Scholars reject 'prevailing pessimism regarding the future relationship of American Jews to Israel.'
WASHINGTON - Despite being on the road, I heard about this new study that just came out today and did not want to wait with the good news. So, I will share some of the highlights here and maybe write more about it later. For those really interested in the topic - I recommend reading the study in full. I, for one, found it to be very interesting.
So let's dive into it, starting with the most surprising conclusion: "Jewish attachment to Israel has largely held steady for the period 1994-2007". There is no decline. Those of you who bothered to read any of my previous posts on this matter (Another study, more proof: Younger American Jews are alienated from Israel), can calm down.
The new study was released by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University. I spoke with two of the three scholars responsible for this study (Len Saxe and Ted Sasson. Charles Kadushin was also on the team) and they feel pretty confident about its findings. Prof. Saxe of Brandeis told me that he is more than ready to debate those who will not agree with the conclusions of this study if need arises. There are "strong reasons for rejecting the prevailing pessimism regarding the future relationship of American Jews to Israel", the study declares.
So why did we think young Americans don't care for Israel as much as the older generation?
"Differences in attachment to Israel are likely related to life-cycle rather than the diverse experiences of successive generations. As American Jews grow older, they tend to become more emotionally attached to Israel".
And how do we know that?
Using the Annual AJC Survey in which there are two questions "related to attachment to Israel almost every year".
One asks respondents whether "Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew." On this question, "the proportion of respondents agreeing that Israel is a 'very important' aspect of their Jewish identity holds stable throughout the entire time period" (19994-2007).
The second asks "How close do you feel to Israel?" and here is the analysis of the response: "Between 1994 and 2005, the proportion feeling close to Israel increased by 11 percents, from 66 to 77 percent of the sample; between 2006 and 2007, it declined by 7 percent. For the period as a whole, the spread between those indicating 'close' and 'distant' increased by a modest eight percent. Given the reported margin of error in these surveys, this is close to being a flat response".
And by the way, "Stability in the proportion of respondents indicating closeness to Israel is evident across the denominations."
That's all about American Jews in general, but what about the younger generation?
"If the younger generation's attachment was in decline, we would expect the proportion of respondents in the older two age categories indicating strong support of Israel to decline over time as younger respondents replaced older respondents within each category". This hasn't happened: respondents in the two older categories "either grew more attached" or their "level of attachment remained unchanged".
The authors site studies from the seventies and the eighties in which there was also a gap between young and old on the question of attachment. What does it prove? That as people get older (and wiser) the also grow more attached to Israel.
But Jewish liberals do grow more distant from Israel, don't they?
Well, not exactly. This might astonish (and probably upset) some of my conservative friends, but according to this study "general political orientation on a continuum from 'extremely liberal' to 'extremely conservative' is not related to attachment to Israel" (of course, one can argue about the meaning of attachment for the different groups, but that's another story).
So how come we thought the attachment to Israel was declining?
This is a long story. But to make it short I will quote this: "In a series of reports, articles, and books" Prof. Steven Cohen and colleagues "discern evidence that erosion in support is underway". So, again, it is the old story of Cohen the alarmist (my description, no one said such thing to me).
Alarmist - assuming that this study is right and he was wrong.
I asked Ted Sasson what Cohen will say about his conclusion. He told me that Cohen read some of the drafts and that one argument will probably be that the AJC surveys are not accurate enough when it comes to reflecting the growing segment of the community that is intermarried.
However, Sasson points out that their study does in fact control for the influence of intermarriage.
Any other good news in this study?
Yes. The more American Jews travel to Israel, the more they become attached to it. And in recent years, the number of travelers has been growing, and will grow even more thanks to the Taglit-Birthright program (young Jews go to Israel for free). This "implies the likelihood that such upward pressure on Israel attachment will continue in the future".