Mitchell Bard 
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© Mitchell Bard 2016

Young Jews are Pro-Israel

Today, it has become popular to malign young Jews and to suggest that they are turning away from Israel. We hear that they have been turned off to Israel by policies of the Israeli government and have become increasingly supportive of the Palestinians. Those of us who work with students know this is rubbish and now a new poll provides evidence that young Jews feel close to Israel, have little sympathy for the Palestinians, are hawkish on peace issues, and don’t believe public criticism of the government advocated by Jews on the far left is helpful.

The nationwide poll of 400 Jewish college students sponsored by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and The Israel Project found:

  • 90% agree that Israel is the spiritual center of the Jewish people.
  • 83% said caring about Israel is an important part of being Jewish.
  • 73% said American and Israeli Jews share a common destiny.
  • 89% have warm/favorable feelings toward Israel.
  • 78% sympathize with Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
  • 84% think America should support Israel.

To further drive a stake in the idea that young Jews feel less connected to Israel than their elders, we can compare our results to the findings of the American Jewish Committee’s latest national poll. The AJC found that 68% of American Jews feel close to Israel and 31% said they feel very close. In the AICE/TIP survey, 66% of college students said they feel close to Israel and 26% answered very close.

Jewish students also have positive associations with Israel. When asked for a word to describe Israel, they chose words such as “Homeland,” “Jewish,” “Home,” “Strong,” and “Beautiful.”

By contrast, young Jews have mostly negative views toward the Palestinians. Only 15% of Jews rated their feelings toward the Palestinians as warm or favorable, only 2% said they sympathize with the Palestinians and only 1% think America should side with the Palestinians.

Jewish students are also relatively hawkish on final status issues. For example,

  • 54% oppose a Palestinian state (only 27% support one).
  • 62% say Jerusalem should stay under Israeli control; only 11% favor dividing the city.
  • 47% favor dismantling some or all of the settlements; however, more Jews say no settlements should be dismantled (32%) than favor dismantling all of them (6%).

Young Jews also do not buy into the far left view that American Jews should express greater criticism of Israel. Nearly half (47%) the Jewish students said American Jews should support Israel and the policies of its democratically elected government and should express their disagreements privately; only 37% thought American Jews should speak out publicly against policies with which they disagree. A majority (58%) agreed that American Jews and Israelis have different experiences, knowledge, responsibilities and audiences and, therefore, criticism of Israeli policy by Israelis does not justify criticism of Israeli policy by American Jews in the United States.

To preempt the charge that the survey was biased toward more conservative Orthodox Jews, a plurality of the sample were Reform (43%) another 29% were Conservative and only 15% said they were Orthodox.

The traditional American Jewish position is that the people of Israel, who must live with the consequences of decisions regarding peace and security, and must send their children to defend the state, should decide their own fate, and that we should respect the views of their elected representatives. Many self-appointed arbiters of Israel’s national interest take the fundamentally anti-democratic view that American Jews have to save Israel from itself because Israeli Jews and their elected representatives are too stupid, immature or otherwise flawed to know what’s good for their country. 

Arab lobbyists often claim there is a Jewish conspiracy to silence their sage opinions, when in fact the public and decision makers reject their views as contrary to the national interest. Similarly, Jews on the far left (and often the far right) are frustrated that their minority views are rejected by the overwhelming majority of American Jews, including younger Jews.

Students today are as passionate toward Israel as their parents and identify with traditional pro-Israel groups. If Jews are alienated, it is less likely a result of Israeli policy than ignorance and a lack of a solid Jewish foundation. The Jewish students who went to a Jewish school or camp, were involved in Jewish youth groups, had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, were involved in a campus organization and visited Israel are the most pro-Israel.

The bottom line is that young Jews are not turning away from Israel. The way to make them feel closer is not to encourage them to criticize their homeland, it is to take them there and to expose them to more Jewish life experiences.