Big Jewish donors are suddenly balking at giving money to Israel, says leading sociologist

US Politics
on 21 Comments

The leading sociologist of American Jewish attitudes reports that “serious donors” to Jewish organizations have lately begun balking at giving money to Israel. The change in attitude is fostered by the rising rate of intermarriage and being “deeply offended” by Israeli policies, he said.

Steven M. Cohen, a professor at the Hebrew Union College who works on Pew surveys, spoke at a conservative synagogue in Westchester County, NY, last night. The donors’ shift came up when he described how divisive the Israel issue has become inside the Jewish community. He cited his work with Jewish Federations, the largest Jewish charity organizations:

The issue of Israel is and will be a continued major source of polarization and friction. Both… the right wing on Israel, the left wing on Israel have pretty dastardly images of the other side. The right thinks the left is disloyal and endangering the future of Israel. The left thinks the right is undemocratic and racist, often, and endangering the future of Israel.

I know this to be true. My evidence for this is I’m involved with a couple of federations, doing consulting work, research, and the directors of both federations… I was having questions– what pulls our communities apart? Is it orthodox, secular, Reform, haredim? And they said, yeah, that’s the number two issue. What’s number one? “Number one is Israel! And recently, we’re getting a lot of tension on Israel, we really have a hard time managing the Israel conversation. It’s like, Our donors are telling me, I’ll give you money as I have before– I’m talking about serious donors– but not if you’re going to give to Israel.” Really! Did you tell them that our money goes to the Arab sector, that weighs in on the side of Conservative, Reform Jews in Israel, basically does good things, education, health? “Yeah yeah, yeah. It doesn’t work.”

Driving the change in the American Jewish relationship to Israel are young Jews. Cohen listed three causes for why the young distance themselves from Israel.

1, Intermarriage:

Younger people are less attached to Israel largely because of intermarriage. If we didn’t have intermarriage, probably the level of attachment would be the same. The issue of intermarriage is associated with and provokes distancing from all things Jewish.

Cohen pointed out that the non-Jewish spouse has religious counterparts to everything in the Jewish spouse’s experience, from holidays to God to a house of worship–

The one thing that doesn’t make sense to them is Israel. There’s no analog to Israel. Also what gets hit by intermarriage a lot is the ethnic side, the social relationships with other Jews. So intermarriage is a major force in shrinking the number of Israel-engaged Jews.

2, Israeli policies.

Until 2012 I thought it wasn’t politics, that politics didn’t matter. And then either I changed my mind or the data changed. But the data certainly changed by 2013. We saw that liberals who were deeply offended and annoyed by Israeli policies didn’t simply say “I don’t like Israeli policies but I love Israel,” which I would have wanted them to do [he notes that he is on the board of a liberal Zionist organization, Ameinu]. But their annoyance at Israeli policies overflowed into attachment to Israel.

3, Liberalism.

A few months ago, I came to realize… [based on his work for the Pew study on religious attitudes] that every move left on the political dimension is associated with declining attachment to the Jewish people, to things Jewish…. In the Pew data, I looked at every single measure of Jewish anything that they had. I found on measure after measure, liberals are less Jewishly-committed– by the way especially on Israel… and also on religiosity, less so if they have Jewish friends.

Throw all this together and you have a recipe for increasing detachment of Jews from Israel. The only thing holding them back is increased travel by young people to Israel, and for that we actually can credit Birthright, an intervention that made a difference. But Birthright is swimming up against the downstream effect of everything else.

Intermarriage is actually increasing the numbers of liberal American Jews in the near term; but Cohen said that ultimately the grandchildren of intermarried Jews will have little Jewish identification.

Just remember: of Jews in their 20’s, 60 percent have one non-Jewish parent– most young Jews have a non-Jewish parent. And it’s hard for them to maintain a philosophy that looks like it’s exclusive, privileged… or that denies the ability of Americans to make choices that they want…

These Jews are “Jews by feeling.” They say, “Yeah I’m Jewish, nothing more.”

