June 30, 2016

Pro-Israel Involvement

In a detailed analysis of patterns of connection, we found strong relationships - some expected, others most unexpected - between Israel involvement and major demographic characteristics. We began by dividing Israel involvement into three broad types. "Emotional attachment" refers to caring about Israel, as measured by following the news closely or expressing closeness to Israelis. "Public support" includes attending programs and rallies and lending economic support to Israel. "Interpersonal support" entails such items as writing to friends about Israel or encouraging them to visit there.

Not surprisingly, all three sorts of involvement are strongly related to prior visits to Israel and to general involvement in Jewish communal life. Measuring support for Israel on a scale of 0 to 100, those who have visited Israel twice score almost twice as high as those who have never visited. Those who are not affiliated to a synagogue or organization score only 6 on the composite measure of public support, while those who are active in Jewish communal life score 63.

The three indices of pro-Israel involvement are also related to income, with more affluent Jews expressing greater attachment and support than their lower-income counterparts.

Age Is a Factor

As in earlier studies, older people outscore younger people on emotional attachment to Israel, with those aged 65 and over achieving a mean score of 75, compared with 63 for those younger than 35. We found similar patterns with respect to public, institutionalized support of Israel, where older individuals engage in pro-Israel political and economic activity at a rate more than one and a half times as high as younger Jews.

There was no difference between old and young, however, in the extent to which they engage in more private, interpersonal acts of pro-Israel activity such as encouraging friends to visit or forwarding them e-mails about the situation in Israel. These findings are consistent with research showing that younger Americans, including younger Jews, express their group attachments through informal, personalized networks, but are less likely to engage in institutional behavior.

Nonetheless, it was striking that while young Jews scarcely differed from their elders in the importance of being Jewish in their lives, with 52 percent saying it was "very important" and 35 percent saying it was "somewhat important," they were far less likely than older Jews to say that Israel was an important component of their Jewish identity.

Settlements & Negotiations

The survey asked numerous questions about the Arab-Israel conflict, including such matters as settlements, pre-conditions for negotiations, the eventual contours of a peace agreement, and the ideal role for the United States.

Some areas were non-controversial. Definitive majorities want America to be highly active in efforts to formulate a peace agreement (71 percent to 5 percent), to clearly support Israel's leadership over the Palestinian leadership (61 percent to 8 percent), and not to urge Israel to exercise restraint when responding to terrorist attacks (16 percent versus 62 percent).

But, leaving aside these and a few other questions, one is struck by the substantial number of "Not sure" replies to numerous questions. Examples include allowing a token number of Palestinian refugees to move to Israel (26 percent in favor, 31 percent opposed, but 43 percent not sure), or agreeing to international control over the Temple Mount (25 percent in favor, 34 percent opposed, and 41 percent not sure).

To some extent the "not sure" responses reflect ignorance. To some extent they reflect the moral diffidence of a community that identifies with Israel's struggles from afar and is loath to make judgments when Israeli lives are on the line. However, further analysis demonstrates that not sure responses reflect ambivalence.

Most strikingly, "unsure" responses actually increase with number of visits to Israel. Such visits probably dispel ignorance, but they also deepen appreciation for the complexity of the issues. Indeed, Israelis themselves are unclear about such matters, as evident in the large numbers who despair of any solution to the crisis, and the large number who were unsure of their voting intentions less than a week before the Knesset elections.

With all this said, the pattern of responses seems to reflect three factors: disappointment with the failed peace process; a heightened sense of vulnerability; and deference to the decisions of the duly elected Israeli government.

Accordingly, in the context of a peace agreement, a majority favors the establishment of an independent Palestinian state (53 percent to 14 percent), a position endorsed even by right-of-center Israelis such as Prime Minister Sharon. At the same time, they reject the removal of "nearly all" Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza (19 percent to 38 percent opposed), as well as rejecting Palestinian control over Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem (16 percent to 44 percent), options favored by many on the Israeli left.