This is the second part in an ongoing debate with Prof Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew Union College, and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner. The first part is here. We will be discussing many issues over the next few weeks, and readers are more than welcome to weigh in, send questions or comments, and take part in this conversation about Jewish life in America today.
I suggest we take a break from the discussion on the New York study, and turn to your most recent work (with Prof. Samuel Abrams) - a survey you did for Workmen’s Circle. Regular Rosner readers already know that I was somewhat critical of this survey. I will not repeat everything I’ve said (readers can see it here), but I came pretty close to saying that maybe some shreds of political agenda made it into the way the report was construed and reported.
What Rosner readers don’t know - but can probably guess - is that you completely disagree with my analysis of the poll. They also don’t know that you sent me an email, and that I sent you one back, in which we agreed to have this discussion in public. To air our differences and let the readers judge - or maybe one of us (I know you expect this to be me!) will change his mind. So - with an open mind, I’m waiting to hear your thoughts on three things:
1. What’s the big news in your new study?
2. What else can we learn from it?
3. Where was I wrong?
You can do it by any order you’d like; the floor, as they say, is yours.
I’ll start by answering your first question:
The big news from the Workmen’s Circle survey of American Jews that Sam Abrams and I conducted is that non-Orthodox younger US Jews, ages 35 and under, are substantially more attached to Israel than are those ages 35-44. At the same time, the younger adults’ increased emotional attachment to Israel is accompanied by decreased trust or confidence in Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. (To be clear, we drew a sub-sample that set aside the Orthodox and day school alumni, two groups whose engagement with Israel is not thought to be “at risk.”)
The big news - we think - is that we have evidence of a turnaround in the frequently observed long-term slide in attachment to Israel among successively younger age cohorts. In our study, as in so many others, Israel attachment levels are lower among those ages 35-44 than among those 45-54, who are in turn less attached than those ages 55-64. But in contrast with previous studies including my own, we have the first statistically significant results pointing to higher attachment among those under 35.
For the statistically minded: We measured Israel attachment through a composite index drawing upon two questions: “How emotionally attached are you to Israel?” And: “To what extent do you see yourself as pro-Israel?” Those answering both questions positively (“very attached” and pro-Israel “to a great extent”) earned a score of 100 on the index.
We believe (but are not sure) that the cumulative impact of Birthright Israel in bringing so many young Jews to Israel may be coming to the fore. Should other evidence of a similar nature emerge, we will have mounting support for the notion of what could be called, the ‘Birthright Bump.’ That is, we may be seeing a bump upward in Israel attachment for an entire cohort of young people, owing to their far more frequent travel to Israel due in large part to Birthright. We felt confident enough in our findings to go public for several reasons, among them is that other studies (including one by Len Saxe and colleagues at Brandeis last year) pointed in the same direction.
But there’s even more news in our study: The increased attachment to Israel among the young adults does not seem to bring with it an increased confidence in Israel’s policies and leadership in the context of the conflict with the Palestinians. Younger Jews – both those under 35 and those 35-44 – express far less enthusiasm for Israel’s stance in the conflict than do older Jews, especially those 65 and over. On an Index we labeled, “Trust in Israeli Leaders,” the younger respondents scored about twenty points lower than their parents’ age groups. The index consisted of three questions pertaining to seeing Israel as truly interested in peace, seeing the Palestine Authority as uninterested in peace, and favoring US support exclusively for Israel (rather than US support for Palestinians or for both sides equally).
My colleague Sam Abrams remarked: “Apparently, while attachment to Israel and trust in Israeli leaders are correlated, they are not the same sentiment. Among those under 35, people in my own age demographic, Jews can be both attached to Israel and assume fairly independent if not skeptical stances toward Israeli government policies.”
We also found that the upturn in Israel attachment is not due to increasing Jewish engagement on the part of the young. Their frequency of attending synagogue services largely resembles that found among those 35-44. In fact, they are less likely to report that half or more of their close friends are Jewish. In other words, they’re not more attached to Israel because they’re more attached to being Jewish.
With respect to your question on what else can we learn from the study, I’ll direct your attention to the previously reported analysis on Jewish vote intentions. We found that Obama outpolls Romney by 59% to 27%, with 14% undecided. If currently undecided voters split similarly, Obama would outpoll Romney by a 68% to 32% margin among Jewish voters. Perhaps even more critically, we were able to learn how Jews are deciding whom to support. The issues driving the Jewish vote are economic justice including regulating financial institutions, support for progressive taxation, and the argument that government should do more to help the needy. Israel plays hardly any role in influencing vote intention, once these other matters are taken into account. Additionally, many more Jews believe President Obama shares their values than who think the same of Romney.
Shmuel, I think you may have missed reporting this finding. At the same time, I am of course pleased that you noted the potential turnaround in young Jews attachment to Israel, even though you may be contesting our finding that young Jews are not all that supportive of the current Israeli government’s approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. This pattern of reporting on your part does raise a question in my mind: Why did you warmly greet our finding that young Jews are more attached to Israel, challenge our finding of diminished trust, and ignore our finding that Israel plays little role in American Jews’ presidential vote decision?
So, before we go on to question 3 (my contesting your contesting of our findings), why don’t you give me (and your readers) some insight as to what motivates this pattern of selective reception to our research. In addition, while you’re in the neighborhood, I suggest you restate your objections to our findings about trust in Israel’s policies since it does not behoove me to do so.
When you have responded, I’ll re-engage with our fruitful and friendly dialogue.