World Jewry feels increasingly endangered, embarrassed by Israel, study finds

Intifada Palestine | 26 July 2015

Jews around the world, especially younger ones, feel increasingly embarrassed and endangered by Israel and its actions, especially after last summer’s massacre in Gaza.

This is a key conclusion from a new report by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), a think tank supported by Israel lobby groups that works with the Israeli government to bolster Jewish support for Israel and Zionism.

The study identifies a “sense of crisis” in many Jewish communities “regarding their relationships with Israel.”

The report, “Jewish Values and Israel’s Use of Force in Armed Conflict: Perspectives from World Jewry,” is based on in-depth discussion groups and surveys in Jewish communities from Australia to South Africa, in Europe and in North and South America.

JPPI is co-chaired by Israel lobby stalwart and former US “peace process” diplomat Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat, a longtime US government official who now serves as the State Department’s “Special Adviser to the Secretary on Holocaust Issues.”

Losing faith

The report asserts that most Jews are still concerned about Israel and care about its future. But it confirms key trends that will be particularly troubling to Israel and its lobby groups around the world.

For one thing, it is becoming harder for Israel to convince Jews that its regular spasms of violence against Palestinians and others are justified.

“Many Jews’ confidence in Israel’s desire for peace with its Palestinian neighbors has eroded, and this erosion also affects their belief in the necessity of using force,” the report states.

Many Jews are more likely to view Israel as responsible for this violence – contrary to Israel’s own claims that it is merely engaging in “self-defense.”

The discussions that fed into the report “called attention to a growing difficulty that many Jews have understanding Israel’s long-term policy – which they see as contributing to, if not actually creating, the need to engage in repeated violent confrontations with its neighbors.”

They also revealed a “rising tendency among Diaspora Jews to regard their ties to Israel as a disruptive factor in their personal and communal lives.”

Among the report’s recommendations is more “effective hasbara (public relations) vis-a-vis the Jewish communities” in an effort to convince them that Israel wants “peace.”

It is notable that this report was compiled by institutions with strong pro-Israel commitments, meaning that non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish perspectives were likely underrepresented in the research. Not mentioned in the report, for instance, is the fact that many young Jews are active in the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Yet even so the report found considerable and growing disquiet over Israel.

Jews versus Israel

While both Zionist and anti-Semitic propagandists typically present the interests of Israel, on the one hand, and Jewish communities around the world, on the other, as being identical, the reality is that they are often directly at odds.

Last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians highlighted these contradictions for many participants in the JPPI study.

“Many – most – Jews still feel close to Israel, are concerned about Israel, want the best for it and to see it succeed,” the report states. “One cannot, however, ignore the many voices testifying to a growing difficulty in accepting the price this closeness entails.”

“Israel’s wars have an immediate and, usually, a negative effect on Diaspora Jewry,” concludes the summary of one of the Brazil discussions.

“Many Jews around the world feel that their lives are directly affected by Israel’s actions,” the report states. “Some feel physically threatened in the wake of Israeli actions, but even those who do not may still feel that Israel’s actions affect them on many levels, from Jewish intra-communal relations to their interaction with the non-Jewish world.”

Particularly troubling has been the Israeli response to attacks that targeted and killed Jews in France, most recently the killings at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January.

“[Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to French Jews to immigrate to Israel put the French Jews in an embarrassing situation,” a study participant in France observed. “They had to explain to their fellow French citizens that they are not ‘Israelis living [in France] on borrowed time.’”

Reluctant ambassadors

Jews also increasingly resent “the role of Israel ‘ambassadors’ they are forced to play, whether they want to or not.”

A discussion seminar in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, noted that “we are all held accountable for Israel’s actions … [There is] no separation between Zionism and Judaism.”

“Whether I want to or not – I become an ambassador of Israel,” said one participant in St. Louis, Missouri.

The self-declared “Jewish state’s” horrifying violence and refusal to seek peace is also making some want to appear less Jewish and, in the words of the report, “lower their Jewish profile.”

Israel is also seen as increasingly divisive even among Jews. “Israel, which seeks to be a unifying force for World Jewry, has become, over the years, a source of tension,” the report states.

Israel’s extreme right-wing policies in other areas also run against the progressive politics many Jews profess. Many, the report states, are “dissatisfied with ‘civil rights’ issues, especially those related to minorities” including Palestinian citizens of Israel, foreign workers and the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Boosting propaganda

The JPPI report makes several recommendations aimed at boosting Israel’s propaganda efforts among Jews, particularly with respect to the “image” of the Israeli army.

“The IDF’s image as a moral army is a vital asset to Israel vis-à-vis the Jewish community, one that should be cultivated and preserved,” the report states. “It is crucial to refrain from making statements or conveying messages that undermine this image.”

The report calls for better “preparation” by Israeli army officers who engage in propaganda efforts in Jewish communities to “specifically address the Jewish viewpoint, rather than being confined to general hasbara messages.”

Nowhere does the report recommend that the Israeli army actually end its occupation and well-documented criminal violence against Palestinians. The report does not call for Israeli leaders or soldiers to be held accountable for the war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank evidence of which is amply documented in the recently published independent UN inquiry.

Youth checking out

A key point in the JPPI study is that all the trends that the authors find alarming are even more pronounced among Jews aged under 30.

“The opinion that Israel has a problem with the younger generation of Diaspora Jews was pervasive,” the report states.

It notes, for instance, anxiety about “declining enrollment in the Taglit-Birthright and Masa Israel programs, and concerns that this could be attributed to the Gaza war.”

These are programs, funded by the Israeli government and pro-Israel foundations, that bring Jewish youths on free trips to Israel in an effort to inculcate or strengthen Zionist commitments.

Concern about the attitudes of the young is driven by one “obvious” reason, the report states: “This is the generation whose attitude (and the attitude of the Jewish leadership that will come from it) will define the status of Israel-Diaspora relations in the future.”

If the trends noted in the JPPI report continue – and there’s no reason to think they won’t – then the alienation of Jews around the world from Israel is only certain to grow.

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