UK Jews more tied to Israel than American Jews

By Simon Rocker, July 22, 2010

Jews in the UK feel more attached to Israel than those in the United States, according to one of the leading academic experts on diaspora Jewry.

"UK Jewry is far more connected to Israel than American Jewry," said Professor Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

"Among the most outstanding differences are the extent of travel to Israel, the number who have lived or are planning to live in Israel, the high proportion of British Jews who identify as Zionists, and the high proportion who see Israel as important to their identities as Jews," he said.

Professor Cohen was one of the research advisers to the survey of British Jewish attitudes to Israel conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), whose initial findings were published last week. He is also the author of numerous studies of American Jewry.

The JPR study found that 95 per cent of British Jews have visited Israel at least once - compared with just 40 per cent of American Jews, according to the last major survey of them in 2007.

Whereas 82 per cent of British Jews said that Israel was central or important to their Jewish identity, rather less, 68 per cent, of American Jews felt attached to Israel.

According to Professor Cohen, British Jews are more attached to Israel because their Jewish identity is more ethnic, whereas American Jewish identity is more based more on individual faith or spirituality.

In that respect, British Jews resembled Australian or South African Jews, who are also more ethnic than US

In a study of American Jewry he co-authored in 2007, Professor Cohen warned of "a mounting body of evidence" to indicate that younger American Jews are growing more distant from Israel than older generations.

Attachment to Israel is also affected by intermarriage, he added.

But for Professor Cohen, the most interesting finding of the JPR survey was the doveish views on the Middle East conflict held by many British Jews.

More than half UK Jews - 52 per cent - thought Israel should talk to Hamas, while 78 per cent voiced support for a two-state solution.

"Among American Jews who are as deeply involved in Jewish life, attitudes are not so 'doveish'," he said. "The inclusion of less Jewishly-engaged American Jews may yield results similar to those exhibited by British Jews. But the distinctive feature of UK Jews is that they combine very high commitment and familiarity to Israel, with moderate views on the Israel-Arab conflict."

He added: "In broad terms, British Jews look like highly-educated Israelis who are the descendants of turn-of-the century East European Jews, albeit not rigorously Orthodox. Indeed, that may be a fair description of a large part of British Jewry today."

Last updated: 3:49pm, July 22 2010