For those who look for a reason to worry about Israel’s future, let’s look beyond the tragedy of Mount Meron and the growing nuclear threat of Iran. Let’s look beyond the ongoing election psychodrama, beyond Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing efforts to pull a political rabbit out of his hat, beyond the ideologically improbable pairing of Knesset members and opposition party leaders Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, and beyond the prospect of a fifth national election this fall.
Let’s look even further ahead, to when Israel prepares for its centennial in the not-too-distant future. Because by 2048, the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Israel might look very different than it has in the past.
Public-opinion polling conducted for the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles suggests some uncomfortable possibilities for where this longtime relationship might be headed. Simply put, the youngest Jews are much less invested in Israel than their parents or grandparents. And unless some type of generational reckoning takes place as these young people grow and move into positions of community leadership and influence, the ties between our two countries will be sorely tested.
The Brown Institute’s survey was limited to Jewish voters in Los Angeles County, but the size of the Jewish population here—the fourth largest in the world after Tel Aviv, New York City and Jerusalem—should allow us to extrapolate its findings and assume that the attitudes of Jewish Angelenos are not radically different than those of Jews in other parts of the country. (The poll was taken in the fall of 2019, but the Institute recently released their fine analysis of Jewish voters’ attitudes of Israel. The report was authored by Alisa Belinkoff Katz of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.)
The poll showed that Jewish voters aged 18-29 were much more likely than any other age group to identify themselves as “generally not pro-Israel.” Voters were asked the following multiple-choice question:
“Which of the following statements best describes your opinion about Israel: Are you generally pro-Israel and supportive of the current government’s policies; generally pro-Israel, but also critical of some of the current government’s policies; generally pro-Israel but also critical of many of the current government’s policies, or generally not pro-Israel?”
Every generational category was divided between those who said that they were critical of “some” of Israel’s policies and those who were critical of “many” of the current government’s policies. But almost one-third of those between ages 18 and 29 (31 percent) said that they were “generally not pro-Israel.” Only 13 percent of all respondents gave such a negative assessment.
All other age groups ranked between seven percent and 13 percent.
The source of this diffidence among young Jews was not hard to find. Another question on the Brown Institute poll asked, “How important is it to you that Israel exist as a Jewish state?” Almost three-quarters of those polled said that it was either very important or somewhat important: Only 21 percent said that it was not important. But well over one-third (38 percent) of respondents aged 18-29 said that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state was not important to them. Which makes it easier to understand why those same young Jews were not inclined to support Israel at all.
On both of these questions, the generational skew was stark. The oldest cohort of respondents—those aged 70 and older—were strongest in their support for Israel and in their belief in the importance of Israel as a Jewish state. Each succeeding generation was slightly less supportive, culminating in the disconcerting responses from the youngest voters. As our community’s strongest supporters of Israel continue to age, the future of Jewish support for Israel in Los Angeles looks like an iffy proposition at best.
Next week, I’ll explore the most likely reasons for this demographic trend and what it means for both Israel and the American Jewish community when Israel’s strongest base of support in this country continues to shift from Jews to evangelical voters. But for now, it’s clear that there is much work to be done to prevent Israel’s centennial celebrations in the United States from taking place primarily in senior centers and assisted-living facilities.
Dan Schnur teaches political communications at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.
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