JPPI’s Voice of the Jewish People Index

Voice of the Jewish People Survey – May 2024: The sense of insecurity has increased among US Jews

According to the new survey, there is wide agreement that the Biden administration and university authorities have not responded effectively to the challenge of campus protests.

Main Findings

• American Jewish panelists are more optimistic about the future of Israel than Israeli Jews and are more optimistic about the future of Israel than they are about the future of the US or the future of US Jewry.

• With the exception of the “strong liberal” respondent cohort, panelists believe that President Biden was wrong in warning Israel about IDF operations in Rafah.

• The percentage of American Jews who said that the US doesn’t support Israel enough has increased across the political spectrum since January.

• Although a significant majority of American Jews surveyed are still closely following the Gaza war, the trend suggests interest in the war is starting to wane.

• Respondents from all Jewish denominations reported an uptick this month in feeling less secure because of the war, the first such uptick since November.

• There is wide agreement that the Biden administration and university authorities have not responded effectively to the challenge of campus protests.

• The majority of respondents believe that Jewish institutions have not adequately met the challenge of the campus protests.

• There is disagreement over whether Jewish students met the challenge of the campus protests, but more respondents believe Jewish students did so to a greater degree than Jewish institutions.

• Data collected since January indicates a downward shift among strong liberals over support for Israel’s actions.

• The percentage of American Jews who think Israel does a good job communicating its side of the war has gone from a majority in October to a minority in May.

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Attention to the War

JPPI’s monthly Voice of the Jewish People surveys have been tracking how closely the American Jews on our respondent panel have been following the war between Israel and Hamas since its onset. Since October 2023, the percentage of American Jews who are very closely following the war has noticeably declined across most of the political spectrum. Only among strong conservatives did the percentage closely following the war slightly increase; it declined among all other groups. Although a significant majority of American Jews surveyed are still closely following the war, the trend suggests that as the war progresses, fewer American Jews will be paying close attention to it.

However, it should be noted that the attention of American Jews may have shifted from military developments of the war itself and focused more on the effect the war is having in America, namely the campus protests and the concomitant rise in antisemitism.

Sense of Security and Campus Protests

Compared to the January Voice of the Jewish People survey, respondents from all Jewish denominations report feeling less secure because of the war. The share of Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox respondents who feel less secure is equal to or has increased over the levels reported in November 2023.

In May, the anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian protests seemed to reach an apex with police confrontations and the forced removal of many campus encampments. The campus protests almost certainly fueled the sense of insecurity reported by respondents, given that they received major news coverage and many Jewish students reported being harassed on campus. US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called the threats Jewish students are facing on campuses “abhorrent” and said the Department of Education is investigating 130 separate complaints of harassment.

Despite the statements by Secretary Cardona, there is wide agreement among respondents from all religious streams and across the political spectrum that the US administration has not responded well to the challenge of anti-Israel protests on US college campuses. Even among the most liberal respondents, only 32% say the US administration has handled the situation on campuses well. As you move across the political spectrum from strong liberal to strong conservative, the proportion of respondents who believe the US administration dealt with the situation well drops significantly. There is, however, essentially unanimous agreement that university authorities did not handle the campus protests effectively.

The majority of respondents indicated that Jewish institutions also did not sufficiently meet the challenge of the campus protests. For all political groups except the most liberal, the percentage of respondents who believe Jewish institutions handled the protests effectively was measurably higher than the share of respondents who believe the US administration did so.

Respondents were also asked about how Jewish students and law enforcement agencies handled the challenge of campus protests. Respondents were much more sympathetic to how Jewish students handled the protests, relative to Jewish institutions, with around half of respondents saying that Jewish students handled the situation well. Given the widely reported participation of Jewish students in the anti-Israel protests across US campuses, is it possible that respondents based their assessment of Jewish students on these reports? This is an issue that could be addressed in future surveys, for example by asking respondents what proportion of Jewish students they felt were involved in anti-Israel protests.

Across the political spectrum, the percentage of respondents who thought law enforcement agencies handled the situation well was higher than all for all other entities asked about except Jewish students. It should be noted that the amount of uncertainty – respondents who indicated they did not know if the challenge was handled well – was high with respect to Jewish institutions, Jewish students, and law enforcement agencies.

