New Study Examines American Jewry’s Relationship with Israel

Israel – a Unifying or a Divisive Issue among American Jews?, a newly released academic paper from the Ruderman Family Foundation, outlines a number of reasons behind an increasingly complicated relationship between American Jews and Israel.

Published by the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, the paper, written by Alon Pinkas, former Consul General of Israel in New York and foreign policy advisor to four previous Israeli Foreign Ministers, indicates that Israel is no longer in the top five issues that influence American Jewish voting patterns in U.S. elections.

Pinkas, in the study, claims that Israel plays neither a distinctively unifying nor patently divisive role in American-Jewish life, and while the bond between American Jews and Israel remains strong, the ties are fraying and recurrent friction on important issues has weakened the link over the last 10 to 20 years.

The study also cites a shifting mindset of Israel among the new generation of American Jewry. Memories of Israel’s heroic and miraculous victory in the Six-Day War and tragic remembrances of the Holocaust are simply further removed from today’s young Jews, who therefore see Israel in a different light than their parents and grandparents. Now, Pinkas claims, “US Jews concerns are specifically American and that their lively involvement and participation in American politics is not usually motivated by Israel-driven causes.”

“The American Jewish community and Israeli society exist in very different realities and these differences have been shaping the worldviews of these two communities,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Despite the differences between American Jews and Israelis, the two communities are intimately connected as the two largest Jewish communities in the world, which mutually benefit each other. As we move into a new political era it is more important than ever for Israelis and American Jews to try to better understand each other and treat each other with mutual respect.”

In the study, Pinkas finds that most American Jews were relative latecomers to Zionism and only reluctantly embraced the movement. Well into the 1930’s most American Jews were outright hostile to the idea of Zionism, which they saw as a form of socialism alien to their attempt to assimilate in America and saw no compelling reason to support the ideology before 1948.

The full paper, Israel – a Unifying or a Divisive Issue among American Jews?, is available here.