Peace tops pluralism for U.S. Jews


WHIPPANY, N.J., April 24 (JTA) — American Jews say their personal identity as Jews is more affected by Israel’s peace policies toward the Palestinians than by its policies on religious pluralism.

The margin was more than 2-to-1, with 44.6 percent saying Israel’s peace policies more strongly affected their Jewish identities, compared to just 19.8 percent who said its policies on pluralism were more decisive.

Another 15.5 percent said both issues affected them equally, while 12.9 percent chose “neither.”

The response, disclosed in a national telephone survey conducted by Zogby International, appears to contradict the conventional wisdom among Jewish community leaders and activists, who have believed for the last decade that Israel’s religious policies touched American Jews more deeply than its peace policies.

The study of American Jews was one of six simultaneous surveys conducted among different ethnic groups. The Jewish sample numbered 589 people, with a 4.1 percent margin of error.

The responses to this particular issue varied strongly with age, political ideology and religious observance. The likelihood of choosing “peace” as the determining issue rose steadily with age, while the likelihood of choosing “pluralism” declined with age.

Among Jews older than 65, for example, nearly 50 percent chose peace as the issue most affecting them; 16.3 percent chose pluralism. Jews between 18 and 29 were more evenly split, with 37 percent choosing peace and 28.5 percent pluralism.

The effect of political views on the responses to the question was more complicated. Concern over Israel’s peace policies declined in proportion to a respondent’s conservatism, with 48.6 percent of liberals choosing peace compared to 44.9 percent of moderates and 38 percent of conservatives.

Conservatives were more likely to choose “neither” or “not sure.” Party identification showed a nearly identical pattern, with Republicans less likely to choose “peace” and more likely to pick “neither” or “not sure.”

Most intriguing was the variation by religious observance. People who attend services at least once a week were the least likely to pick peace, at 36 percent. Most likely to choose peace, at 57 percent, were people who go to services once or twice a month.

Ranging in between the extremes were those who attend services “only on special occasions” (46.4 percent named “peace”) and “never” (44 percent).

Those two groups also had the lowest percentages of respondents choosing pluralism and the highest percentages to pick neither or not sure.

Paradoxically, monthly synagogue-goers were only slightly less likely to choose pluralism, at 22.7 percent, than were daily or weekly worshipers, at 28.7 percent. Instead, daily or weekly attendees were more likely to name “both” (23.7 percent, compared to 5.3 percent for monthly shul-goers).

The responses by religious observance follow a bell-curve pattern first described in the 1980s by sociologist Steven Cohen. He found that political conservatism was highest among the most observant and the least observant Jews, while liberalism was strongest among those Jews actively involved in a liberal stream of Judaism.

—New Jersey Jewish News

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