating communities demonstrated an impressive level of earnestness and commitment to the process, and we thank them for it.


After outlining some weak spots of the 2015 Dialogue process, we should also present some of its advantages. A discussion among Jews who have a clear and unequivocal interest in being connected to Israel, and are involved in its interests can and should take priority over a discussion that also includes Jews who are weakly connected to Israel with a low level of interest. Since the purpose of the process is to discuss Israeli policy, it is reasonable to argue that such a discussion should take into account primarily (and perhaps only) the outlook of Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is important. Taking into consideration the perspectives of Jews uninterested in Israel is less than reasonable in this context. Undoubtedly, taking into account individuals for whom Israel is unimportant would not seem reasonable to most Israelis who, as can be seen in the report, do not always wish to consider even the opinions of deeply involved and committed Zionist Jews. Nor would it be reasonable for the voices of those Diaspora Jews who do not frequently invest, visit, contribute and express an interest in Israel to carry equal weight to those involved in the community.

But in spite of all this, in order to give a full and comprehensive picture of the “perspectives of the Jewish world” we supplemented our study with a considerable amount of data and information from other studies and articles that shed light on the outlooks of groups who are more distant from the organized community. This was very important this year, as the 2015 Dialogue was initiated under an implicit assumption that among certain, and perhaps many, groups of Jews around the world support for Israel’s actions during combat – and an understanding of its actions – had weakened, or perhaps was weak in the first place. Presenting a broad range of attitudes, including those of Jews with little or no likely interest in attending one the seminars seemed, therefore, to be essential.

We have gone to considerable lengths to present a full and comprehensive picture, one that also includes the voices of Jews critical of and less connected to Israel.

Total number of Dialogue participants and discussion groups:
Groups: 42
Participants: 580
Number of groups holding seminars facilitated by the Institute: 30
Number of groups holding seminars that were locally facilitated: 12



Gender Distribution:

Men: 54%
Women: 46%
(Distribution of Jewish men/women in the United States: 52% and 48% respectively)202

Comparison between responses to the question “Do you think the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians?” in the 2013 Pew report and JPPI’s 2015 Dialogue:205


Click here to view the questionnaire.

JPPI’s 2015 Dialogue process on “Jewish Values and the Use of Force During Armed Conflict” included a number of key research components: a comprehensive reading and in-depth analysis of background material on moral, social, and legal dilemmas faced by Israel with regard to the use of force, and Jewish approaches to the subject; several dozen seminars in communities throughout the world, some of which were facilitated by JPPI personnel while others were facilitated locally; distribution of a questionnaire to all participants alongside the discussion groups; analyses of opinion articles on the subject from all over the world; analysis of Dialogue survey results and written seminar summaries; a brainstorming conference for Jewish leaders in Glen Cove, New York, on the 2015 Dialogue topic and process.

Background materials produced by JPPI for the 2015 Dialogue process:

  • A background report prepared prior to the seminars;
  • A PowerPoint presentation for showing at the seminars, and detailed instructions to facilitators on how to use the presentation;
  • A questionnaire that was distributed to all the discussion group participants (attached above);
  • A document with interim conclusions prepared for the Glen Cove brainstorming conference;
  • A chapter in JPPI’s 2014-2015 Annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People.


  1. The report was written by Shmuel Rosner, Senior Fellow of the Jewish People Policy Institute. Rosner and Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Herzog headed the Dialogue project for 2015. Dr. Dov Maimon and Inbal Hakman took part in moderating several seminars within the Dialogue framework. Chaya Ekstein managed the project and was most helpful in gathering background material and analyzing data. The report was edited by Rami Tal and Barry Geltman.
  2. The Jewish People Policy Institute discussions, both in the communities and in Glen Cove, were held in accordance with Chatham House Rules, i.e., participants may be quoted, but without specific attribution. This decision was meant to ensure an open and free discussion. This report quotes extensively from the Jewish People Policy Institute discussions, without naming the speakers. Participant names are listed in Appendix D.
  3. A complete list of the communities in which the seminars were held appears in the report appendices.
  4. The cases that were presented to the participants related to combat in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, to infrastructure bombings in Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and to the explosion of towers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
  5. Seminar in Atlanta, Georgia, March 26, Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  6. Seminar in Dallas, Texas, April 17 2015, Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  7. Seminar at the American Jewish University (AJU), Los Angeles, April 14, Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  8. Seminar in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, moderated by Gregg Roman, on April 13, notes taken by Elayna Tell.
  9. Seminar in Stamford, Connecticut, March 29, Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  10. Seminar in Brazil, organized by Alberto Milkewitz, quoted from Milkewitz’s summary of the discussions in Brazil.
