By Ron Kampeas
American Jewish millennials have positive feelings about Israel, even when they answer questions that are infused with anxiety about its status.
That’s according to a poll released Monday by the American Jewish Committee that found that most Jews aged 25-40 think Israel is necessary to the survival of the Jewish people (69.6%), and that it’s important for American Jews to maintain close ties with Israel (72.8%). A majority, 64.7%, said they took pride in Israel’s accomplishments. They said they believe that 90% of American Jews cared about Israeli Jews.
And as much as the respondents felt affection for Israel, they were not overly worried about how the country is perceived, even when the AJC’s questions suggested that there is an anti-Israel climate on campus or elsewhere, or that Jewish and Israeli survival are at risk.
Asked whether the “actions of the state of Israel have made my life as an American Jew more difficult,” 58% said the phrase did not describe their experience.
Asked whether “The anti-Israel climate, on campus or elsewhere, has forced me to hide my Jewish identity,” 62.2 % said this did not describe their experience, and 10.9% said they didn’t think there is an anti-Israel climate. The poll elicited similar results when it asked respondents whether “the Anti-Israel climate, on campuses or elsewhere, has damaged my relationships with friends.”
The results were not all sunny. A third of respondents said Israeli actions have in fact made their lives more difficult, and one in five said anti-Israel sentiment had corroded their friendships or caused them to hide their Jewishness.
The two AJC officials who shaped the poll said they baked implicit assumptions about how Israel is perceived and discussed into the questions because they wanted to sharpen the answers respondents gave. Such assumptions are typically avoided in surveys because they can influence how people answer.
“Part of the reason that we ask the question in the way that we did was because we have to have a clear question that won’t be misinterpreted and that can also give us data that can be quantified easily,” Laura Shaw Frank, the director of AJC’s contemporary Jewish life department. Shaw Frank spoke in a joint interview with Dana Steiner, the director of AJC ACCESS Global, which targets younger Jews.
The poll assessed the views of American millennial Jews on Israel in conjunction with another poll of Israeli Jewish millennials assessing their attitudes toward the American Jewish community.
“Asking about the notion of survival does cut to the core of how each of these groups feels about one another,” Shaw Frank said.
Steiner, who is a millennial, said she had registered among Jews her age concerns about Jewish and Israeli survival, and she wanted to see if it was validated more broadly.
“I had been anecdotally hearing real concern from young people saying, ‘You know, I’m worried that my generation is just not going to care anymore or that they won’t support Israel in a way that could potentially risk its existential standing’,” she said. “And I think one of the reasons we wanted to get this question out there was to understand, is this true? Is there really an existential crisis at play? And I think what our data suggests is: No, there isn’t.”
That was good news, she said. “Seeing this was very affirming and very helpful for us,” she said.
The AJC highlighted the high scores for mutual caring in both populations in its press release. “Significant majorities of American (72%) and Israeli (89%) Jewish millennials say it is important that the American Jewish community and Israel maintain close ties, with 48% of Americans and 46% of Israelis saying it is very important,” the release said.
The survey nonetheless uncovered sharp differences over the degree to which Diaspora Jews should be involved in shaping Israeli policies. The AJC release noted that “55% of American Jews, and 22% of Israelis say it is appropriate for American Jews to try to influence Israeli policy, while 36% of Americans and 69% of Israelis say it is not appropriate.”
The survey of 800 American Jews, ages 25-40, was conducted by YouGov between Feb. 9 and March 30 and had a margin of error of 4.69 percentage points. The survey of 1001 Israeli Jews was conducted by Geocartograhy from Feb. 14-22 and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Two polls last year also found that the majority of American Jews feel connected to Israel, even as a significant number of them, especially younger ones, agree with critical statements about Israeli policy.