One of the Israeli right’s think tanks commissioned a study into American Jews. They didn’t like the results.

August 19, 2020

In late July, The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published a report on views and attitudes toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict among American Jews, built upon data they’d collected over two years of focus-groups and surveys.

The center itself is a think tank on the political right, which has received significant funding from casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. What they discovered was that their own views and policy positions were becoming increasingly unpopular among the liberal Jews that make up the majority of the American Jewish community.

“Research points to a trend among Jewish Americans that may signal changes in the traditional ‘conventional wisdom’ regarding the attitudes and behavior of the community, including vis-à-vis Israel,” the authors wrote. “Israel-related issues are not a deciding or ‘make or break’ factor in the voting behavior of a significant portion of our Jewish-American sample.”

The report found that Jewish voters were willing to back candidates who disagreed vocally with Israeli government policies, and that voters themselves didn’t support many Israeli government policies.

“Our Jewish-American sample focused on distinguishing between being ‘pro-Israel’ and ‘pro-Israeli government’” the report noted, adding that “many seem to have a particular distaste for Benjamin Netanyahu.”

“Liberal Jewish-Americans describe themselves as ‘pro-Israel,’ despite having attitudes and positions not always consistent with either mainstream Israeli public opinion or of Israeli government policy,” the authors wrote. This lack of support was especially true for “Israeli policies perceived to be at odds with liberal-progressive values.”

The report found that most Jewish Americans have clear empathy for Palestinians and want Israel to improve its record on human rights. “We found that a majority support the concept of Zionism and the importance of a ‘Jewish’ state, but also cannot endorse the notion that Israel respects the ‘human rights’ of all those living under Israeli rule,” they wrote.

The report found that the continued occupation, the drive toward annexation, the advance of the right-wing agenda in Israel and a disregard for human rights appears to be driving some American Jews to disassociate from Zionism and Israel altogether.

“What can be considered a distinct but possibly significant minority (which may be up to 25%) appears to hold beliefs that are intensely critical of Israel and Zionism itself,” the authors wrote. This included concerns that modern-day Zionism in Israel had become aligned with notions of racism and apartheid.

The report also found that while liberal Jewish Americans saw rising antisemitism as a serious concern, President Trump’s attempts to frame Democrats as antisemitic and characterize the ‘left’ as supportive of antisemitism have failed to make inroads among Democratic voters.

Of self identified liberal American Jews, 52% described antisemitism as stemming “mostly” or “almost exclusively” from the right, with less than 1% saying the same of the left. Many see antisemitism as a serious issue which is unrelated to political ideology or support for Israel.

While the findings may have come as a surprise for The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, they only reinforce the trends seen by years of polling by J Street.

Year after year, we see that Jewish Americans support Israel while opposing Israeli government policies which run counter to their values of peace, justice, equality and concern for human rights. Among Jewish Americans and Democrats more broadly, we see overwhelming support not only for a two-state solution, but for America to play a constructive, even-handed role in attempts to reach such a solution.

It’s notable that even a group with whom we don’t share a political worldview agrees with our conclusions about the trends among Jewish Americans. Our political leaders, and Democrats in particular, should feel they have the political space to pursue a nuanced, constructive and balanced approach to resolving the conflict, and not be deterred by a loud minority on the right, or an outdated political playbook of what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Such views don’t reflect the values of American Jews or Democratic voters.

For a roundup of J Street’s polling of Jewish Americans, click here. To view our polling of Democratic voters in the 2020 primaries and their support for Israelis, Palestinians and a two-state solution, click here. The JCPA report is available here