  11. Seminar in St. Louis, Missouri, moderated by Barry Rosenberg, April 7, notes taken by Cyndee Levy.
  12. Cleveland, Ohio seminar, March 31, notes by Jen Schwarz.
  13. St. Louis seminar.
  14. Seminar in Melbourne, Australia, moderated by John Searle, February 22, notes taken by Emily Gian.
  15. Tenafly, New Jersey seminar, with a group of Israeli-Americans, organized by Moatza, March 23, notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  16. Masa, Career group seminar, February 22, notes by Chaya Ekstein.
  17. Glen Cove brainstorming session, May 18-19.
  18. See: “Reluctant or Repressed? Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis.”
  19. Seminar in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 15, moderated by Wayne Sussman.
  20. Brazilian seminar conclusions.
  21. Seminar in Chicago, Illinois, March 26, notes taken by Shmuel Rosner.
  22. According to Israeli official data over 14,000 rockets and mortar shells have been fired from Gaza into Israel from 2005 until June 30th 2014, and over 4000 projectiles were fired during Operation Protective Edge. See:
  23. Operation Cast Lead: 13 Israeli casualties and 1,200-1,391 Palestinian casualties; Operation Pillar of Defense: 6 Israeli casualties and 167 Palestinian casualties; Operation Protective Edge: 73 Israeli Casualties and 2,140 Palestinian casualties. See:
  24. See: Gabi Siboni, “Challenges of Warfare in Densely Populated Areas,” Military and Strategic Affairs, Special Issue, April 2014.
    “Israel is special because the irregulars who fight it do so not in far-away countries, thousands of kilometers away, but on its own borders, only a few dozen kilometers from Israel’s own population centers. And this gives them the unique capability to strike at these centers as their chief strategy.”
  25. Dan Efroni, “Challenges Posed by International Law in the Context of Urban Warfare Insights from Operation Pillar of Defense,” Military and Strategic Affairs, Special Issue, April 2014.
  26. Obviously, confusing “morality” with “law” is problematic. But in many countries today, especially in the west, international law is considered as the most specific expression of moral norms that should be expected of countries in armed conflicts. It should also be mentioned that “the legality of Israel’s actions are not synonymous with issues concerning the legitimacy of these actions in the international arena” (See: Pnina Sharvit Baruch, “Operation Protective Edge: Legality and Legitimacy,” INSS, July 2014).
  27. For the full Goldstone report see: The report accused both Israel and the Palestinian armed groups of war crimes, recommending that both sides conduct internal investigations. Goldstone later distanced himself from the report, claiming that if he had known some of the information only subsequently revealed, the report would have been different. See: the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/AFg111JC_story.html
  28. See:
  29. See:
  30. The Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry gave the green light for an unofficial delegation to testify before the group, Times of Israel, Jan. 15, 2015.
  31. The Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry gave the green light for an unofficial delegation to testify before the group, Times of Israel, Jan. 15, 2015.
  32. See, for example: “Gaza conflict: Schabas quits UN inquiry over bias claims”, BBC.
  33. See: Tovah Lazaroff, “UN Gaza war probe to also investigate Palestinian human rights violations,” Jerusalem Post, March 2015.
  34. See: “U.N. Says Israeli Military Actions Killed 44 Civilians in Schools in Gaza War,” NYT, April 27, 2015.
  35. See: Robbie Sabel, “Operation Cast Lead and International Law,” Strategic Assessment, Feb. 2009.
  36. For further discussion see: William Saletan, “Israel’s Unprecedented Steps to avoid civilian casualties,” The National Post, July 16, 2014.
  37. Dov Waxman, “Judging Israel’s War,” Jewish Quarterly, Nov. 2014.
  38. The shrinking Jewish Middle — and how to expand it,” Steven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer, JTA, November 2014.
  39. “The trend toward fragmentation and weakening the center — those trends are already in place and they’re just going to gallop forward now,” said Theodore Sasson, a Jewish-studies professor at Middlebury College and author of “The New American Zionism.” “It’s going to make Israel an even more divisive issue in the American Jewish community.”
    Rachel Zoll, “Post-election, a widening U.S. Jewish split over Israel,” AP, March 2015.
  40. This is readily supported by surveys that assess different countries’ status in world public opinion; Israel ranks near the bottom in such surveys, alongside such countries as Iran and North Korea (for example: ).
  41. See the following Pew study:
  42. See J Street’s November 2014 poll, which found 84% in favor of an agreement with Iran based on the parameters noted in the question as formulated: “Now, imagine that the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia, and Iran reach a final agreement, which restricts Iran’s enrichment of uranium to levels that are suitable for civilian energy purposes only, and places full-time international inspectors at Iranian nuclear facilities to make sure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Under this agreement, the United States and our allies will reduce sanctions on Iran as Iran meets the compliance benchmarks of the agreement. Would you support or oppose this agreement?”