Biden, US Support for Israel, and the 2024 Presidential Race

The Voice of the Jewish People survey continues to assess how US support for Israel’s war effort is perceived by American Jews. During the days and weeks preceding this month’s survey, the relations between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government were strained over the issue of IDF operations in Rafah, culminating with Biden’s decision to pause the shipment of 3,500 heavy armaments (2000- and 500-pound bombs) to Israel and make public statements admonishing Israel against large-scale military operations.

As the graph below illustrates, the percentage of respondents who said that the US doesn’t support Israel enough has increased across the political spectrum since January. In the past month, there has been a slight increase in the percentage of strong liberal and liberal leaning respondents who said that the US doesn’t support Israel enough. Specifically, the percentage of strong liberals who said that increased from 20% in April to 27% in May, the highest it has been since January. Conversely, there has been a slight decrease among centrists and conservative leaning respondents who said that Israel doesn’t support Israel enough. Whether or not these changes represent a real shift in opinion, minor fluctuations within the sample, or temporary reactions to the public disagreement over Rafah is something we will continue to monitor.

The May Voice of the Jewish People survey asked respondents to consider the following statement by President Biden admonishing Israel against military operations in Rafah: “I made it clear that if they [Israel] go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem… .

Respondent reactions to Biden’s statement revealed a stark difference between the views of strong liberals and those of all the other political groups. Whereas a majority (52%) of strong liberals felt Biden was right to issue the warning, a significant majority of all other groups, including 62% of liberal leaning respondents thought Biden was wrong in doing so.

Despite a majority of strong liberals supporting Biden’s statements on Rafah, only 25% of this respondent group said that Biden’s statement and the overall way his administration is currently handling relations with Israel will make them more likely to vote for Biden in the November presidential elections. Most strong liberals (65%) said that it won’t impact their vote one way or the other. An overwhelming majority of strong liberals (82%) said they will certainly vote for Biden. Among politically centrist respondents, an overwhelming majority (86%) believe Biden was wrong to issue the Rafah warning and 50% said that Biden’s statement and the overall handling of relations with Israel will make them less likely to vote for Biden come November. Only 23% of centrist panelists said they would certainly vote for Biden in November and another 23% said they would likely vote for him.

Israel’s Actions in Gaza and Hasbara

We continue to monitor the views of the respondent panel regarding Israel’s prosecution of the war with Hamas. This month we slightly altered the wording of our question about how Israel is conducting the war to clear up any ambiguity in what precisely we were asking respondents. We asked respondents if they “think the way Israel is carrying out its response to the Hamas Oct. 7 attacks is much too aggressive, a little too aggressive, not aggressive enough, or at the right level?” In previous months we provided respondents with the same response options, but the question asked was “From the reports I see I get the impression that…” Both wordings were designed to ask the same question, so we believe comparing the results is appropriate.

The percentage of American Jewish respondent panelists who say that Israel’s actions in Gaza are much too aggressive has been relatively stable among liberals since March, while the percentage of centrist respondents saying that dropped to 2%. This drop in the proportion of centrists who believe Israel’s action in Gaza are much too aggressive could be attributed to the seeming lull in major operations preceding IDF entry into Rafah.

Studying the responses of the strong liberal cohort since January on the question of Israeli aggressivity in Gaza, we see, as illustrated in the graph below, for the first time the proportion who think Israel’s response is “at the right level” is smaller than the proportion who think Israel’s actions are “a little too aggressive.” From an Israeli perspective, this is worrying because the change is not the result of a sampling error, and indicates that respondents have changed their response from “at the right level” to “a little too aggressive” over time. This is a strong indication of a downward shift among strong liberals, at least those on our panel, in their support for Israel’s war effort.

To understand how respondents feel about Israel’s war aims, we repeated a question from the January survey about Israel’s stated desire to uproot Hamas. As the graph below illustrates, there has been a significant downward shift since January among strong liberal and liberal leaning respondents, as well as among centrists, in the percentage who think “Israel must uproot Hamas even if this means a growing number of Palestinian casualties.” The change was most dramatic among leaning liberal cohort, a majority (57%) of whom agreed with that statement in January compared to only 43% in May.