So while 95 percent of Jews in the older generation are non-Orthodox, the Orthodox percentage rises to 27 percent of Jews under 18, and 35 percent of Jews under 5. Meaning: intermarriage has produced an attenuated Jewish identity. And the Jewish community will become more conservative politically in years to come.

Cohen said he expects Jews to vote overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton because of the Jewish tradition of liberalism and the association of liberalism with the highly-educated. Clinton’s top five donors are Jewish, he noted.

He also said that Jews are the most “prestigious” of American groups, per one important study, and have the second highest level of education (to Hindus) and face very little discrimination. “We’re definitely in. No problem, we’re widely accepted.” Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Muslims have far greater obstacles in making their way in American life. He said he believed that the anti-Semitism we have seen during the presidential campaign was “the expression of kooky anti-Semites…   In terms of the images [American] people have of various groups, we are in great shape.”

P.S. I have one comment on the above. Stopping giving money to something you have previously supported is called Boycott. There is a great tradition of Jews putting their money where their mouth is in boycotting countries and companies whose choices they object to. So we see these big donors undertaking a form of BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions– a campaign that their religious organizations and favorite politicians are simultaneously demonizing. The demonization won’t last. BDS.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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21 Responses

  1. Mooser
    November 7, 2016, 1:02 pm

    “The change in attitude toward Israel is driven by the rising rate of intermarriage and “annoyance” at Israeli policies, he said”

    Got to be. I mean, who on earth could think of any more compelling legal (let alone moral) reasons why an affluent person might be reluctant to contribute to Israel? Must be the “rate of intermarriage” (“Darling, if you don’t make a contribution to Israel, I could get a new fur coat”? Okay!)

    • Citizen
      November 7, 2016, 1:52 pm

      How about, “Darling, if you don’t make a contribution to Israel, we could give the money to our American war veterans–after all, aren’t they fighting for Israel’s hegemony maintenance and enhancement over there? They are just poor kids, looking for a decent job, and they come home missing limbs and with PTSD.”

      • Mooser
        November 7, 2016, 4:27 pm

        Is it possible that maybe, for some very prudent financial and legal reasons, people don’t want their money being used in pursuit of a criminal enterprise like the settlements, occupation and outposts and the rest?

    • CigarGod
      November 7, 2016, 9:20 pm

      Well, Hillary had to get her quote”We’ll all be swinging from the gallows”, from someone.
      Maybe it was a reluctant donor.

      • echinococcus
        November 7, 2016, 10:19 pm

        Cigar God,

        That quote had to come from a rare bright lawyer who didn’t sleep during class when at law school.

  2. Nevada Ned
    November 7, 2016, 4:22 pm

    Good piece.

    MW should have mentioned that Norman Finkelstein had a 2012 book on the topic (published by OR books) , entitled Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is coming to an end. Finkelstein cited Stephen Cohen’s work.

  3. Keith
    November 7, 2016, 5:34 pm

    PHIL- “The leading sociologist of American Jewish attitudes reports that “serious donors” to Jewish organizations have lately begun balking at giving money to Israel. The change in attitude is driven by the rising rate of intermarriage and being “deeply offended” by Israeli policies, he said.”

    Did he mention anything about Jewish attitudes towards Gentiles? I suspect that there is a correlation between viewing Gentiles as eternal and irrational anti-Semites and support for Israel. Interesting that these polls track Gentile attitudes towards Jews to support claims of anti-Semitism, yet never seem to track Jewish attitudes towards Gentiles as an indication of anti-Gentilism. I suspect that anti-Gentilism among Jews significantly exceeds anti-Semitism among Gentiles if the same criteria is applied. Of course, there are certain questions one simply doesn’t ask.

    • Mooser
      November 7, 2016, 7:03 pm

      “And the Jewish community will become more conservative politically in years to come”

      Cause if there’s one thing we know about 5 yr. old or 18 yr old Orthodox kids in America,, they stay that way.

      • CigarGod
        November 8, 2016, 11:05 am

        On a side note…here in the intermountain west of the usa, is the homeland of the mormon people. They call non-believers gentiles. In their youth they are given a blessing by a holy man that confirms they are from the most favored house of Israel…if they are white. If they are brown…some other house of Israel.

