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Contentions

Which Jews Are Serious About Israel?

About a week ago, explaining why Jews will vote for Obama (I covered similar ground here), I cited a scholarly study involving Prof. Steven Cohen. Cohen has collaborated with Samuel Abrams of Harvard on a new study named “The Diminished Place of Israel in the Political Thinking of Young Jews,” and the results are interesting: Cohen and Abrams have determined that American Jews who vote are thinking less about Israel these days.

This is not the first time Cohen has made this assertion. About a year ago, Cohen Ari Kelman found that “less than half of such Jews who are 35 and under believe that Israel’s destruction would constitute a personal tragedy for them.”

With the new study, the picture becomes even clearer:

Jews 65+ are almost twice as likely to rate the Israel-Palestine conflict as a major consideration in their vote for President as are Jews their children’s age, those 21-34. Jews 35-64, report levels of concern about Israel intermediate between their younger and older counterparts.

Among those 65 and over, 54% rate “high” or “very high” the Israel-Palestine conflict as a consideration in determining their vote for Obama or McCain. This figure comes in contrast with far lower levels among younger non-Orthodox Jews: 39% among those 35-54, and just 29% among those under 35.

The answers in to survey questions showed that young Orthodox Jews were the only ones thought of Israel as a priority. The others groups still saw their Jewishness as important (similarly to the older generation), they just didn’t think it had much to do with Israel: “Diminished concern with Israel in the election does NOT reflect diminished importance attached to being Jewish.”

The implications for Israel’s support among American Jewry are profound. Absent any significant change in current trends, Orthodox Jews will come to play a more significant role as political advocates for Israel in the United States. Their numbers will increase as will the number of Orthodox Jews who move to Israel, further cementing the ties of Orthodox family and friends with the Jewish State. At the same time, while the Orthodox population is likely to grow over time, the non-Orthodox population may well decline once the Baby Boom generation passes from the scene.

Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews differ dramatically not only in their levels of relative concern for Israel, but also in terms of their political stances in American life, and their approaches to the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians. The Orthodox are significantly more identified with conservative politics and the Republican Party and take a commensurately more “hawkish” posture on Israel’s search for peace and security. If these tendencies continue, and the growth of Orthodoxy as a share of the pro-Israel Jewish constituency in the United States unfolds, the posture and politics of that constituency will change in predictable directions.

Of course, such developments will help the new dovish “pro-Israel Jewish lobbies” argue that the mainstream lobbies (namely AIPAC) have become more hawkish and can’t be trusted when it comes to representation of the American Jewish community. However, this is a double edged sword: If the “other” Jews – those less hawkish – will not care as much, the political clout of any dovish organization who might deal with issues related to Israel will diminish.

Two years ago, in a piece questioning the commitment of the dovish J Street, I wrote:

In any case, this initiative also has a positive aspect, which must be recognized by those who do not support the political ground it lies on: Many American Jews who cannot identify with the existing pro-Israeli bodies have chosen to give up, disengage and alienate themselves. A new lobby, reflecting their worldview, would provide them with a convenient channel to express their sympathy for Israel. This is assuming, of course, that they are ready for the commitment.

The question of such commitment remains. The new Cohen-Abrams study might bring us closer to an answer. And it is not the answer this dovish lobby – or any other dovish lobby – would like you to hear: no, they are not ready, because they just don’t care enough.


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