The recent article of Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books seemed to hit the zeitgeist. In a dark sweeping polemic, Beinart gave an overview of what he sees as Israel's disturbing lurch to the right. Beyond his take on Israeli society at large, Beinart also focussed on how Israel's policies over the last few years are alienating America's young Jews:
"For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead."
Beinart's piece seemed to hit a nerve, and provoked a huge amount of debate in the Diaspora. Some took issue with his reflections on Israel's politics, others took issue with his assessment of American Jewry, but there is no doubt the article had a huge impact.
Last week the sociologists gently entered into the fray. They suggest that Beinart is mistaken.
The latest research of Sasson, Phillips, Kadushin, and Saxe makes its main point in its title: "Still Connected". It carefully explains that connection to Israel among American Jews has remained pretty consistent for the last 25 years, and that "Political ideology is not related to feelings of attachment to Israel."
This is not an isolated finding. Another recent study by Cohen, Kelman, and Blitzer, offering a more pessimistic perspective (it is subtitled "Young Adult American Jews and their Alienation from Israel") also finds little corollary between politics and connection to Israel. In Britain also, the JPR survey concludes "notwithstanding their great attachment to Israel, respondents are capable of holding critical views regarding Israeli politics and society."
It would seem that one's connection to Israel goes deeper than politics.
Notwithstanding Eli Valley's suspicions of conspiracy (his famous Bucky Shvitz is this column's image), it would seem these surveys - coming from different camps and countries - agree on one thing. When Beinart talks of "many" Jews detaching from Israel because of Israel's politics, the statistics don't back him up.
This leads us to ask two questions:
If the research is telling us that political affiliation and orientation has little to no effect on connections to Israel, would this not suggest that encouraging a critical, nuanced, and sometimes argumentative relationship with Israel may not be the dangerous, even treacherous pastime some have warned?
Can we now expect Diaspora Jews to present their critique of Israel as a direct expression of their care for Israel, rather than always couching it as an expression of their concern for Diaspora Jews?