(RNS) — Even before last year’s outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist party that controls the Gaza Strip, American Jewish and Israeli relations seemed to be fraying.
As rockets flew and Palestinian casualties multiplied, many American Jews began rethinking the longstanding imperative to stand with Israel, especially when so many were arguing its response was disproportionately severe.
Young professionals at the American Jewish Committee were already concerned, and after the two-week crisis between Israel and Palestine ended in mid May 2021, they fine-tuned a poll to examine what millennial Jews, ages 25-40, in both countries thought of one another.
The poll, released Monday (April 25), suggests relations remain strong and supportive: 72% of American Jewish millennials and 89% of Israeli Jewish millennials say it is important that the two communities maintain close ties.
A whopping 80% of millennial Israeli Jews and 70% of millennial American Jews said they thought a strong State of Israel is necessary for the survival of the Jewish people, and 81% of Americans and 70% of Israelis think a strong Jewish community outside of Israel is necessary.
“The picture had been painted of a five-alarm fire,” said Dana Steiner, director of Access Global, the young professional division of AJC. “The survey reassured us it’s not all bad.”
The poll of 1,000 Israeli Jewish millennials and 800 American Jewish millennials was conducted in the U.S. by YouGov and in Israel by an outfit called Geocartography. It is the first of its kind and thus only marks a particular point in time (the February 14-22 period when it was fielded). Steiner said there was interest in repeating the poll in the future.
The questioning of the bedrock belief that support for Israel should be a cornerstone of American Jewish life — a view cemented in the decades following the Holocaust — had already been raised before.
A comprehensive Pew Research survey from 2020 found that 82% of U.S. Jews said caring about Israel is either “essential” or “important” to what being Jewish means to them. But it also found that young U.S. Jews are less emotionally attached to Israel than older ones.
In that survey, half of Jewish adults under age 30 described themselves as very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel, compared with two-thirds of Jews ages 65 and older.
The AJC survey did not compare generations, but it, too, found that a little over half (55%) of U.S. Jewish millennials said being connected to Israel is important to their Jewish identity.
There were, however, clear points of disagreement between millennial U.S. and Israeli Jews on the question of whether Americans should try to influence policies toward Israel.
More than half of Americans said it was appropriate for American Jews to try to influence Israeli policy, while only 22% of Israelis agreed.
In addition, while 52% of American Jewish millennials said a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible, only 24% of Israeli Jewish millennials agreed.
“Israelis are not as ready to give as much as they have become accustomed to taking,” Steiner said. “There’s a mismatch of expectations. It’s not exactly equal.”
The Israeli survey conducted online had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (The American survey had a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points.)