October 1, 2013

A Portrait of Jewish Americans

Chapter 5: Connection With and Attitudes Toward Israel

Most American Jews feel at least some emotional attachment to Israel, and many have visited the Jewish state. Four-in-ten believe Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, a belief that is held by roughly eight-in-ten Orthodox Jews.

Six-in-ten U.S. Jews are optimistic that a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, even though about half do not think the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement and three-quarters say the same about the current Palestinian leadership. Moreover, a 44% plurality says the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security.

A slim majority of U.S. Jews (54%) see the level of U.S. support for Israel as about right. Still, about three-in-ten say the U.S. is not supportive enough of the Jewish state, while 11% say the U.S. is too supportive.

Attachment to Israel

jew-chp5-1About seven-in-ten American Jews (69%) say they are emotionally very attached (30%) or somewhat attached (39%) to Israel. These findings closely resemble results from the last National Jewish Population Survey, conducted in 2000-2001. In that survey, roughly seven-in-ten Jews said they felt very (32%) or somewhat (37%) emotionally attached to Israel.

Jews by religion feel substantially more attached to Israel than Jews of no religion. Fully three-quarters (76%) of Jews by religion say they are very or somewhat emotionally attached to the Jewish state, compared with less than half of Jews of no religion (45%).

Solid majorities of Orthodox (91%), Reform (71%) and Conservative Jews (88%) say they feel at least somewhat attached to Israel, as do 48% of Jews with no denominational affiliation. Orthodox Jews are more apt than members of other denominations to say they feel very emotionally attached to Israel. This is due to the deep attachment to Israel felt by Modern Orthodox Jews, 77% of whom say they feel very attached to the Jewish state.

Attachment to Israel is considerably more prevalent among American Jews 50 and older than among Jews under age 50, although majorities across all age groups say they are at least somewhat emotionally attached to the Jewish state. Roughly eight-in-ten American Jews 65 and older (79%) say they are attached to Israel, as do 75% of those ages 50-64. By comparison, 60% of those ages 18-29 and 61% of those ages 30-49 say they feel very or somewhat attached to the Jewish state.

jew-chp5-2Roughly two-thirds of Jewish Democrats (65%) and independents (69%) say they feel at least somewhat attached to Israel. An even larger share of Jewish Republicans (84%) say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel, including half who say they feel very attached.

When asked whether caring about Israel is essential, important but not essential, or not an important part of what being Jewish means to them, 43% of American Jews say it is essential, 44% say it is important but not essential, and 12% say it is not important. About half of Jews by religion (49%) say caring about Israel is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them, compared with 23% of Jews of no religion.

About six-in-ten Conservative Jews (58%) consider caring for Israel an essential part of what being Jewish means to them, as do 55% of Orthodox Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews in particular place great importance on caring about the Jewish state, with 79% saying this is essential to what being Jewish means to them. About four-in-ten Reform Jews (42%) and three-in-ten Jews with no denominational affiliation (31%) say caring about Israel is an essential part of what it means to them to be Jewish.

Older Jews are more likely than younger Jews to see caring about Israel as an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. More than half of Jews 65 and older say caring about Israel is essential for their Jewish identity (53%), as do 47% of Jews ages 50-64. By comparison, 38% of Jews in their 30s and 40s and 32% of Jewish adults under age 30 say caring about Israel is central to what being Jewish means to them. It is hard to know whether these age differences suggest that U.S. Jews’ attachment to Israel will weaken over time. If younger Jews retain their lower levels of attachment to Israel, then overall attachment to Israel may weaken with time. Alternatively, if Jews become more attached to Israel as they get older, then attachment to Israel overall could hold steady or even grow in strength.

Travel to Israel

jew-chp5-3More than four-in-ten American Jews (43%) have been to Israel, including 23% who have done so more than once. More than twice as many Jews by religion as Jews of no religion report having visited the Jewish state (49% vs. 23%).

Orthodox Jews are more likely than American Jews of any other denomination to have traveled to Israel; 77% have done so, followed by 56% of Conservative Jews, 40% of Reform Jews and 26% of those who have no denominational affiliation.

College graduates are more likely than those with less education to have visited Israel. About half of those with a college degree (51%) have traveled to Israel, compared with roughly one-third of those with less education.

Despite being more emotionally attached to Israel, older American Jews are not significantly more likely than younger ones to have traveled to that country. Among those younger than 30 who have visited Israel, 48% participated in a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, a program that has been providing free trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26 for more than a decade.25 Far fewer American Jews ages 30-39 have participated in the program (24%), while those ages 40 or older were already past the age of eligibility when the program started.

Many Believe God Gave Israel to the Jewish People

jew-chp5-4Four-in-ten American Jews (40%) believe the land that is now Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, while more than half do not believe this is literally true (27%) or were not asked this question because they did not say earlier in the survey that they believe in God (28%). Nearly half of Jews by religion (47%) say Israel was given by God to the Jews, compared with 16% of Jews of no religion. Other Pew Research Center surveys show that more Christians than Jews believe God gave Israel to the Jews; 55% of U.S. Christians, including 82% of white evangelical Protestants, express this view.

The overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews (84%) believe Israel was given to the Jews by God. Roughly half of Conservative Jews also share this view (54%). Fewer Reform Jews (35%) and Jews with no denominational affiliation (24%) share this belief.

Prospects for Two-State Solution

jew-chp5-5American Jews are more optimistic than the U.S. general public that a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully; 61% of Jews say this is possible, compared with 50% of the public overall.

