Israel Asks American Jews and Israeli Ex-Pats: Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

Netanyahu Orders Ministries To Stop Distributing Survey


By Haaretz/Barak Ravid

Published October 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Two sensitive and potentially explosive issues have always clouded the relationship between the Jewish community in the United States and the State of Israel. The first relates to claims of “dual allegiance” to both Israel and the United States; the other concerns the pro-Israel, American “Jewish lobby.” Many of those raising such claims against American Jewry have themselves been accused of anti-Semitism.

So it’s strange that representatives of Israel’s immigrant absorption and foreign ministries have just distributed a questionnaire to tens of thousands of Israelis living in the United States and Jewish Americans, which includes problematic questions on exactly these issues, and asks them to indicate where their allegiance would lie in the case of a crisis between the two countries.

On Sunday, following the report of the story in Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed the ministries to stop distributing the questionnaire. He also ordered that it not be promoted by any official government agency.

The survey was commissioned by the Israeli American Council, a private nonprofit group based in Los Angeles. Its mission is “to build an active and giving Israeli-American community in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community,” according to the IAC website.

The IAC was established by Israelis living in Los Angeles in 2007, and is primarily supported by Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban, who has donated close to a million dollars in the past four years.

In September, the IAC announced plans to expand by establishing new branches throughout the United States. Conducting the survey is seen as part of this process.

According to the IAC, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has taken it upon himself to help finance the group’s expansion.

Adelson, considered one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest allies, owns the pro-Netanyahu free daily Israel Hayom, and donated tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates in the last U.S. presidential election.

Last Tuesday, the IAC’s chief operating officer, Miri Belsky, sent an email to the Israeli embassy in Washington with a link to the survey, asking that Israeli consulates in the United States be instructed to distribute it. She even asked that the consulates send out four reminders - one every three days – in order to elicit replies from at least 10 percent of their mailing list.

That same day, the Israeli consulates in the United States received instructions from the embassy in Washington and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry’s returning citizens’ department to distribute the survey by email to the tens of thousands of Israelis and Jews on their mailing lists.

“The IAC is conducting a survey of Israelis in the United States to map their positions and needs,” read the email the Washington embassy sent to the consulates. “We will be partners in the findings. They are asking for our help in distributing the questionnaires via our communication channels, in order to reach as many Israelis as possible … We thank you for promoting this from today.”

Midgam Research and Consulting, a polling company, has been hired to carry out the survey, which is apparently financed by the IAC but was endorsed by official Israeli government agencies. The symbol of the State of Israel appears on the survey’s opening page, and the questionnaires were sent from official Foreign Ministry email accounts.

However, it is unclear what governmental level approved this move, or whether absorption or foreign ministry officials checked what type of questions would be asked. Only after several of the consulates had already distributed the survey to tens of thousands of recipients did some Israeli diplomats realize the significance, and partially halted its distribution.

“Tell her not to send it out. The questions in this survey are unbearable and not legitimate,” Gil Lainer, consul for public diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate in New York, wrote to one of his colleagues in an email.

One question in the survey asks specifically which side the respondents would support publicly if there was a crisis in the relationship between the United States and Israel. The respondents are also asked to what extent the presidential candidates or Congress members’ attitudes toward Israel impact their voting decisions.

They are also asked about the impact of American Jews and U.S. Jewish organizations on American policy, and how Israelis living in the United States and American Jews have an impact on Israel’s strength.

An Immigrant Absorption Ministry spokesperson told Haaretz, “this survey has no connection to the ministry,” but admitted ministry personal were involved in its distribution. “We will check how this hitch occurred.”

The Foreign Ministry noted that “the survey was distributed by Ella Saban - director of the department for returning Israelis at the Absorption Ministry - to the consulates. It is a project of the Absorption Ministry and the IAC.” However, it noted that the embassy in Washington and the consulates around the U.S. helped circulate the survey.

The IAC replied via its PR, Moshe Debby. “The Israeli American Council initiated and approved the survey and questions,” Debby said. “We drafted the survey and it was distributed by many organizations, including [the Immigrant Absorption Ministry agency] Bait Israeli. The government of Israel was not involved in drafting the survey. We chose to conduct this survey … checking the characteristics of Israelis living in America and their children, to learn about the community’s nature.

“We think those questions are legitimate, as they are not influencing the reader to vote one way or another. The survey is totally anonymous and the results are for statistical study. The questions you referred to are questions that many Jews and Israeli Americans are faced with.”

This article originally appeared on

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.