Annual Assessments

2020 Annual Assessment

Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People

Annual Assessment

תש”פ | 2020


Project Head

Shmuel Rosner


Avinoam Bar-Yosef, Dan Feferman, Shlomo Fischer, Avi Gil,
Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Gitit Levy-Paz, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, John Ruskay, Adar Schiber, Noah Slepkov, Shalom Salomon Wald


Barry Geltman
Rami Tal

2020 Annual Assessment

A global health emergency alongside political arenas in crisis (in Israel) and uproar in the United States provided the main backdrop in considering bonds between and within Jewish communities. The significant noise from these arenas drowns out, to a great extent, any other arena. The health crisis is leading to substantial change in Jewish rituals (Seder night, synagogues, Mimouna, Yom Haatzmaut), to the cancellation or postponement of trips and visits (tourism, plans to travel to Israel, student exchanges) and the shift of the bulk of Jewish activities – including those expressing relationships between communities – to the digital arena.

    The following are among the key events affecting community bonds this year:

  1. The abrupt halt to face-to-face meetings of Jewish groups (including families, communities, organizations, emissaries, etc.) because of the coronavirus crisis. This has had an impact on the leadership and decision-making echelons but even more so on the wider Jewish public.
  2. The health and economic crises in communities around the world, some of which have required outside help (Italy).
  3. Repeated elections in Israel (April and September 2019 and March 2020) that were accompanied by tension-raising rhetoric between groups of Jews, as well as arguments over relations between Jews and non-Jews in Israel (which has also had an effect on Israel’s image among the world’s Jews). Ultimately, an Israeli unity government was formed, which brings together in a common coalition a clear majority of Jewish voters’ representation.
  4. Continued involvement with the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as in the United States, that is showing signs that it too will increase to a new level as a result of the health crisis.
  5. The opening of the Presidential election year in the United States in which the subject of Jews and the subject of Israel are a factor because, among other reasons, of sharp differences of approach towards Israel between candidates.
  6. World Zionist Congress (WZC) elections benefited from much higher participation rates than has been usual in recent decades. These elections reflect interest among the first circle of the Jewish people’s leaders and activists in influencing the contours of Israel’s character (gaps in outlook concerning Israel were a prominent issue in the WZC election campaign). Nevertheless, it should be noted that these elections attracted little to no attention in Israel and that their impact on Israel’s policy is not expected to be great.

It seems that alongside some distancing factors, the sense of emergency arising from the dramatic problems caused by the coronavirus crisis (preserving community, Jewish creativity, dealing with high illness rates in certain communities, manifestations of anti-Semitism) has moved the main issues of contention among Jews to the back burner and highlighted the need for cooperation and mutual aid. Additionally, the rapid pace in which events are unfolding along with the high level of uncertainty make it difficult to identify definitively the direction of long-term trends.

Against this backdrop, we have moved the Community Bonds gauge in a slightly negative direction.

Dynamics Enhancing effects on bonds Weakening effects on bonds
The coronavirus pandemic Pushes divisions aside. Highlights need for community and mutual aid. Cancellation of ceremonies, events, conferences, visits and trips, and of direct and personal contact between Jews. The desire to strengthen mutual aid among Jews in different communities (including aid from Israel) has not achieved full fruition.
Israel’s protracted political crisis The formation of a unity government allows the focus to shift from political division to problem solving. Sharpening of tensions between groups of Jews, and between Jews and non-Jews (in Israel). Reduces the capacity for substantive communication with world Jewry (political considerations overpower policy ones).
Continued manifestations of anti-Semitism Common challenge for Jews which strengthens the need and desire for cooperation. Among certain groups, leads to blaming the victim (with an emphasis on Israel). Arrogance towards Jews who continue living in countries with rising anti-Semitism.
The Trump peace plan/possibility of annexation in Judea and Samaria Support of the majority of Israel’s Jews for agreed-upon principles relating to the diplomatic arena. Sharpening of the ideological differences between Jews, which may intensify if Israel takes practical steps of annexing territories and expanding settlement construction.
US elections Prominence (at the start of the race) of Jewish candidates who stressed the success of the Jewish community in the US. Tension within the community between competing political groups, as well as between Israel and certain groups whose preferences conflict with those of the Israeli government.
Conflict over cooperation with the Arab list in forming a coalition in Israel The conflict was a platform for an important debate about the significance of Israel as Jewish state and about correct conditions for it to exist as such. Opposing ideological views led to a harsh confrontation in which charges of neglecting Zionism (from one side) and of neglecting democratic values (from another side) were raised.
World Zionist Congress elections Strengthened interest in Zionism and Israel; aroused involvement and participation of activists. Sharpened ideological tensions due, among other reasons, to results that highlighted and strengthened parties representing groups that are a minority in the Diaspora (esp. Haredim).