  43. See the April 2015 Gallup poll that found a drop in support for Obama among Jews. Although most (54%) support him, the gap in his favor narrowed more among Jews than in other groups. Gallup researchers explained this finding as follows:
    “How much further this gap may shrink in the months ahead remains to be seen, and will depend in part on the future of the relationship between Obama and Israeli leadership. This in turn will reflect the status of the pending agreement with Iran that would restrict that country’s nuclear activity in return for a further loosening of economic sanctions. Other administration actions relating to Israel, including support for a possible two-state solution to the Palestinian situation, could also affect Jewish attitudes toward the president going forward.”
  44. “Netanyahu’s Planned Congress Speech Splits U.S. Jewish Organizations,” Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2015.
  45. See: Laurie Goodstein, “Netanyahu Tactics Anger Many U.S. Jews, Deepening a Divide,” New York Times, March 2015; Debra Nussbaum Cohen, “American Jews Learn to Talk with Other American Jews about Israel,” Haaretz, April 2015.
  46. See: “Europe’s Leaders Bridle at Netanyahu Call for Jewish Exodus,” Bloomberg, Feb. 16, 2015.
  47. Cnaan Liphshiz, “Aliya Debate Exposes French Jewry’s Internal Fault Lines,” JTA, March 18, 2015.
  48. Seminar in Paris, France, March 3, moderated and notes by Dr. Dov Maimon.
  49. The comment refers to the Prime Minister’s controversial remarks about the Arabs “stampeding to the polls” and also about his comments about the chances for a two-state solution.
  50. See:
  51. The quote regarding Olmert is from an article in the American-Jewish newspaper “A surreal Visit,” Forward, Nov. 17, 2006. Several of the examples that appear here also appeared in: Shmuel Rosner, “American Jews Are Disappointed with Israel’s Election? Tough Luck,” Jewish Journal, March 2015.
  52. Daniel Gordis, “American Jews Finding it Harder to Like Israel,” Bloomberg, March 20, 2015.
  53. Rob Eshman, “American Jews and the Israeli Election,” Jewish Journal, March 18, 2015.
  54. See: Ilan Zvi Baron, Obligation in Exile The Jewish Diaspora, Israel and Critique (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).
  55. The broader issue of Diaspora Jews’ sense of connection to, or detachment from, Israel is a controversial one. For a more in-depth discussion, see: Shmuel Rosner and Inbal Hackman, “The Challenge of Peoplehood: Strengthening the Attachment of Young American Jews to Israel at a Time of Distancing Discourse,” JPPI, 2012.
  56. See: Shmuel Rosner, Shtetl, Bagel, Baseball: on the Wonderful and Dreadful State of American Jewry. (Jerusalem: Keter, 2011) pp. 174-177. [Hebrew language]
  57. See: “Reform Leader Raps J Street’s Gaza Stance,” JTA, Eric Fingerhut, Jan. 2009.
  58. Josh Nathan-Kazis, “J Street’s Gaza War Support Wins ‘Moderate’ Praise – but Alienates Some Backers,” Forward, July 2014.
  59. Roger Cohen, “Zionism and its Discontents,” New York Times, July 2014.
  60. David Schanzer, “Israel Can’t Afford to Lose Jews Like Me,” The World Post, November 2014. Schanzer’s article was written in response to Shmuel Rosner’s article, “Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans,” New York Times, August, 2014.
  61. See: http://www.publicseminx`
  62. Jonathan Freedland, “Liberal Zionism after Gaza,” New York Review of Books, July 2014.
  63. Jonathan Chait, “Israel Is Making It Hard to be Pro-Israel,” New York Magazine, July 2014.
  64. Leon Wieseltier, “Israel and Gaza: a Just and Unjust War,” The New Republic, August 2014.
  65. Yehuda Kurtzer, “The Politics of Loyalty,” The Jewish Week, May 2015.
  66. Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  67. “Wide gaps in the reading of realities in the Middle East among Jews in Israel and around the world – gaps that should be expected in a world of diverse views – justify an ongoing exchange spanning all perspectives and streams.”
  68. Masa Career group, notes by Chaya Ekstein.
  69. Johannesburg seminar.
  70. Seminar at AJU.
  71. Seminar in New York, March 30, notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  72. Seminar in Washington DC, April 19, Notes taken by Shmuel Rosner.
  73. Seminar in Toronto, Canada, April 21, Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  74. Seminar in London, UK, moderated by Vivian Wineman, March 22, notes by Joseph Moses.
  75. For additional discussion see the Institute report: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State: Views of Diaspora Jewry, JPPI, 2014, pp. 57-65.