Among American Jews, Jews of no religion are more inclined than Jews by religion to believe in the possibility of a peaceful, two-state solution; 72% of Jews of no religion think this can happen, compared with 58% of those who are Jewish by religion.

About seven-in-ten Jews with no denominational affiliation (72%) think it is possible for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, as do majorities of Reform and Conservative Jews (58% and 62%, respectively). By contrast, most Orthodox Jews (61%) do not think a two-state solution will work.

Jews under age 30 and Jewish Democrats are somewhat more likely than other groups to say a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. Seven-in-ten Jewish Americans younger than 30 think this is possible, compared with 60% of those ages 30-49 and those ages 50-64, and 55% of those 65 and older. Politically, seven-in-ten Jewish Democrats and a majority of independents (59%) are optimistic about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution, but most Jewish Republicans (57%) do not think there is a way for both an Israeli and a Palestinian state to coexist peacefully.

U.S. Jews Skeptical of Both Israeli and Palestinian Leadership on Peace Process

About four-in-ten American Jews (38%) think the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians, while 48% say this is not the case.

jew-chp5-6Jews of no religion are considerably more skeptical of Israel’s effort than are Jews by religion. Roughly one-in-five Jews of no religion (21%) think the Israeli government is making a sincere effort, while 62% do not think this is the case. Jews by religion are evenly divided, with 44% saying the Israeli government is making a sincere effort and 44% saying it is not.

Most Orthodox Jews (61%) think the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about peace with the Palestinians, as do 52% of Conservative Jews. Fewer Reform Jews (36%) and those with no denominational affiliation (27%) say Israeli leaders are making sincere efforts toward peace.

Jewish Republicans are more convinced of Israel’s sincerity in the peace process (62%) than are Democrats (32%) or independents (39%). And Jews under age 30 are less apt to say Israel is making sincere efforts at peacemaking as compared with Jews 30 and older.

Large majorities of Jewish Americans across religious denominations, political affiliation and demographic groups are skeptical about the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to bring about a peace settlement with Israel. Overall, just 12% of U.S. Jews think the Palestinian leadership is making a sincere attempt in the peace process, while 75% do not think this is the case.

Many Say Settlements Hurt Israel’s Security

jew-chp5-7A 44% plurality of American Jews say the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts the security of Israel, while 17% say it helps and 29% say it does not make a difference. By way of rough comparison, a 2013 Pew Research Center survey in Israel found that Israeli Jews have more mixed views: 35% say the continued building of Jewish settlements hurts the security of Israel, 31% say it helps, and 27% say it does not make a difference.26

U.S. Jews of no religion are more likely than Jews by religion to say the settlements hurt the security of Israel (56% vs. 40%). About half or more of Reform Jews, those of no denomination, college graduates and Democrats also say the continued building of settlements in the West Bank hurt Israel’s security.

Most Important Problem Facing Israel

Respondents were asked what they think is the most important long-term problem facing Israel. Fully one-quarter of American Jews (25%) listed specific groups or countries – Palestinians, Arab nations, Iran and others – as Israel’s most important problem. One-in-five cited peace and coexistence; 14% mentioned violence in general; and about one-in-ten mentioned general threats like anti-Semitism (11%), relationships and conflict in the Middle East (11%) or Israel’s own domestic issues (9%).

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U.S. Policy Toward Israel

jew-chp5-9More than half of U.S. Jews say U.S. support for Israel is about right (54%), although a substantial minority says the U.S. is not supportive enough of the Jewish state (31%), and 11% think the U.S. is too supportive. By comparison, 41% of the general public thinks support for Israel is about right, while the rest are nearly evenly divided between those who say the U.S. is not supportive enough (25%) and those who say it is too supportive of the Jewish state (22%). Interestingly, more white evangelical Protestants than Jews think the U.S. currently is not sufficiently supportive of Israel (46% vs. 31%).

Jews by religion are roughly twice as likely as Jews of no religion to say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (35% vs. 17%).

Opinions about U.S. support for Israel vary considerably across denominations, with Orthodox Jews particularly likely to say the U.S. is not supportive enough; 53% say this is the case, while 41% say U.S. support is about right, and just 2% say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel. About half or more Conservative Jews and Reform Jews say support for Israel is about right (54% and 57%, respectively), but more Conservative Jews than Reform Jews say the U.S. is not supportive enough of the Jewish state (42% vs. 30%); few in each group think U.S. support is excessive. Among those not affiliated with a Jewish denomination, 57% say U.S. support for the Jewish state is about right, while 17% say the U.S. is not supportive enough, and 20% say the U.S. is too supportive of Israel.

Among Jews ages 65 and older, those who think the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel far outnumber those who think the U.S. is too supportive (31% vs. 5%). By contrast, among Jews under age 30, the balance of those saying the U.S. is not supportive enough to those saying the U.S. is too supportive is almost even (29% vs. 25%).

Jewish Republicans are roughly three times more likely than Jewish Democrats to say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (66% of Jewish Republicans vs. 21% of Jewish Democrats). Most Jewish Democrats say U.S. support for Israel is about right (62%), as do 52% of independents.

Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 1, 2013) http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/, accessed on July 22, 2014.

  1. In Hebrew, the word “taglit” means discovery.
  2. The survey in Israel identified Jews using a question about ethnicity, whereas the current survey of U.S. Jews relies on questions about religion, self-identification and parentage to identify Jews.