More Data Contra Peter Beinart

Back in 2010, I wrote:

Peter Beinart has written a scathing indictment of organized American Jewry’s “conservative” views on Israel. He claims that “right-wing” Israeli policies, combined with American Jewish groups’ unflinching support for Israel, are alienating young American Jews, and reducing their attachment to Israel.

Beinart’s essay has received a remarkable amount of attention, especially considering that its underlying premise is simply false.

The data didn’t support him then, and I pointed out that the data were even less likely to do so in the future, given Birthright and the Internet. (Beinart parlayed the fame achieved from his essay into a book that from all indications has been a commercial flop despite much publicity.)

Now a new study by eminent sociologist Steven Cohen, the same author whose data Beinart previously misinterpreted, finds, as reported in the Forward:

Young Jews are now more attached to Israel than the previous generation, almost reaching the level of interest of their elders, a new poll reveals.

While Jews 45 and older were rated as having a 40-44 level of attachment to Israel, those between 35 and 45 only scored a 24. Those under 35 got a 39 out of 100, according to the poll carried out by the Workmen’s Circle.

The poll looked only at Jews who are not Orthodox and do not attend Jewish day school, thus reflecting the broader Jewish population and particularly the segment of the population that attends such programs as Birthright. It is these trips to Israel, and not a connection to Jewish life, which are being credited with the recent increase is Israel interest.

Given (a) that the older generation has always been more attached to Israel (b) the systematic anti-Israel campaign conducted on America’s campuses in the last decade and (c) predictions of doom like Beinart’s, this is intriguing news indeed. Moreover, given that an increasing percentage of America’s Jewish population is Orthodox, the data in question actually underestimates the relative attachment of young American Jews to Israel.

As I suggested two years ago, Beinart’s mistaken views on this reflected “the professional liberal Jewish intellectual elite–bloggers like Glenn Greenwald, Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein, journalists like Joe Klein and Beinart himself, sundry New York Review of Book essayists like Tony Judt,” and not mainstream Jewish opinion. This, of course, has nothing to do with whether Beinart is right in his substantive negative views about Israeli policy. But one would hope that he’ll take the opportunity to acknowledge that the premise that won him so much attention, that young Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel, was wrong at the time given the existing data, and that even more evidence of its wrongness has now been collected.

UPDATE: As I wrote in the comments section of a previous post:

What Beinart is really mourning is the death of American left-wing Zionist activism among the young, but even in its heyday this never had the loyalty of more than a small fraction of the Jewish community, including a rather small fraction of its core constituency of left-wing secular Jews, who were far more likely (like my maternal grandfather’s family) to be involved in Communism, socialism, labor activism, etc., and often quite hostile to Zionism.

As sociologist Cohen would predict, this part of my family produced only a very few Jewish descendants within a couple of generations [and some of those Jewish descendants, like me, are not left-wing], so just from a purely demographic point of view the core constituency from which American labor/left Zionism grew has largely died out, while the Modern Orthodox constituency for “right-wing” Zionism has grown tremendously. And for the part of the former leftist constituency that still exists, hostility to Israel is now such a core position on the far left that it’s hardly surprising that few secular Jewish leftists are willing to buck their peers and be accused of being “PEP” [Progressive Except Palestine], even if they were so inclined.

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