  76. Cleveland seminar, notes taken by Carol Wolf.
  77. Cleveland seminar, notes by Shelly Fishbach.
  78. Paris seminar.
  79. Seminar in Glenside, Australia, moderated by Alison Marcus, March 15, notes by Merrilyn Ades.
  80. “One fundamental justification for Israel’s existence is that Judaism is clearly applied when it is necessary to take crucial decisions that involve life and security. And when we talk Judaism it is not enough to consult only with Israeli citizens. In some cases, Israel, as the Jewish State, willing or not, talks in the name of the Jewish people. Because of this, Jewish communities all over the world must be consulted as a main partner and support for Israel.” Brazil seminar conclusions.
  81. “Israel’s actions (particularly in the military sphere) often impact negatively on Diaspora Jewry. Israel has to do what it needs to protect its citizen regardless of this fallout. Israel should nevertheless be open to hearing views of Jews in the Diaspora. Not only because unpopular Israeli policies impact negatively on Jewish communities elsewhere, but the latter are primarily motivated by a desire for Israel to do what is best for itself. And since their own wellbeing is tied up with that of Israel, their views should be taken into account.”
  82. See Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
  83. See: Jack Wertheimer, “The Fragmentation of American Jewry and Its Leadership,” JCPA, 2008:
  84. Yehudah Mirsky, “Peoplehood – Thin and Strong: Rethinking Israel-Diaspora Relations for a New Century.” Toward 2030: Strategies for the Jewish Future. Ed. Rami Tal and Barry Geltman. (Jerusalem: Jewish People Policy Institute, 2010) pp. 37-61.
  85. A description of differing perspectives can be found in: Robbie Gringras, Robert Orkand, “Should we Hug or Wrestle with Israel?” Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Makom: Renewing Israel Engagement, April 6, 2009.
  86. See: Theodore Sasson, “Mass Mobilization to Direct Engagement: American Jews” Changing Relationship to Israel,” Israel Studies, volume 15, number 2, (2010) pp. 173-195.
  87. The conference was held in Glen Cove, Long Island. Information on the participants can be found in the Appendix. The above quote is from the notes taken by Shmuel Rosner during the discussion.
  88. For example, an ADL/Begin-Sadat Center survey according to which “62% [of Israelis] say that American Jewry has the right to freely and publicly criticize Israel and its policies; this is over twice the percentage of Israelis who think otherwise.”
  89. “A New Relationship between Israel and the Diaspora,” Forward, March 28, 2014.
  90. See: “Israel to Spend Billions on Initiative to Bolster Jewish Identity in Diaspora,” Jerusalem Post, January 13, 2014.
  91. See: Sixth Annual B”nai B”rith World Center Survey of Contemporary Israel Opinion Toward Diaspora Jewry Finds: Israelis have strong, personal connection to Diaspora Jewry (
  92. See: The Fourth Annual Bnai Brith Survey of Contemporary Israeli Attitudes Towards World Jewry, 2009 and the ADL-Begin Sadat Poll.
  93. The Seventh Annual B”nai B”rith World Center Survey on Contemporary Israeli Attitudes Toward Diaspora Jewry.
  94. Support levels differ significantly among Israelis based on political party affiliation. See: Shmuel Rosner, “The Israelis Who Would Not Support Diaspora Jews,” Jewish Journal, June 2012.
  95. See: “Half of Israelis: Allow Reform Jews to Marry and Convert,” Zvika Klein, NRG, June 2014.
  96. The survey was conducted by Lazar via the Panels Politics Institute. The questionnaire was compiled in consultation with Shmuel Rosner and was administered to 505 Jewish Israelis. It was conducted during April 22-26 2015. The survey’s maximum sampling error is 4.3%. The findings are provided here courtesy of Menachem Lazar.
  97. See: A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews, Israel Democracy Institute, 2009. Research Team Leader: Asher Arian, Report: Ayala Keissar-Sugarmen (
  98. This was discussed in: Shmuel Rosner, “Whose Jerusalem Is It, Anyway?” Slate Magazine, 2008.
  99. An interesting example of this politically-informed perspective on World Jewry can be found in the 2010 Peace Index, where Israeli respondents were asked to give the reasons for young Diaspora Jews’ “distancing” from Israel. Although the question’s underlying premise was incorrect (see: Shmuel Rosner, and Inbal Hakman, “The Challenge of Peoplehood: Strengthening the Attachment of Young American Jews to Israel in the Time of the Distancing Discourse,” JPPI, 2012), much can be learned from the answers given by the Israeli respondents. The more religiously observant the respondents were, the more they tended to attribute the “distancing” to weakened Jewish identity; the more secular the respondents, the more likely they were to ascribe it to Israeli policy toward the Conservative and Reform streams of Judaism and toward the Palestinians.
