Earlier this week, Curt Schilling asked a Jewish person for advice on a topic he found confusing. How is it, he wondered aloud in a conversation with Jake Tapper on CNN, people of the Jewish faith can support Democrats, when the Democratic party has been, in his words, “so clearly anti-Israel” for the past 50 years?
Tapper may have been the wrong person to ask. He’s a journalist, and as he noted in his response, he is Jewish, but “doesn’t speak for Jews.”
Schilling, a high-profile former Boston Red Sox baseball player who has become known for his often politically incorrect — sometimes downright offensive — opinions, may have been better served by asking his question of a sociologist; one like Steven. M Cohen, a research professor at Hebrew Union college. While Cohen also “doesn’t speak for Jews,” he’s studied trends among Jewish Americans for decades.
In a recent conversation with America Abroad, Cohen noted that while American Jews are “still deeply concerned about Israel,” the issue is more nuanced than Schilling, who is reportedly mulling a run for the US Senate, may realize.
He points to surveys going back to the 1950s that show while Israel is is concern for American Jews, it’s “a second echelon issue.” He adds: "The notion of what it means to support Israel has shifted.”
That shift, according to Cohen, has most notably occurred on the issue that has long been the flashpoint for US policy towards Israel: The Israeli/Palestinian conflict and specifically the issue of Israeli settlement expansion. Both Jews who support and Jews who oppose settlement expansion consider themselves to be pro-Israel, says Cohen. Meaning “support for Israel can mean actually very contradictory policies.”
“They're divided about settlements. The majorities or pluralities tend to oppose settlements. ... They see settlements and Israel's relationship to Palestinians as being a morally complex issue,” Cohen says.
However, the fact that American Jews tend to oppose settlements doesn’t mean they necessarily support Palestinians, either.
“They sympathize with Israelis. They don't express sympathy or a lot of faith in the Palestinians. Those are two different issues. Israel may be faulty, but Palestinians are seen as threatening and untrustworthy. Those are two different dimensions that don't necessarily correlate,” Cohen says.
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