Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel


Source: The Jewish Identity Project of Reboot


The authors report results from a study designed to address three questions:

  1. How broad-based is alienation from Israel among young American Jews?
  2. Can the gap in support for Israel between younger and older American Jews be explained as a (temporary) life-cycle phenomenon?
  3. Are the age-related variations related, as many believe, to political (i.e., left-of-center) orientations? Or are other factors more critical?

 The authors find that these trends are related more to age-cohort (year of birth) than to stage of life. But the authors find no evidence to suggest that political affiliation is related to alienation from Israel among young American Jews.


The report is based on data from the 2007 National Survey of American Jews, a mail- and Web-administered survey conducted in December 2006 and January 2007 by Synovate, Inc. It only considers the attitudes of non-Orthodox Jews.


Of 1,828 respondents, 124 Orthodox were removed from the sample on the assumption that their relationship to Israel is markedly closer than that of their non-Orthodox peers.


The major findings are that successively younger American Jews feel increasingly distant from Israel, and that the trend has been increasing steadily for decades.


For example, fewer than half (48 percent) of respondents younger than 35 agreed that “Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy,” compared to 78 percent of those 65 and older. And just 54 percent of the younger group is “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State,” compared to 81 percent of those 65 or older, 74 percent of those in the 50-64 age group and 64 percent in the 35-49 group.


Among the conclusions of the authors:

Older Jews express considerable attachment to Israel, and very few are genuinely alienated from Israel. The same cannot be said for younger adult Jews. In sharp contrast to their parents and grandparents, non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders. Moreover, in the past one could speak of mounting indifference to Israel as the major orientation of the unengaged. In contrast, these days we find instances of genuine alienation as many more Jews, especially young people, profess a near-total absence of any positive feelings toward Israel.


This age-related decline characterizes almost all available measures of genuine Israel attachment and thus cannot be attributed to measurement idiosyncrasy. At the same time, the bottom has not fallen out entirely: about 60% of younger adult Jews who are not Orthodox profess some attachment to Israel. While less attached than their elders, most younger adult Jews still view Israel positively.


The small but growing minority of younger generation Jews who are indifferent toward, if not alienated from, Israel did not suddenly emerge. Their distant views are not a matter of a recent, single, pivotal development or a sudden plunge in attachment. Rather, the erosion in Israel engagement has taken place over the entire age spectrum, from elderly, to upper-middle-aged, to lower-middle-aged, to young adult. The phenomenon has the markings of a birth cohort effect rather than a family life cycle effect. A family life cycle effect would show strong relationships with marriage or the advent of children. We might see increases and decreases in attachment over the life cycle as family circumstances change. But here, the trend lines are fairly consistent with age: each drop in age is associated with a drop in Israel attachment. While the evidence is not and cannot be conclusive, it does appear that levels of attachment are linked to when people were born and came to adulthood, rather than a particular stage in life. We see a pattern of shifting (declining) attachment to Israel stretching over 50 years, from those who are now 65 and older down to those in their 20s.


Contrary to widely held beliefs, left-liberal political identity is not primarily responsible for driving down the Israel attachment scores among the non-Orthodox. If left-liberal politics were influential, we should see significant differences in Israel attachment between liberal-Democrats and conservative-Republicans. The absence of such a pattern, and the inconsistent variations within age groups, run contrary to the assertion that political views are the prime source of disaffection from Israel. This is a case where a "non-finding" is a finding. The results point to no clear impact of political leanings on Israel attachment, contrary to the widely held view that left-liberal ideology is especially incompatible with warmth toward Israel.

Updated: Nov. 09, 2009