  100. Though this could possibly be explained by an Israeli expectation that Diaspora Jewry’s financial support will solve “social problems.”
  101. It should, of course, be noted that this survey asked the respondents to choose one of several options; it is entirely possible that Israelis whose first choice was consultation in order to improve relations with the US actually also support consultation in other areas, but not to the same degree.
  102. See the previous footnote. The choice of other options does not necessarily mean that respondents had reservations about consultation on “Military and security issues;” it merely indicates that this is a higher priority for the respondents with regard to consultation as well.
  103. See: Shmuel Rosner, “What do Israelis want from Diaspora Jews? EVERYTHING,” Jewish Journal, June, 2012, based on findings of a survey for the Israeli Presidential Conference 2012.
  104. For a chart presenting the survey findings (The Israeli Presidential Conference, 2012):
  105. Similar differences between differing political orientations were also evident; those on the political left overwhelmingly (74% versus 17%) chose the “strong and thriving” option, compared with a smaller majority of religious Israelis (59% versus 30%). No significant differences were found between age groups.
  106. For information on this Ruderman Family Foundation-commissioned survey, see: Haviv Rettig Gur, “Most Israelis Think Future Dependent on American Jewry,” Times of Israel, Nov. 2013.
  107. See: Harriet Hartman and Moshe Hartman, “Denominational Differences in the Attachment to Israel of American Jews,” Review of Religious Research, 2000.
  108. See: Rosner and Hakman, “The Challenge of Peoplehood: Strengthening the Attachment of Young American Jews to Israel in the Time of the Distancing Discourse”
  109. See: Theodore Sasson, Charles Kadushin, Leonard Saxe, “Trends in American Jewish Attachment to Israel: An Assessment of the ‘‘Distancing’’ Hypothesis,” Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies 2010.
  110. For more information, see: Shmuel Rosner, “Bipartisan support for Israel? What if that’s no longer the case?” Jewish Journal, April 2015.
  111. For example, a 2012 J Street election eve survey. More information in: Shmuel Rosner, “The Rosner-Gerstein Exchange, Part 2: Are American Jews Becoming Less Attached to Israel?,” Jewish Journal, January 2013.
  112. See: A Portrait of Jewish Americans, Pew, Chapter 5: Connection with and Attitudes toward Israel.
  113. The data were processed by Professor Ted Sasson, based on the Pew survey.
  114. The concept “Jews not by religion” refers to American survey respondents who claim no religious affiliation when asked what faith they belong to, but indicate in other ways that they see themselves as Jews. Recent studies have shown that these American Jews participate far less in activities of a Jewish character, and are much less attached to Israel than are other Jews. See: Shlomo Fischer, “Who are the “Jews by Religion” in the Pew Report?” JPPI, 2013.
    Shmuel Rosner, “‘Jews Not by Religion’: How to Respond to American Jewry’s New Challenge,” JPPI, 2013.
  115. Further discussion of this topic can be found in scholar Ted Sasson’s New American Zionism. In one study that he conducted, Sasson identified “three main arguments” (not the four issues to which we call attention here) that are driving what is referred to as the “discourse on distancing:” the historical argument, mixed marriage and political rifts.
  116. This expression appears in many different publications, including: Ofira Seliktar, Divided We Stand: American Jews, Israel, and the Peace Process, (CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002) Page 22.
  117. Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman, “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel,” 2007; Steven Cohen, “A Tale of Two Jewries: the Inconvenient Truth for American Jews,” 2006.
  118. Shmuel Rosner, “Agreeing to Disagree: Jewish Peoplehood: between Attachment and Criticism,” JPPI, 2012.
  119. Glen Cove notes by Barry Geltman.
  120. Cleveland seminar, notes by Stephanie Kahn.
  121. This survey was part of a study by Professor Nissim Mizrachi of Tel Aviv University.
  122. Yehuda Amital, “The Wars of Israel According to Maimonides,” (460) in: Aviezer Ravitzky, “Prohibited War in Jewish Tradition” in The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives, ed. Terry Nardin (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996).
  123. See: Joseph Isaac Lifshitz, “War and aesthetics in Jewish law,” in: War and Peace in Jewish Tradition, editors Yigal Levin and Amnon Shapira (Jerusalem: Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 2006).
  124. On the meaning of power for Jews over the course of history see: Ruth Wisse, Jews and Power, (New York: Schocken, 2007).
  125. There is an ongoing debate between Walzer and Ravitzky about war in Jewish tradition.
  126. See: Moshe Halinger, “War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition: between Idealism and Realism,” in War and Peace, ed. Shlomo Aviner, (Jerusalem: Shazar Center, 2010), pp. 73-98.