        There is a lot more to it, but the key thing is to just buy into it and do what you are told.

      • Mooser
        November 8, 2016, 2:45 pm

        “On a side note…here in the intermountain west of the usa, is the homeland of the mormon people.”

        Aren’t you thinking of Nauvoo, Illinois? After the Mormons, for a number of reasons, got kicked out of Nauvoo, the Church became centered in the American State of Utah. There is no ‘mormon homeland’ there.

      • CigarGod
        November 8, 2016, 4:14 pm

        You might be right. It’s so hard to keep absurdities straight.
        They also teach the original garden of eden is in…Missouri.
        Seriously.

  4. aloeste
    November 8, 2016, 2:53 pm

    of course the fact that the percent of involved jews are increasingly orthodox works against you all in so many ways. they support financially and politically the state, the modern orthodox make up a segment of so-called ‘settlers’, they represent a big segment of those making aliya, they will vote in Israel for non-leftist parties, etc

    hareidi judaism disavows political zionism, but unquestionably believes that those who agitate against the medinah are motivated by pure jew hatred , and pray for the demise of such thrice daily….

    • Annie Robbins
      November 8, 2016, 3:14 pm

      what’s the medinah?

      • eljay
        November 8, 2016, 3:23 pm

        || Annie Robbins: what’s the medinah? ||

        Religion-supremacist “Jewish State”:

        In modern Hebrew, medinah means state, a sovereign land, and is used to refer to state of Israel, Medinat Yisrael.

      • Annie Robbins
        November 8, 2016, 6:13 pm

        thanks eljay

    • Mooser
      November 8, 2016, 4:17 pm

      “of course the fact that the percent of involved jews are increasingly orthodox works against you all”

      And soon 100% of Jews will be Orthodox and Zionist.
      Oh there may only be about a couple thousand of them, but damn it, 100% of them will be Orthodox.
      And will wield all the power and influence of all the millions of people the Orthodox will say aren’t Jewish? Of course, the rest of us Jews will just have to hand it over to them, no matter what the consequences.

      “Aloeste” one hundred percent of not very many people is still, well, not very many people.

    • Mooser
      November 8, 2016, 4:21 pm

      “hareidi judaism disavows political zionism, but unquestionably believes that those who agitate against the medinah are motivated by pure jew hatred , and pray for the demise of such thrice daily….”

      They know what all Zionist know: There’s too many Jews, and we gotta get rid of a bunch!
      So nice to know other Jews are praying for my death, too. It’s that kind tribal unity warms my kishkas.

      • Mooser
        November 8, 2016, 5:14 pm

        , “and pray for the demise of such thrice daily….”

        Now, I ask you, could there be anything better for Judaism than teaching Jewish children to pray for people’s death? That’ll work out great, huh “Aloeste”?

    • Mooser
      November 8, 2016, 4:28 pm

      “the percent of involved jews are increasingly orthodox works against you all in so many ways. they support financially and politically the state, the modern orthodox make up a segment of so-called ‘settlers’, they represent a big segment of those making aliya, they will vote in Israel for non-leftist parties, etc”

      (ROTFLMSJAO!)Tell them not to worry, “Aloeste”! We won’t try and claim any of the credit for that stuff. No, if the Orthodox (in their hundreds of millions) want to stand up and say “This is our work, our acts, and our’s alone”, I don’t think other Jews will try and steal their glory, or throw any shade on their day in the sun!

      No sirree, if the Orthodox are so eager for the job of scapegoat for Zionism, I say,”let ’em have it, and welcome to it, it couldn’t happen to a nicer denomination.” .

    • Talkback
      November 8, 2016, 4:50 pm

      aloeste: “… so-called ‘settlers”…”

      Damn. Is there anything about the so called democracy which isn’t fake?

  5. michelle
    November 9, 2016, 12:58 am

    .
    one wonders if the lack of giving on the part of this group
    might be due to the massive ever increasing amounts given
    by other donators governments church groups and such
    .
    might be the Israel receiving cup overflowth
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

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