The indispensable J Street has a new poll surveying the attitudes of 800 American Jews toward Israel. And while there is lots of encouraging news about support for a two-state solution -- and for increased American push back against Israel's nativist right -- what really jumped out at me were the contradictory opinions many American Jews have regarding Israel's recent military incursion into Gaza. The survey's authors, Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications, write that these numbers prove American Jews are "sophisticated." I see them as deeply problematic:
- 75 percent of American Jews approved of Israel’s military action [in Gaza]. But at the same time, 59 percent felt that the military action had no impact on Israel’s security
- Nearly 7-in-10 Jews felt that Israel’s military action was not disproportionate, yet 56 percent believe that military action that kills Palestinian civilians – even if it targets terrorists – actually creates more terrorism instead of preventing terrorism
This means a significant majority of American Jews support Israeli militarism, even when they believe such militarism does nothing to advance Israeli or Jewish interests. In other words, there is a contradiction between American Jews' generally secular, humanist, progressive political convictions and our strong identification with Israel and, indeed, with the IDF itself.
In part, this contradiction can be explained by ignorance of the toll Israeli military action takes on civilian populations in Gaza and the West Bank. There is also widespread American ignorance of the specific, disturbing beliefs of Israeli conservatives such as Avigdor Lieberman. But there is something deeper going on: an internal debate taking place within many American Jews in which we ask ourselves whether our liberalism supports or calls into question the very idea of Israel that we've been taught, often since early childhood, to support. Until this debate is resolved, many younger American Jews, in particular, will hold Jewish institutions and even our own Jewish identity at arm's length. That is disastrous for the future of American Judaism, and is just one reason why open discussion of these issues is necessary. After all, we do not want the only vocal, committed, politically influential American Jews to be those with conservative convictions.
For more analysis of the J Street poll, check out Philip Weiss.
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