JERUSALEM, Oct. 29. (JTA) — A new poll released by the World Jewish Congress shows that Israelis feel increasingly worried about worldwide anti-Semitism and see themselves as responsible for rescuing Jews in danger anywhere.
Supporting the notion that bad times make better Jews, both secular and religious Israelis say they have a stronger Jewish identity after more than a year of Palestinian violence and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.
The poll of 501 Israelis was conducted Oct. 18-22 and released on the eve of the WJC’s 11th plenary assembly, titled “Securing the Jewish Future.” Some 800 people from 70 countries have come to Jerusalem for the annual conference, which is to include meetings with Knesset members, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Discussions will focus on Israel-Diaspora relations, Jewish identity in the new millennium, Israel and world public opinion and human rights and intergroup relations. The conference will be held from Tuesday through Thursday.
“When we conceived of the conference title, we thought it would mean securing a stronger Jewish identity, Jewish education, the struggle against assimilation,” said Avi Beker, the WJC’s international director. “Through a twist of history we are engaged with the same topic, but dealing with our physical security.”
Noting that Jewish identity traditionally grows stronger during times of crisis, Beker added that it is “a challenge for us, as leaders of the Jewish community gathered here, to focus on the positive aspects of Jewish identity. It should not be negative forces that build our unity and strength.”
The task is daunting, considering the poll results. While 63 percent of respondents said that spiritual assimilation is the most serious threat to Diaspora Jews, 30 percent said physical danger was even more serious.
Some 57 percent said there is more anti-Semitism in the world today than 10 years ago. Most — 75 percent — agreed that international anti-Israel sentiment is motivated by anti-Semitism.
In addition, 67 percent said anti-Israel politics at the United Nations is driven by anti-Semitism. Respondents had little interest in seeing the United Nations play a role in the Mideast peace process, WJC officials said.
Among the other findings:
• Forty-eight percent of respondents identify primarily as part of the Jewish people, 36 percent as citizens of the state of Israel and 13 percent as members of humanity;
• Fifty percent said their sense of Jewish identification had grown stronger because of the past year’s events, while 45 percent said it had not;
• Thirty-seven percent said they would strongly oppose intermarriage for their child or grandchild, while 31 percent said they would neither support nor oppose such a marriage;
• Fifty-four percent said the most important thing Diaspora Jews can do to support Israel is to make aliyah;
• The most admired characteristic of U.S. Jews is “their cultural and political influence” — 34 percent — followed by “Jewish pride — 22 percent — and their “sense of unity and community” — 21 percent;
• An overwhelming majority — 76 percent — agreed that Diaspora Jews are Israel’s most important ally; and
• Fifty percent of respondents said the United States was a safer country for Jews than England, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union — but 26 percent said none of those countries is truly safe for Jews.