  127. See: James Turner Johnson, Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War: A Moral and Historical Inquiry, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981). Many have noted the process by which Christianity shifted from the pacifism implied in scripture to a more bellicose “holy war” approach (under the influence of Augustinian theology) once it rose to power. Jewish history dictated an opposite trajectory, from a more belligerent Biblical tradition to a pacifist rabbinical approach. See: L.B. Walters, Five Classical Just-War Theories (Hartford, CT, 1971).
  128. Ravitzky, “Prohibited War in Jewish Tradition.”
  129. “The State of Israel will […] be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel […]”
  130. A non-exhaustive discussion of the topic appears in an article by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, “Questions Relating to Ethics and War,” .
  131. Yehudah Mirsky, “The Political Morality of Pacifism and Nonviolence: One Jewish View,” in: War and its Discontents, (Georgetown University Press, 1996). p. 48.
  132. Quotes from Shmuel Rosner’s notes.
  133. During the discussion itself the participants were not asked explicitly whether they agree with this conclusion. The level of agreement noted here is based on the discussion moderators’ impressions.
  134. AJU seminar.
  135. Dallas seminar, April 17, notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  136. South Africa seminar.
  137. Sao Paulo seminar, notes by Alberto Milkewitz.
  138. Masa Career group seminar.
  139. The survey question presented four options; the selection breakdown is as follows: “Jewish values demand a higher level of moral conduct than that demanded by international law” (40%), “Jewish values offer a different interpretation of morality in war from that offered by international law (33%), “Jewish values demand a lower level of moral conduct than that demanded by international law (0.5%), “There is no consensus as to what “Jewish values” are when we think about military activity” (26.5%)
  140. Interestingly, South African, Colombian and European respondents favored “International law” as the guiding framework for Israeli military policy to a significantly higher degree (52%, 56% and 58% respectively), though these findings could, of course, be coincidental.
  141. In a survey conducted in late August 2014, only 32% expressed satisfaction with Operation Protective Edge, while a slightly lower percentage, 27%, expressed dissatisfaction. See: .
  142. In the same survey, 48% of the Jewish Israeli public felt that the degree of force exerted by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge was appropriate, while a slightly lower percentage felt that even greater force could have been justified. See: .
  143. Recent years have witnessed a peak in the level of confidence accorded the IDF. See: The Israel Democracy Index 2014, Tamar Hermann, Ella Heller, Chanan Cohen, Gilad Be’ery, Yuval Lebel.
  144. Israel often points out the one-sided nature of UN inquiries along the lines of the 2015 Schabas committee. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the Schabas committee had been “instructed to investigate only the events occurring after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists. Further evidence of bias can be seen in the appointment of Prof. William Schabas – who is known for his anti-Israel views – to head the committee.” See: .
  145. During the Goldstone inquiry, over 90% of Israeli respondents believed that the “fact-finding mission” was biased against the IDF. See: . Similar views have been expressed regarding the new UN inquiry.
  146. In a September 2014 survey, 63% of Jewish respondents felt that the sentence “The world is against us” correctly reflects “world opinion” of Israel, and that, accordingly, most criticism of Israel is biased. See: . In earlier surveys, nearly half of the respondents states that they see no connection between Israel’s behavior and international criticism. See:
  147. In the peace index survey of May 2015, 71% of Jewish respondents agreed that “The countries of the world make demands for moral behavior on Israel that they do not make on other countries that are in situations of conflict.” see:
  148. The fact that the IDF is a “people’s army,” i.e., that there is universal conscription and that the soldiers who serve are the sons and daughters of Israeli citizens, is meaningful for this study in two ways: On one hand, citizens know first-hand how the IDF behaves, and it is very difficult for an IDF unit to successfully cover up conduct that is inconsistent with Israeli values. On the other hand, the situation gives rise to a tendency among Israelis to insist that the army not endanger its soldiers when outside parties call for less aggressive action. There have been cases where parents bitterly censured the military leadership for “sacrificing” their sons’ lives out of undue consideration for world opinion and legal repercussions.
  149. Seminar at the Los Angeles Federation, April 14; Los Angeles, AJU seminar. Notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  150. See for example the statement of former Defense Minister Ehud Barak following the Gaza operation of 2009: “I have no doubt that each individual case will be examined; but in my heart, I also have no doubt that the IDF is the most ethical army in the world.”
  151. IDF Code of Ethics – Ruach Tzahal:
  152. Ronen Avihu, “Purity of Arms – Transformations of the Concept and Its Development,” Monthly Review, April 1991 [Hebrew].
  153. See for example Anita Shapira’s description of the discussion in 1938: Anita Shapira, “Between Terror and Self-Restraint – The Yishuv Conference of July 1938,” from Zionism, volume 6, edited by Gedalia Yogev (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1981).
