Trump Divides U.S. And Israeli Jews


American Jews continue to have a low favorability assessment of President Donald Trump, with only 34 percent approving of the way he is handling U.S.-Israel relations. In sharp contrast, 77 percent of Israeli Jews approve of Trump’s handling of the relationship. In addition, while 85 percent of Israeli Jews applaud Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in recognition of its status as Israel’s capital, only 46 percent of American Jews support the decision.

The findings, which come from two American Jewish Committee surveys conducted within the last two months, focused also on their attitudes towards Israeli national security, a two-state solution and pluralism in Israel. The Israeli results largely confirm another survey of Israeli Jews conducted for UJA-Federation of New York last November regarding their attitudes towards American Jews and pluralism.

The AJC survey found, for instance, that 68 percent of Israeli Jews found it inappropriate for American Jews to attempt to influence Israeli policy on such issues as national security and peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The UJA-Federation survey found that 64 percent of Israeli Jews said the Israeli government should pay attention to the views of Jewish leaders in the U.S. with respect to negotiations with the Palestinians “not much” or “hardly at all.” Similarly, when asked whether Conservative and Reform rabbis should be permitted to officiate at religious services such as weddings, 52 percent of Israeli Jews answering the UJA-Federation survey said yes, compared with 49 percent responding to the AJC survey.

Regarding the proposed square adjacent to the Western Wall that would have allowed men and women to pray together (a proposal the Israeli government has put on hold after years of planning), 59 percent of Israeli Jews in the UJA-Federation survey agreed with the government’s decision to freeze the proposal, while 48 percent of Israeli Jews in the AJC survey said they oppose the proposed mixed prayer space.

The gap between Israeli and American Jews appears to stem in part by how they define themselves religiously, according to David Harris, CEO of the AJC. The more observant they are on the denominational spectrum, “their Jewish identity and attachment to Israel is stronger; skepticism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians higher; and support for religious pluralism in Israel weaker.”

In the AJC poll, for instance, less than 1 percent of Israeli Jews said they were Conservative or Masorti, compared with 14 percent of American Jews. In Israel, only 1 percent of Jews defined themselves as Reform, compared with 29 percent of American Jews. Some 11 percent in Israel define themselves as Modern Orthodox, about twice the number in the U.S., while 10 percent of Israelis say they are ultra-Orthodox, about twice the percentage found in the U.S.

Among Americans, Trump’s greatest support comes from white evangelical voters, some 81 percent of whom voted for him. A survey conducted two months ago found that despite allegations of extramarital affairs, evangelical support for him remains high at 75 percent. It was thus no surprise that two evangelical Christian pastors were chosen by the U.S. to offer prayers at the opening last month of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Both the UJA-Federation and AJC surveys found that there is unanimity regarding the vitality of both the diaspora and the State of Israel and their significance for the future of the Jewish people. The AJC surveys, Harris said, are “important barometers of the perceptions and views affecting current and long-term relations between American Jews and Israelis, the two largest Jewish populations in the world.”

The AJC survey of American Jews found also that attachment to Israel often governs political affiliation. The majority who identify with the Democratic Party and voted for Hillary Clinton, Harris observed, “are less attached to Israel, more weakly identified with the Jewish people, and more favorable to religious pluralism than the minority who are Republicans and report that they voted for Donald Trump.”

American Jews’ attitudes towards Trump have never been high. An AJC survey in August 2015, while Trump was running for the Republican nomination amid of field of candidates, found that among Jews, Trump had the most support at 10 percent, followed by Jeb Bush at 9 percent. At the same time, Democrat Hillary Clinton was the leading choice of Jews with 40 percent of respondents favoring her. An AJC poll two years later found that American Jews gave President Trump a 77 percent unfavorable rating and a 21 percent favorable rating.

The latest AJC survey of American Jews was based upon a national telephone sample last month of 1,000 Jews over the age of 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent. The survey of Israeli Jews was based upon a national telephone survey of l,000 nationals over the age of 18 conducted in April and May and has a margin of error of 3.9 percent. The UJA-Federation survey was conducted online last November and was based upon responses from 2,050 Israeli Jews.