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Protests Suggest Split Among US Jews on War, but Support for Israel is High

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Protests Suggest Split Among US Jews on War, but Support for Israel is High

News Story by Yonat Shimron | Religion News Service

In the latest sign of tensions over the Israel-Hamas war, a vigil to honor the lives of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the conflict turned violent Wednesday (Nov. 15), when police forcibly cleared the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., of mostly Jewish protesters.

Like many other protests that have arisen across the country since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, the interfaith vigil, led by Jewish groups IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace Action, demanded a cease-fire in what has become a monthlong war between Israel and Hamas. The two groups have mounted numerous such protests, shutting down Grand Central Station in New York City last week and blocking traffic in other parts of the country.

On Wednesday the group of about 200 people tried to block the entrances of the Democratic National Committee so that Democratic representatives and candidates inside the building would have to walk past them on the way out.

“The intent was to make visible all of the lives lost and talk to elected officials who we knew would be there about a cease-fire,” said Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, who serves on the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace and is also active with Rabbis for Ceasefire.

Growing Tensions

Coming one day after a massive March for Israel on the National Mall, the protest highlighted the growing tensions among U.S. Jews over Israel and its retaliation for the incursion that killed 1,200 people, many of them civilians.

Both the crowds at the progressive Jewish-led protests and recent surveys suggest those tensions are largely generational. Younger Jews appear to be less connected to Israel than their elders and more inclined to side with oppressed Palestinians who have been living under occupation for 56 years — or in the case of the Gaza Strip, a 16-year blockade.

new poll of U.S. Jews released Thursday by the nonpartisan Jewish Electorate Institute finds overwhelming support for President Biden’s handling of the war, even among younger, left-leaning Jews, if by smaller margins. While 74% of all Jewish voters approve of the way Biden is handling the war between Israel and Hamas, 53% of Jewish voters ages 18-38 supported Biden’s approach, the poll found.

It’s Complicated

The poll results complicate the picture of a Jewish split on Israel. U.S, Jews overall still vote Democratic and differences over the war are unlikely to change that.

“The protests outside the Democratic National Committee building last night are not reflective of younger Jewish opinion or broader Jewish opinion,” said Jim Gerstein of GBAO Strategies, the group that conducted the poll on behalf of the Jewish Electorate Institute. “They’re very supportive of the Democratic Party.”

Capitol Police said one person was arrested and charged with assault on a police officer at Wednesday’s DNC vigil. Six officers were treated for injuries. At least one protester suffered a concussion.

Calling for a Cease-Fire

On Wednesday, two dozen Democratic lawmakers signed a letter urging Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to seek a cease-fire in Gaza. The letter comes as more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and 1.6 million have been displaced.

The poll also showed that support for Israel actually grew among younger Jews when compared to earlier polling.

Attachment to Israel among U.S. Jews grew by 10 percentage points overall, rising from 72 to 82% between June and November, the poll found. Among Jews ages 18-35, it grew, from 57% in June to 66% in November.

The View of Younger Jews

Younger Jews, the poll found, broadly supported Biden’s trip to Israel last month and even supported sending aircraft carriers to the region. They stood out from other Jews only in their support for a cease-fire.

“I think there are many Jews, particularly young, but not only, who just cannot attach their Jewish identity to this militarized state that has been occupying another people and oppressing them in really horrible ways,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, who leads Tzedek Chicago, a mostly online congregation that uses the motto, “Judaism without nationalism.” He did not participate in Wednesday’s vigil.

The Jewish Electorate Institute poll was fielded Nov. 5-9 from among 800 U.S. Jewish voters. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

(National reporter Jack Jenkins contributed to this report.)

Yonat Shimron
Yonat Shimron
Yonat Shimron is a reporter for the Religion News Service.

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