  154. Benjamin Ish-Shalom, “Purity of Arms and Purity of Ethical Judgment,” see:
  155. An example of such adjustment in the recent period can be seen in the article by Asa Kasher and Amos Yadlin: “Military Ethics of Fighting Terror: An Israeli Perspective,” Journal of Military Ethics, 2005.
  156. This mechanism is under criticism in Israel by those who argue that it is not fitting to expose the army to legal scrutiny during war. Former Minister of Justice Daniel Friedman criticized the Supreme Court for “…forcing IDF officers to appear in court in the midst of war in order to explain their actions and enumerate the measures they take to defend the civilian population among whom the terrorists operate.” See: Daniel Friedman, “The Wallet and the Sword: The Trials of the Israeli Legal Revolution,” (Tel Aviv: Miskal, 2013).
  157. For example the Amnesty report “Families under the Wreckage: Israeli Attacks on Populated Homes” details eight cases in which ostensibly civilian homes were attacked by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge, causing the death of at least 104 citizens including 62 children.
  158. See: Will Saletan, “Civilian Deaths in Gaza. Is Israel killing indiscriminately? A closer look at the evidence and context,” Slate Magazine, July 2014.
  159. Seminar in Ocean County, New Jersey, March 24; Los Angeles (AJU) April 14. Notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  160. The referral to Jenin came in response to one of the test cases presented to seminar participants, of the battle in Jenin in 2002.
  161. Complete data on the composition of participants in the Dialogue appear in the appendices.
  162. See data in the section: Is Israel Willing to Take Diaspora-Jewish Opinions into Account?
  163. “We found that political leanings that connect with possible discomfort on account of Israeli government policy are not the reason for the distancing of young Jews from Israel.” Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman, “Thinking about Distancing from Israel,” AJC, 2010.
  164. See the section “Integrated ‘Net’ Assessment” (indicators) in JPPI’s annual assessment.
  165. Los Angeles, AJU seminar; Los Angeles, seminar at Hillel at UCLA, April 15. Notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  166. See: Discovering Israel at War: The Impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel in Summer 2014, Michelle Shain. Leonard Saxe, Shahar Hecht, Graham Wright, Theodore Sasson.
  167. U.S. Jewish Young Adults React to the Gaza Conflict: A Survey of Birthright Israel Applicants, Michelle Shain, Shahar Hecht Leonard Saxe, Brandeis University.
  168. Discovering Israel At War, page 25.
  169. Cleveland seminar, notes by Shelly Fishbach.
  170. Cleveland seminar, notes by Carol Wolf.
  171. A student in the UCLA group, notes by of Shmuel Rosner.
  172. A student in Stamford, notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  173. A student in the Ocean County seminar, notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  174. Seminar in Paris.
  175. See: Jeffrey Goldberg, “French Prime Minister: If Jews flee the Republic will be a failure,” The Atlantic, January 10, 2015.
  176. “Jimmy Carter says Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‘one of the origins’ of Islamist violence,” Jerusalem Post, January 15, 2015.
  177. Masa Career group, European participants, notes by Inbal Hakman.
  178. All of the examples cited in the following paragraphs are taken from the notes made by Shmuel Rosner at seminars he led in the USA and Canada.
  179. See data in: “What happens when Jews intermarry?” Pew,
  180. See: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish demographic policies, population trends and options in Israel and in the Diaspora.” JPPI, 2011 (
  181. See: Nathan Guttman, “Does intermarriage drive young Jews away from Israel?” Forward, May 2014.
  182. According to this research, during the operation in Gaza young Jews in the USA identified with Israel and increased their support for Israel. A significant majority of young Taglit-Birthright participants (79%) felt that Israel’s actions during the war were “completely justified” or “generally justified.” According to the study, “Registrants [for Taglit-Birthright] from the entire political spectrum – including those from the extreme left – demonstrated a significant rise in their affiliation with Israel in the wake of the conflict in Gaza.”
  183. For further details on the research and the groups included, including a detailed discussion on the question of participation by young people, where they came from and how their special discussion groups were conducted, see Appendix A at the end of this chapter.
  184. Cleveland seminar, notes by Carol Wolf, Howard Wolf, and Naomi Fein.
  185. For an analysis of the significant gaps between Jewish young people in Israel and the USA, see “Using difference to make a difference,” Dov Maimon, Shmuel Rosner. JPPI, 2012.
  186. See: Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman, “De-legitimization of Israel and Israel attachments among American Jewish young Adults: The college campus and other contributing factors. JPPI, March 2011. “Many young American Jews have very high standards for moral national behavior. They expect the countries they feel attached to – like the United States and Israel – to live up to these moral standards. Thus, their critical attitudes toward Israel are often matched by critical attitudes toward the United States. Their criticism of Israel reflects not so much a lack of interest in Israel as a redefinition of their relationship and involvement with Israel. Young American Jewish leaders and cultural figures ubiquitously declare themselves to be dedicated to global and local social justice in vigorous efforts that transcend ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic boundaries. For many, the most worthwhile Jewish characteristic is the pursuit of social justice.”
