A new poll is underscoring the growing ideological chasm between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews in America.
The poll, commissioned by Yeshiva University, found that Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews hold diametrically opposite views on a host of national security issues related to the Middle East conflict.
In one example, 59% of the Orthodox respondents said they think that the United States and Israel are more secure because of the Iraq War. By contrast, 58% of Conservative respondents, 70% of Reform and 68% who identified as “other” said the countries are less secure. Orthodox Jews constitute about 10% of American Jewry.
On Israel’s scheduled pullout from Gaza, 56% of Orthodox Jews said they oppose the plan, while 66% of Conservatives, 72% of Reform and 70% of “other” Jews said they support it.
“It really indicates a break between Orthodoxy and the rest of American Jewry,” said City University of New York sociologist Samuel Heilman. “That’s a gap that’s been growing. It indicates a sliding to the right of Orthodoxy, both religiously and politically.”
The poll found a similar denominational split in Israel on disengagement, with more than 70% of Orthodox opposing the Gaza pullout.
Heilman said the survey suggested that “the concern with the territories is an Orthodox concern,” which he called “not a good thing for overall policy.” The survey “further marginalizes those who want to hold on to the land,” he said, by making the Greater Israel movement appear “parochial.”
The poll, which surveyed 1,000 Jews in America from March 16 to March 28, was conducted by the Marttila Communications Group, with a companion survey of the same number of Jews in Israel, by Jacob Levy, former head of Gallop Israel. Both polls had a margin of error of about 3%. Heilman voiced questions about the survey’s methodology, but one of the study’s American authors, Yeshiva University political scientist Bryan Daves, expressed confidence in the findings, including the denominational breakouts.
There are several points of agreement between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews in America on some practical matters: Both sets are decidedly not keen on the idea of Israel sharing Jerusalem with a Palestinian state. Of the Orthodox respondents, 86% are against the idea, as are 71% of Conservative respondents, 68% of Reform and 57% of the others.
Both sets of Jews are also worried about the ability of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to rein in terrorist groups that are trying to prevent peace with Israel, with 82% of the Orthodox, 57% of the Conservative, 55% of the Reform and 52% of the others demanding that Abbas dismantle the terrorist factions.
In another point of agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon registered high approval ratings among both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. According to the poll, 63% of the American Orthodox expressed a favorable view of him, with 79% of the Conservatives, 84% of the Reform and 58% of the others agreeing. Both groups also support President Bush’s policies toward Israel, with 82% of the Orthodox in agreement, 79% of the Conservative, 70% of the Reform and 50% of the others.
The denominational split was pronounced on the question of President Bush’s leadership.
Eighty percent of the Orthodox respondents hold a favorable view of the president, while only 34% of the Conservatives, 30% of the Reform and 25% of the others view him favorably. Israelis displayed an Orthodox-like support of Bush: Eighty-one percent expressed a positive view.
Former president Bill Clinton also retains his popularity among Israelis and American Jews, with 78% of the Israelis and 77% of the Americans saying they view him favorably.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that approval of both Sharon and Bush has slipped among the Orthodox in the three months since the poll was taken, as dismay about the quickening pace of Gaza disengagement — and the uprooting of the mainly Orthodox Gaza settlers — has grown. Y.U.’s Daves conceded that Sharon, at least, is losing support.
“The political story is that Ariel Sharon is pursuing the policy that neither elected him nor provided the Likud with any financial support,” he said in a telephone interview. “His political support base for this policy and his political survival in Israel is from people who did not vote for him.”
According to Daves, Sharon is “pulling a page out of Bill Clinton’s book.”
“He’s triangulating,” Daves said. “Ariel Sharon was elected by the center right and had the support of the Orthodox community in the United States for his policy. Now he’s pursuing a policy with the support of the center left [in Israel] and non-Orthodox Jews in the United States. The question is how long you can ride that tiger.”
But Israeli political analyst Barry Rubin disagreed with Daves’s interpretation, writing in an e-mail message: “It is important to note that Sharon did have many votes in the last election from people who vote for Labor or even Meretz, the left-liberal party. That is why he had such a landslide. Even in Likud he has majority support, whatever differences there are on specific issues.”
Daves said the poll’s finding on Israel perhaps presaged a future realignment of Israel’s political parties, including Sharon’s Likud and Labor. In such a scenario, the hard-core ideological opponents of territorial concessions might split from the Likud to form a rightist party, while the Likud’s centrist elements might join with the centrist elements of Labor. Under such a scenario, Labor’s left-wing elements might leave to join Meretz.