Establishment sticks to guns even as consensus frays.By Josh Nathan-Kazis The Forward
American Jews are far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment, according to the new Pew survey, but Jewish leaders say the findings won’t change their positions.
Officials with leading Jewish organizations told the Forward that the 38% of American Jews who Pew says think the Israeli government isn’t making a “sincere effort” to come to a peace deal are either uninformed, unengaged, or wrong. They also asserted that those respondents don’t represent their constituency.
“You know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “This is a poll of everybody. Some care, some don’t care.”
“I think it’s interesting, we need to be aware,” he said. “But I’m not going to follow this.”
Pew’s Portrait of Jewish Americans, based on interviews with 3,500 Jews in all 50 states, found that most Jews feel attached to Israel. But it also found high levels of skepticism of the Israeli government and high levels of opposition to the continued construction of settlements in the West Bank.
American Jewish establishment groups are reluctant to criticize the Israeli government in public. While most don’t actively support the settlements, few mainstream groups outright oppose settlement construction.
Leaders of these establishment groups, when contacted by the Forward, were unconcerned about the apparent disconnect.
Foxman, who has led the ADL since 1987, said that Jewish leaders weren’t beholden to the opinions of the Jewish public. “I don’t sit and poll my constituency,” Foxman said. “Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead.”
Some Jewish officials argued that those Jews suspicious of the Israeli government didn’t know much about Israel.
Jews who told Pew that they had no religion were far less likely to believe that the Israelis are sincere in their peace efforts than those who said that their religion is Judaism. Jews of no religion are also less likely to be involved in Jewish life. According to Steve Bayme, , director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department at the American Jewish Committee, that suggests that they know less about the peace process.
“Those who are most involved in Jewish life are also most knowledgeable, and therefore I tend to think their opinion more closely parallels the opinion of the organized Jewish community,” said Bayme. “Those not involved… they are the ones who are going to be viewing these issues from a lack of adequate knowledge base.”