  187. Masa seminar, notes by Chaya Ekstein.
  188. Hillel at UCLA seminar, notes by Shmuel Rosner.
  189. “Bina” young adults seminar, January 29, 2015, notes by Chaya Ekstein.
  190. Masa seminar, notes by Inbal Hakman.
  191. We included an extensive discussion of the survey results to this question in the chapter, Political Attitudes and the Strength of the Israel-Diaspora Relationship.
  192. Anecdotally, it is interesting to note that Israel receives especially poor “scores” on several of the questions that are mentioned here from the Dialogue participants in Brazil – whose attitudes were more similar to those of the “young people” than those of the “adults.” On the question of efforts to bring about a solution in Gaza, 28% of respondents in Brazil “strongly agree” with the claim that Israel is not doing enough, while 39% agreed “somewhat” with the statement. Responses from the respondents in Brazil were significantly different regarding the question of whether Israel shows more restraint than other armies. Compared with 63% who strongly agree with this statement among respondents from the other seminars, in Brazil only 16% supported this claim strongly, with another 28% agreeing somewhat. Almost 39% of the respondents from Brazil answered that they disagree very much with the statement. Due to the size of the group and the lack of sufficient data we are unable to analyze the reasons for these gaps – are there perceptual differences among the “community” in Brazil, or is it a random event due to the composition of the groups who came to the Dialogue encounters.
  193. Masa seminar, notes by Inbal Hakman.
  194. Interestingly, the young people’s assessment of the response of “other Jews” in the community was more positive than that of the older adults. More of them felt that other Jews in the community were “proud” of Israel. In other words: it is possible that alongside the under-assessment of the older people with regard to the position of the young people – the prevalent assumption, not backed by research, that young people are moving away from Israel – there is also an over-assessment by the younger people of the Israel support of their older counterparts – the younger people tend to attribute to the older people more sympathy for Israel than exists in reality.
  195. Comparison is possible mainly with regard to American Jewry, since the number of participants from the US is relatively significant and the information for comparison is accessible.
  196. The most prominent example of these characteristics appeared quite clearly in the Pew Report of American Jewry, where an effective distinction was made between Jews by their religion, and Jews not by their religion. See: Shlomo Fischer, “Who are the ‘Jews by Religion’ in the Pew Report?” Times of Israel, December 13, 2013.
  197. The average number of visits to Israel by a participant in a Jewish People Policy Institute seminar is three. By way of comparison, the Pew study on Jews in America found that around 43% of respondents had been to Israel, including 23% who visited Israel more than one time (Chapter 5 of the 2013 Pew report on American Jewry).
  198. The Pew Report states: “There is a greater chance that older Jews will perceive their relationship with Israel as an integral part of the meaning of being a Jew in their eyes than younger Jews. More than half of the Jews aged 65 and older state that their relationship to Israel is essential to their Jewish identity (53%), as does 47% of Jews between ages 50-64. In contrast, 38% of Jews in their thirties and forties, and 32% of all Jewish adults under age 30, state that their relationship to Israel is a major factor in the meaning of being a Jew in their eyes.”
  199. In principle, Masa Israel participants took part in the Institute’s seminar shortly after their arrival in Israel, in an attempt to minimize the influence that participation in the Masa program might have on their responses. Naturally, there is a built-in bias in the group of Masa participants: These are young people who have chosen to spend time in Israel.
  200. As we explained in the Institute’s report on the 2014 Dialogue, “We have already experienced these problems in producing previous reports – for example, the report on conversion – when we attempted to bring ultra-Orthodox representatives to participate in general communitywide discussions.” We also wrote last year that “the percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the world is relatively small, so that even if we know that they have very different outlooks from those of most Jews on numerous subjects, the absence of ultra-Orthodox representatives from the discussion, while unfortunate, apparently does not lead to a misunderstanding of the general outlook within the Jewish world.”
  201. See: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish demographic policies, population trends and options in Israel and in the Diaspora,” JPPI, 2011.
  202. Pew, May 2015:
  203. See:,%20concerned%20and%20concilliatory:%20The%20attitudes%20of%20Jews%20in%20Britain%20towards%20Israel.pdf
  204. Calculated on the basis of data from David Graham from the Office of National Statistics of Great Britain, 2011. Percentages are adjusted to the population over 18. For further details see:
  205. It is important to note that while the question from both surveys is identical, the context and timing (Pew, 2013; JPPI, 2015) are different.