U.S. Jewish Young Adults React to the Gaza Conflict

The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies has released “U.S. Jewish Young Adults React to the Gaza Conflict: A Survey of Birthright Israel Applicants.”

This study examines the reactions of a diverse group of Jewish young adults (applicants to Taglit-Birthright Israel) to the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The report compares their responses to the opinions of young adults in the U.S. The findings are based on a survey conducted in early August 2014 of a sample of U.S. based individuals who applied to the trip – both participants and nonparticipants – from 2011 to 2013. Survey questions focused on media consumption, opinions about Israel’s and Hamas’ action during the conflict, and support for Israel.

From the report:

The present survey was designed to understand the reactions of Taglit-Birthright Israel applicants to the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. The results make clear that Taglit applicants, regardless of whether they ultimately went on a Taglit trip, are concerned with the situation. These Jewish young adults follow the news closely and attend to both U.S. and Israeli news sources. Furthermore, although their general political views are liberal, and they are concerned about the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, they overwhelmingly believe that Israel’s actions in the conflict were justified.

The headline of one of the recent articles reporting on American attitudes to the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas is that “Young Americans take a dim view of Israel’s actions” (Blake, 2014, July 29). Clearly, Taglit applicants do not share these views. The results of the present survey, which are based on responses to the same questions that were the basis for the headline, make clear that Jewish young adults have a different assessment of the situation.

Furthermore, Taglit participants – who recently experienced an educational, peer trip to Israel – were significantly more supportive of Israel than nonparticipants. Their attitudes more closely resemble those of Jewish Israelis, 90% of whom felt that Israel’s military actions in Gaza were justified (Yaar & Hermann, August 2014). As Israel experiences become more widespread among Jewish young adults, overall support for Israel among American Jews is likely to increase.

Some have suggested that Taglit attracts only right-wing applicants and that liberal Jews are not welcomed, but that claim is belied by the finding that almost two-thirds of Taglit participants and nonparticipants consider themselves liberal. It has also been suggested that Taglit gives participants a one-sided view of the situation. To be sure, Taglit participants did not have a chance as part of the program to visit Gaza (or the West Bank) and to engage with Palestinians from these areas. Yet, Taglit participants demonstrate considerable sympathy for victims on both sides of the conflict. A significant sub-group believed that Israel has gone “too far” in responding to Hamas, while at the same time, believing that Hamas, not Israel, is responsible for the conflict.

There has been substantial discussion about whether or not Jewish young adults are “distancing” themselves from Israel (Cohen & Kelman, 2007, 2010; Sasson, Kadushin, & Saxe, 2010). The present findings make clear that those who have applied to Taglit are not distanced – rather, they are highly engaged, even those who ultimately did not go on a Taglit trip. The degree to which they follow the news and the passion expressed in their comments suggests that Jewish young adults have a thirst for more information and more involvement.

The complete report is available in English here and in Hebrew here.