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‘Trust’ problem for young American Jews? Hard for me to see it

by Shmuel Rosner

July 10, 2012 | 12:22 am

A young participant marches in the ''Salute to Israel Day'' Parade in New York. (Photo: Reuters)

I hope to have a chance to write more about the new Workmen’s Circle ‎survey of American Jews – and to discuss it with one of the authors, ‎Prof. Steven Cohen, later this week or maybe next week. In the ‎meantime, here are some highlights and reservations:‎

‎1.‎ The good news: It’s simple – travel brings American Jewish ‎youngsters closer to Israel. No ifs, no buts, nothing. Get them to ‎go, and the closeness index will climb. Even as young American ‎Jews are becoming a bit more skeptical about Israel’s policies, ‎they still are feeling closer to the country. Even if these ‎youngsters are disengaged from organized Judaism – travel ‎still does the trick. Like magic.

‎2.‎ Here’s where it gets a little more complicated. There are two ‎indices in this new study – one for closeness (attachment to ‎Israel) and one for what the study defines as the “Trust Index”. The ‎attachment index is simple, and comprises two questions:
Do you ‎consider yourself pro-Israel?
Do you feel very emotionally ‎attached to Israel?

The Trust Index – the one in which young ‎American Jews score a little lower – is built around three much ‎more nuanced questions, confusingly framed:
Do you disagree ‎that the Palestinian Authority truly wants peace?
Do you agree ‎that Israel truly wants peace?
Do you believe that the US should ‎support Israel, rather than the Palestinians, or both sides equally?

‎I’m sorry, but with such questions I tend not to trust the Trust ‎Index.

‎3.‎ I’m also a little suspicious of the motivations behind the ‎promotion of such a confusing index. In the press release, it was ‎made quite clear that the good people of the WC would like ‎readers to consider the two indices as a on-the-one-hand, on-the-‎other-hand type of study. 

‎“As these polling data shows us, young Jews feel attached to ‎Israel, but are also analytical. This combination fits squarely with ‎the Workmen’s Circle’s own support for Israel within the ‎framework of two states, Israel and Palestine,” Madelon Braun, ‎president of the Workmen’s Circle, is quoted as saying in the ‎release. So, attached but analytical is what the sponsors would ‎like this survey to be all about. I’m not sure they got what they ‎wanted.

‎4. ‎“Jews can be both attached to Israel and assume fairly ‎independent if not skeptical stances toward Israeli government ‎policies”, it says (I’m quoting Prof Samuel Abrams, one of the two ‎authors). Again, telling us that yes, American Jews love Israel, but ‎that we should beware, because they are critical of its policies. I’m ‎sorry, but I don’t see it in the numbers. What I see is this: a 15% ‎rise for the youngest age group on “attachment”, compared to a ‎very negligible 2% decline on the mysterious “trust index”.

‎5.‎ One should note though that decline in the “trust index” is more ‎noticeable if one compares the two younger groups (and not just ‎the youngest) to the older groups. Should we consider this as ‎proof of a decline? Or maybe it’s the other way around: the ‎decline in trust – noticeable between the groups aged 35-44 (59 on the ‎index) and 45-54 (67 on the index) – has almost stopped. 

‎6.‎ I was puzzled by more than one Israel-related question in this ‎study. For example, one question asks respondents to identify ‎‎“important issues” from a long list. Is Israel important? There’s no ‎such available answer – the only available answer is “Israel and ‎the Palestinians”. Well, what about those quirky Jews to which ‎‎“Israel” is important, and “the Palestinians” are not in the same ‎category? What are they not given a chance to express their ‎views?

‎7.‎ Let’s just say it: From the press release it would seem that this ‎survey presents a mixed report on the feelings of American Jews ‎towards Israel and its policies. A more “nuanced view” as the ‎headline promises. Yes, the numbers for the young show a little ‎tendency to be more critical of Israel than the older groups, but ‎really, how much can one interpret such minor differences when ‎the overall picture is so vivid? Take a look at some numbers.

‎8.‎ Only 13% of respondents do not view “the current Israeli ‎government” as one that “truly wants peace”. Thirteen percent ‎believe the “Netanyahu-doesn’t-want-peace” mantra. That’s pretty ‎low. And by the way, I’d take issue with the decision to ask about ‎the “current” government as opposed to the Israeli government – ‎it is a way for those drafting the questions to hint that there might ‎be a problem with the “current” government.
‎ ‎
‎9.‎ On the other hand, when it comes to the Palestinians the ‎respondents seem pretty confident: Just 4% disagree with the ‎notion that Palestinians seek the destruction of Israel. Think ‎about it: Four percent of American Jews trust the good intentions ‎of Palestinians. Is this really a “nuanced” view?

‎10.‎ And remember: this survey excluded the two most Israel-‎attached groups of American Jews – the Orthodox and the day-‎school educated. With them, I’m not even sure the percentage of ‎Jews trusting the Palestinians not to want to destroy Israel would ‎be high enough to be recorded.

‎11.‎ The most telling answer in this poll is the one asking about ‎US support: 73% of American Jews would like the US to support ‎Israel, period. The “nuanced view” of those wanting support for ‎‎“both equally” (Israel and the Palestinians) is 17%. Now, this is hardly the final word on ‎American Jews’ relations with Israel, their complicated feelings ‎and their growing criticism of some Israeli policies. But all in all, it ‎is another nail in the coffin of “distancing”. There is no detectable ‎distancing in this survey, there is no sign of probable future ‎distancing. There are also a lot of reasons to be optimistic about ‎relations between Israel and the next generation of American ‎Jews – just get them to visit.‎

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