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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

American Liberal Jews: Strong Concern about Anti-Semitism, Strong Support of Israel but Less for under 60s – Part 2

Filed under: World Jewry

Summary of findings

Welcome back.

In part one of this presentation, we discussed our approach to studying liberal American Jews and presented some results which surprised some people. We followed up our initial study with a more extensive survey-type approach based on some of the results we found and looked at some specific issues we were interested in.

In our follow up study, we wanted to see if the more pro-Israel attitudes of our liberal Jewish focus groups would be repeated. We also wanted to investigate the notion if liberal Jews see any problem with how Democrats, given some of the controversial public pronouncements made by some members of Congress, have an issue with anti-Israel or anti-Semitic attitudes.

Our results gave us some insight about how liberal Jews think about Israel, about Jewish identity and about Jewish continuity. We also learned about how liberals view the source of anti-Israel or anti-Jewish attitudes in the United States today.

Here is what we found:

When it came to choosing the most important social issue related to racial or ethnic bias, our Jewish groups overwhelmingly (around 70%) chose “fighting anti-Semitism.” This was over other types of bias that you see here. It didn’t make a difference if our Jewish participants knew we were asking them because they were Jewish or not. All the Jewish liberals saw this as their main concern. This was in stark contrast with general liberals, only about 20% of whom saw anti-Semitism as their main concern.

Now, remember I mentioned in our first video that there were generational differences in the Pew study among American Jews? Here, we separated liberal Jews above and below the age of 60, and we found no practical difference. Even those under the age of 60 (about 61%) saw anti-Semitism as their main  social-racial-ethnic concern.

So how does the strong concern about anti-Semitism among American Jewish liberals express itself in practical terms?

Here is where we looked into the questions we had about their view of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish expressions, specifically from the left, and specifically from Democrats. And here, we found striking consistency.

The vast majority of American liberal Jews we looked at did not see any particular issue of anti-Semitism from the mainstream left. In fact, when we look at both groups of American Jewish liberals, as well as general American liberals, we see essentially identical results. When it comes to seeing any difficulty with the Democrats regarding the Jews, only about 10% of liberals see it. When looking at certain tropes or negative stereotypes, we also see negligible differences, with about less than 10% of any of the groups feeling that the Democratic Party, as a whole, harbors any of these feelings. And here, there is no difference between the over 60 or the under 60 population of Jews.

So, what exactly do liberal Jews mean when they say they are concerned about anti-Semitism? Is it all forms of anti-Semitism or only certain types? And does their concern really mean something else? When Jews say “anti-Semitism,” can it be they are worried about racism in general, white supremacy or is it just a way saying as some may feel, that they are basically “anti-Trump”?

We took a look at a few other specifically Israel or Jewish-related issues and how our American liberals felt.

When it came to violence, about half our Jewish liberals felt that Palestinian demonstrations at the Gaza border fence have “at times crossed the line into unacceptable behavior” as compared with about 30% of general liberals. For all our participants, Palestinian violence was the highest unacceptable behavior among any of the various political demonstrations or acts noted.

Here, we found a clear generational difference. When we looked at the “under 60” Jewish liberals, only about 39% felt the same way about the Palestinian demonstrations. They were clearly much closer to the general liberal population than were the over 60 group of liberal Jews.

We also looked at how the various liberal groups look at or define their personal ethnic identity. While about 20% of the Jewish groups defined it on the basis of religion, only about 5% of general liberals did so. The majority of both over 60 and under 60 liberal Jews defined their Jewish identity as a social identity, consistent with the Pew results.

But it was another question that was quite striking. We asked participants about the relative importance of various aspects of their personal ethnic identity. When it came to choosing a life partner from “your own ethnic group” only about 20-25% of liberal Jews found that important. Among general liberals, it was about 14%.

When we asked how important it was for one’s children to choose a life partner from one’s own ethnic group, that figure went down to around 15% (7% for general liberals). For the “under 60” group of liberal Jews, the figures were about the same. What that means is that our sample of liberal Jews did not see great importance in their children or themselves marrying or partnering with another identified Jew.

When it came to Zionism, Jewish liberals were clearly consistent with our initial focus group results, holding the opinion that Zionism is legitimate (about 50%) and that it represents the need for a safe refuge for Jews (about 70%). But when we looked at the “under 60” Jewish liberal sample, those figures went down to around 35% for legitimacy of Zionism and 56% for the importance of Israel being a safe refuge for Jews.

We also noticed differences in “over 60” and “under 60” participants when it came to ranking the importance of recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Overall, over half of Jewish liberals saw this as the “most important” criterion for settling the conflict. Only about 37% of the “under 60” group saw it that way, while about a quarter of general liberals endorsed the notion. A greater number of general liberals as well as “under 60s” felt human rights and social justice needs of the Palestinians was of primary importance.

So what does this all mean?

We think the data should speak for itself and we also think we can always use more data and more research, so we need to be careful when trying to draw definitive conclusions from limited research. But from the perspective of people who work in support of Israel, there are two sides to the coin when it comes to American liberal Jews.

Let’s look at the first side…

American liberal Jews support Israel, they are aware of their Jewish identity, and are aware of anti-Semitism. They do not support, or excuse away Palestinian violence and they see the preservation of Israel’s Jewish character as more important than preserving human rights for the Palestinians.

Now, the other side of the coin…

Younger (under 60) liberal Jews seem to be drifting away from the more classically pro-Israel views of the over 60 group. But all the liberal Jews we studied were consistent in not seeing any issue with anti-Semitism from the left. They generally did not see any problem with the Democratic Party as far as Jews are concerned, and did not feel that any of the anti-Semitic tropes expressed by some members of Congress is something that the Democrats need to address.

But perhaps the most challenging finding we had is related to Jewish identity and Jewish particularism and continuity. Even among older, more traditional pro-Israel liberal Jews, there was a lack of concern for having themselves or their children partner with other Jews in choosing mates.

From a social and cultural perspective, what does this mean when looking down the road in these families?

As less and less Jews choose other Jews to partner with, will such families continue to identify as Jewish at all? Politically, with younger Jewish liberals adopting positions similar to general liberals, it would also appear to possibly signal the disappearance of Jewish liberals as a distinct voting bloc as they blend in and become indistinguishable from other American liberals.

One important proviso here is that all these findings pertain to self-identified liberal Jews, so the results should not be projected on to the general Jewish population as a whole. We also did not measure other factors besides political orientation, such as religious observance, community affiliation or Jewish education. These could mitigate and moderate the trends we identified.

Our work is not done, and as with any good research, we are left with more questions than answers. We hope to continue our work and update you as we move along on our project. Meanwhile, click here for a more detailed description of our findings.

Thank you for listening.