Over the past few years, a chasm has gradually opened up between Israel and American Jewry, the world’s largest Diaspora community. There are many reasons for this. Some have to do with an ongoing erosion of Jewish identity among large swaths of the community in America, especially among its younger generation, but the nature of Israeli society and Israeli policy have also had an impact on the relationship.
Around three-quarters of American Jews belong to the left-progressive wing of American politics. In recent years, younger American Jews in particular have been radicalizing. At the same time, political power in Israel has coalesced around more right-wing and traditional groups. It is therefore not surprising that the two main issues at the heart of the dispute between Israel and most American Jews are Israeli control over Judea and Samaria, which most U.S. Jews oppose, and religion-state relations in Israel, especially regarding Israeli recognition of the non-Orthodox streams.
In light of this, it comes as no shock that surveys of American Jews over the past decade have shown a steady erosion of their identification with, and support for, the State of Israel. It’s also why the JPPI-Voice of the Jewish People survey findings announced this week are so noteworthy: Despite the extent of the ideological drifts described above, support for Israel in the present time of tribulation is tremendous across all denominational streams of American Jewry.
Six hundred participants from across the denominational and political spectrum were polled as part of an ongoing online panel conducted JPPI, the Jewish People Policy Institute. Eighty percent of respondents said they actively support Israel; these included Jews who identify as unaffiliated with any stream of Judaism, a group whose level of support for Israel is usually much lower. The vast majority of respondents also said they are closely following what is happening now in Israel.
The war is also deeply impacting American Jews emotionally, with the scenes of the war sparking anger and anxiety among 60% of respondents. Additionally, they feel that the war is affecting them at the personal level: about 80% of respondents who feel some connection to Israel are sensing a certain decrease in their personal security.
American Jews are identifying emotionally with Israel. Israel has a duty to keep that support. It must hold American Jewry writ large close to its heart even once the war is over, and it must place its relations with the U.S. communities on a path of renewal and reinforcement.
The overwhelming support of American Jews since the outbreak of the Hamas war is heartwarming and deeply moving. As soon as our Oct. 7 Black Sabbath ended, I received numerous messages from worried friends in the United States. The news from Israel and the horrific scenes of the massacre carried out by Hamas in the south motivated many Jews to mobilize for assistance. From prayer gatherings to pro-Israel demonstrations, the Jewish community in the U.S. is expressing its solidarity and support in more ways than one. It is difficult to know the exact amount donated so far on Israel’s behalf, but it has been estimated that the sum exceeds $500 million.
The relationship between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community is a strategic asset for Israel. The support that Israel has enjoyed over the years from the U.S. government and the wonderful show of solidarity we are seeing now are motivated by national interests; but the political and economic power of American Jewry is also a consideration. In these trying times, it is clear to all Israelis that the strategic value of the relationship between Israel and American Jewry, and its importance for Israel’s ability to defend itself, cannot be exaggerated. The relationship also has its own intrinsic value — the Jewish value of mutual responsibility.
Israel will win the war. The day after, Israelis will have to acknowledge the great importance of American Jewish support for Israel and its wartime efforts. They will have to remember to return the affection and think together with their overseas brothers and sisters about how to turn the war and the closeness it created into a tipping point, so that we can rebuild a solid bridge between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.
Shuki Friedman is vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer at the Peres Academic Center.
Published by the Jewish Insider