These results further underscore possibly shifting attitudes of liberal panelists with respect to Israel’s war with Hamas. Part of this shift could be explained by the perceived inability of Israel to effectively communicate its side of the story of the war – what is known in Hebrew as hasbara. We have been asking respondents since the first days of the war if they thought Israel was doing a good job communicating its side of the war story. In October, during the first weeks of the war, a large majority of respondents from across the political spectrum thought that Israel was doing a very good or somewhat good job communicating its side of the war. Today, only a slight majority (53%) of strong conservatives still believe Israel is doing a good job with hasbara, while a majority of all other political groups believe Israel is doing a bad job communicating its side. Twenty percent of strong liberals, 27% of leaning liberals, and 32% of centrists believe Israel is doing a good job communicating its side of the story.

Optimism about the Future

In May, we asked both Israelis and American Jews how optimistic they are about the future of Israel on a scale from -5 (pessimistic) to +5 (optimistic), with 0 designated as neither pessimistic nor optimistic. We also asked American Jews about their optimism regarding the future of the United States in general and US Jewry specifically, using the same scale. Overall, US Jews on JPPI’s Voice of the Jewish People panel were slightly more optimistic (1.52) about the future of Israel compared to Israeli Jews (1.42).  The average level of optimism for both American respondents and Israeli Jews regarding the future of Israel could be classified as cautiously optimistic – slightly more optimistic than pessimistic.

Breaking down the optimism level regarding Israel’s future by political affiliation, we observe that the average of each political group of US Jews is more optimistic than their Israeli counterparts. Both the Israeli Left and their American counterparts, strong liberals, are more pessimistic than optimistic regarding Israel’s future, with the Israeli Left more pessimistic. Liberal leaning and centrist American Jews, especially, are more optimistic than their Israeli counterparts. It should be noted that for these questions about optimism we provide an overall weighted average based on the 2021 Pew Research Center study of American Jews. It is intended to give a rough estimation of US Jewry for comparative purposes only.

When it comes to optimism about the future of the US and US Jews, the data tells an interesting story. American Jewish respondents across the political spectrum are more optimistic about the future of Israel than the future of America. Even among strong liberals and Jews who have never visited Israel, there is greater optimism about Israel’s future than for the future of America. Regarding the future of US Jews, only the strong liberal cohort is slightly more optimistic about the future of American Jewry than the future of Israel. Among all other groups there is more optimism about Israel’s future than about US Jewry and the US writ large. American Jews are also more optimistic about American Jewry specifically than the US in general.

The fact that American Jews are more optimistic about the future of Israel than the future of their own community, does not seem to translate into the actual consideration of moving to Israel. In this survey we repeated a question we had asked at the end of November 2023 about different things they would consider doing should the amount of antisemitism in the United States continue to rise. Even among respondents who were the most optimistic about the future of Israel, only a minority (38%) said they would consider moving to Israel.  Nevertheless, as the graph below shows, there is a clear correlation between being optimistic about Israel’s future and considering moving to Israel.

Although there are fluctuations since November in the percentage of Jewish across identity groups who say they would consider moving to Israel if the rise in antisemitism in the US continues, most American Jews still say they would not consider it.  Given the observation that American Jews, at least those who are represented in our sample, are more optimistic about the future of Israel over the future of the US and the future of American Jewry, perhaps there is an opportunity to make the idea of moving to Israel more appealing.

Data on the survey and its implications

This report is an analysis of a survey administered to 667 American Jews registered for the Jewish People Policy Institute’s Voice of the Jewish People panel. The report does not provide a weighted figure that represents the views of American Jewry as a whole, but the number of survey participants from various groups enables us to identify trends, significant views, and disparities between different Jewish identity groups based on religious affiliation, emotional attachment to Israel, political orientation, attachment to Judaism, and more. Roughly speaking, it can be said that this survey tends to reflect the attitudes of US Jews with some connection to the Jewish community, as indicated by a specific question in this regard (which includes data on anyone who stated a connection to some Jewish institution, such as a synagogue, community center, Jewish organization, etc.), as well as by data on respondent visits to Israel, which is significantly higher than the average for all US Jews.

Data on survey participants (see adjacent table): About half self-identify as Reform or Conservative; the share of Conservative panel respondents is higher than the percentage among all American Jews. The share of those unaffiliated with any religious stream is substantially lower than for American Jewry in general, but a fairly high number of unaffiliated respondents in the survey sample (110) allows us to assess the attitudes of this group as well. Politically, about 25% of respondents lean conservative, a figure not too far from the commonly accepted disaggregation of US Jews by political orientation. Survey participants tend to visit Israel at a substantially higher rate than the American Jewish average, and the share of intermarried panel respondents is relatively low compared to the rate in the general Jewish population.

Appendix