Dr. Harold Goldmeier teaches at Touro College Israel and writes on politics, social policy, and business. He is a free public speaker to NGOs. He was a Research & Teaching Fellow at Harvard and is author of Healthcare Insights: Better Care, Better Business @Amazon. Contributors here are Ariella Aberman, Chaya Cousin, Avigail Kaplan, Elisheva Kess, and Molly
My students of American Politics at Touro College, Israel, conducted a non-scientific in-person survey of 106 Jews. They carried out the survey on the heels of the Iowa Republican caucuses and the 100th day of Israelis kidnapped and held in the grips of Hamas.
An overwhelming majority of interviewees (75) are Sabbath-observing females and 31 are males. Two-thirds were in Israel at the time and about one-third in cities on America’s East Coast. 64 of the interviewees are between 18 and 28 years old. Middle-aged individuals and seniors make up the rest of the interviewees, with the oldest person being 89 years old. The survey reveals several general trends, foremost of which is Jews overwhelmingly care about the welfare of Israel and Israelis.
Influence of Social Media
Empathy of Jews for other Jews has been a hallmark of the Jewish community from time immemorial. The three major ingredients building this sense of community are early and continuing education with a definitive pro-Jewish, pro-Israel curriculum, the intention of educators with parental support to instill such empathy, and complementing bed and bored; i.e., where and with whom Jews live and share meals and talk.
It does not surprise us that our interviewees feel a strong attachment to other Jews in danger and uneasiness with outsiders when Jews are the object of derision by a plethora of world leaders, academics, religious extremists, and anti-Semites. Their angst is felt in answers to several questions dealing with the effectiveness and policies of American and Israeli leaders and priorities.
Most of those interviewed know plenty about current events. Some are unaware of the reasons behind their specific opinions. They struggle to explain how and why they develop their opinions. They “merely hear (news) from sources they like or mostly agree with,” as one interviewer notes in her summary analysis. These people form opinions in their youth from sources that confirm their biases formed in school and at home.
We find this sense of community curious because our young respondents primarily get their news from social media and some family and friends. Observers have studied social media platforms long enough to conclude that they are rampant with anti-Israel propaganda and antisemitism. Older respondents primarily get their news from traditional sources, including television, radio, newspapers, books and magazines, family and friends. The news-sourcing trend confirms what Pew Research and others report from surveys of all Americans.
Perhaps our younger respondents view social media Jew-hating rants as a challenge to their character and personage that hardens their pro-Jewish, pro-Israel views. For example, interviewees support Israel’s conduct of the war and 5-to-1 support for the election of Donald Trump over President Biden, despite Biden’s personal orders to supply Israel with nearly limitless military aid. There is near unanimous support for the claim Israel’s government is effectively pursuing Hamas terrorists and the return of the hostages.
We can only guesstimate the impact of social media’s pervasive anti-Israel and anti-Jew hate messages. 58 of 106 interviewees self-describe as politically moderate-conservatives and a mere 5 are self-described liberals.
Our assessment is that the religiously observant incline toward conservative political positions. This matches Pew Research studies about the importance of religion in one’s adult and their political affiliation. In our survey, the vast majority of respondents do not trust the U. S. government “to be honest with its people.” Those my students surveyed trust Israel’s government to be honest with its people by 58 to 18, though 30 responded with “I don’t know.”
Concomitantly, respondents consider Mr. Biden ineffective as the President, but by 4-to-1 believe America is a good to great friend of Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu does not fare well. 52 of 85 of our sample believe he is, at this time, performing mediocre to ineffective. They split on whether Bibi ought to resign (30 to 30). 3-to-1 oppose his reelection. A sizeable percentage said “I don’t know” to both questions. This suggests to us there is little to no passion for Israel’s current leadership that touts itself as the leading policymakers and spokespeople of the Jewish People.
It’s The Economy and Israel
During the 1992 U. S. presidential campaign, consultant James Carville coined the meme, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Two more messages dominated the campaign, “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care.” Respondents to our Touro College Israel survey responded to our question, “what are your top 2 priorities for U. S. government policy?” Like three decades past, it’s the economy and taxes. Concern for Israel gets a lot of support, too.
Fewer but noteworthy priorities among our respondents are peace and civil liberties, safety, immigration and border security, free health care, morality and justice. Their familiarity with Israel’s national, mostly free healthcare system sparks the inclusion of the issue high on the list of priorities.
Israel’s healthcare system ranks third for quality and accessibility among OECD member countries. It ranks as one of the most efficient worldwide. Before the war, Israel was spending less than 8% of its GDP on healthcare while America’s health spending tops 17% of its GDP. Life expectancy of Israelis ranks eighth globally; life expectancy for Americans ranks 43rd.
According to one interviewer whose respondents mostly live in America, “Many believe that America can do more for Israel.” The student sees a link between that opinion and the 13 of 20 who “believed that the American government was negatively pressuring Israel’s actions in the war.” 10 of the13, at this time, “want Trump to be the next president.” This is a trend standing out across survey responses.
I was surprised when my Gen Z students registered for a credit class on American Politics. My impression of them from marketing reports is a generation driven by money and personally ambitious. They love to travel caring little about roots. Gen Z is characterized as being prone to anxiety. They are gamers and techies giving short shrift to reading intellectual processing. Their knowledge comes from watching social media and influencers. Their sobriquet is the generation of “digital natives.”
My exposure to Gen Zers leads me to characterize them first and foremost as inquisitive and opinionated. I have taught them in higher education for 7 years. They are progressive about civil liberties and civil rights, even when they consider themselves politically conservative.
One student wrote in her survey summary, “While giving out the surveys, I noticed how excited my participants were to be given a chance to voice their opinions…it was the first time some of these girls were asked about their views on political policies…Politics swarm social media (and) my participants used social media as their resource to get their news and politics.”
It is a mistake for Israel to ignore or write-off this young generation as a clutch of fools and politically unconcerned. Politicians are spending too much treasure and time courting old, staid, and traditional Jewish organizations. The powerful pro-Israel leadership is moribund; the average age of leaders is mid-70s to early 80s. Evangelicals, who Bibi Netanyahu tagged Israel’s best friend, are, on average, 10 years older than self-identifying Jews.
Young Evangelicals are in single digits as percentages of their religious population. Jews are a young ethnic and religious self-identifying community. 22% of self-identifying American Jews and over 23% of Israelis are between 18 and 29 years of age. They are the best pool of pro-Israel activists. They ought to be nurtured and mobilized, not ignored. Gen Zers are using social media in ways that are reshaping political and geopolitical futures.