Survey Finds U.S. Jewish Leaders Are More Dovish Than They Admit
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Survey Finds U.S. Jewish Leaders Are More Dovish Than They Admit

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American Jewish leaders are privately more dovish than their public statements on the Middle East would lead one to believe, according to a survey of 780 American Jewish leaders that is expected to be released next week.

The survey, conducted under the auspices of the Israel-Diaspora Institute, a Tel-Aviv based public policy think tank, found that although 78 percent of the leaders believe that the Palestine Liberation Organization is determined to destroy Israel, a whopping 73 percent would support Israeli dialogue with the group if it "recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism."

Seventy-six percent said they favor "territorial compromise for credible guarantees of peace," and 59 percent believe that Israel should "offer the Palestinians a prospect of a Palestinian state in 15 years."

"The results are extremely surprising in light of the public statements these leaders have made," said Steven Cohen, professor of sociology at Queens College, who conducted the study.

"If you ask most observers where Jewish leaders stand on Likud vs. Labor, they think the leadership hasn’t weighed in on one side or the other. But it turns out that in their private thinking, American Jewish leaders are squarely in the Labor camp ideologically.

"The survey also shows, however, that they think it’s inappropriate, unwise or maybe ever immoral to lean in one direction or the other professionally, even if they do have a strong personal opinion," said Cohen. "Thus, there’s public position at variance with a private position."

Over 1,310 American Jewish leaders we sent questionnaires in October and November 1989. They represented three sectors: Jewish community federations, prominent rabbis and synagogue leaders, and agencies such as it American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and local Jewish community relations agencies.

This represents the first formal study of American Jewish leadership specifically with reference to their views toward Israel.

"Whoever sees the study and sees how forthrightly on one side of the political fence these leaders are is surprised. I’m an expert in this field, and I was surprised," Cohen said.


Cohen found that American Jewish leaders are consistently more dovish than the American Jews they represent. "It’s lopsided," he said, "but it makes sense.

"The American Jewish public would become more dovish the more knowledgeable they became about Israel. The leadership is much more knowledgeable and sophisticated, in touch with political realities. The strength of Israel to compromise is more evident if you are in these positions."

"We always thought such findings might be true," said Fredelle Spiegel, project director for the study, "but no one ever proved it in a formal analysis before.

"We undertook the project, because we wanted to sec exactly what the American Jewish leadership’s position was toward Israel. There has been much talk recently about how the relationship has been weakened."

Recent signs of that weakening include the strong negative reaction the American Jewish community had to the idea of amending Israel’s Law of Return to exclude non-Orthodox converts to Judaism who immigrate to Israel from receiving the automatic citizenship accorded to other Jews.

The survey found that if Israel adopted the so-called "Who Is a Jew" amendment, 78 percent of American Jewish leaders would be "very upset," and another 7 percent would be "somewhat upset."

Nevertheless, support for Israel remains solid.

"What we found surprising," said Spiegel, "is how strong the commitment to Israel still is and how anxious American Jewish leaders are to get involved in Israeli domestic issues."

The survey found that although American Jewish leaders widely approve of friendly criticism of Israeli public policies, they also reject the idea that American Jews should become involved in Israeli decision-making unless it has direct ramifications for the American Jewish community.


Whereas 88 percent approve of involvement in the "Who Is a Jew" issue, only 25 percent approve of interference in Israeli security matters. The vast majority disapprove of the meeting that five American Jews had in December 1988 with PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

"The leaders who are dovishly inclined, although troubled by moral questions, are more concerned with the security of Israel," said Cohen. "But they also feel they lack the moral standing to interfere in security questions."

It is not surprising, therefore, that an overwhelming majority, while supporting a two-state solution, insist that a Palestinian state should be limited by strong security arrangements.

Ninety-three percent found total demilitarization of the Palestinians cither essential or desirable; 83 percent favored the deployment of the Israeli army in the territories; and 81 percent said they want the Palestinians to renounce any claims to return to parts of pre-1967 Israel.

"American Jewish leaders are, on the one hand, very liberal, but on the other, overly cautious of Israel’s security," Spiegel said.

"What might appear as a contradiction is a practical expression of the Jewish leaders’ Americanism," said Arye Carmon, president of the Israel-Diaspora Institute. "Americans often join the table with their adversaries, but do not necessarily always eat what’s served."

They study is likely to raise eyebrows in the Jewish community and, in the view of one academic, may have a significant effect on the peace process and on Israel-Diaspora relations.

"It takes a card away from Shamir, who consistently says that American Jews back him" and "gives more credibility to the Labor Party," said the academic, who requested anonymity.

"It also encourages Palestinian moderation," he added. "Arafat can say: ‘Look at the attitudes of American Jewish leaders.’ And finally, it releases the American State Department to be more aggressive in pushing for a two-state solution."

"This is just a preliminary study," said Spiegel, when asked of the effect she hopes the survey will have. "The real question is what should the relationship between Israel and American Jewish leaders be."

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