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Intermarrying in the diaspora: Israeli attitudes

Almost half of Israeli Jews would consider marrying a non-Jew if they lived abroad, a new poll measuring Israeli attitudes to Jewish life in the Diaspora has found. According to the poll, conducted by the Geocartography research institute, when asked if they were to live outside of Israel whether or not they would marry a non-Jew, 14% said it would not be a problem for them and another 34% said they would prefer not to marry a non-Jew but would not rule it out. Fifty-one percent said they would never consider it.

Intermarriage has become a significant issue in the Diaspora, with some 58% of American Jews intermarrying according to the 2013 Pew Report on American Jewry, something both Diaspora and Israeli leaders have warned about. 

According to the Geocartography poll, which was conducted for the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, it would appear that many Israeli Jews would, like their Diaspora brethren, be open to intermarriage if they lived outside of Israel. The poll was conducted ahead of an election panel debate Sunday night at the  Museum of the Jewish People at Beth Hatfutsot between several Knesset candidates from a number of political parties, to discuss Israeli policy towards the Jewish Diaspora. 

The poll also asked Israeli Jews whether Diaspora Jews should get the vote in Israel. Here, the answer was a resounding “no,” with 72% saying they should not be given the vote and 19% saying yes. When asked to whom the prime minister is obligated in fulfilling his duties, 62% said to Israelis first and foremost, but also to Diaspora Jews, 26% said only Israelis, and 11% said Israelis and Diaspora Jews to the same degree. 

The survey also found that only one-fifth of the Jews in Israel (20%) know how many Jews there are outside Israel, which currently stands at eight million Jews. In addition, Israeli Jews greatly overestimated the percentage of Orthodox Jews in the US, with 63% saying that Orthodox Jews comprise between 11 to 50% of the US Jewish community, when true figure is just 10%. 

When traveling abroad, a plurality of Israeli Jews, some 38% said they did not hide their Jewish Israeli identity, along with 33% who said they mostly did not hide it, but on occasion did, along with 19% who said they hid their Jewish Israeli identity most of the time.

Asked what Diaspora Jews living abroad should do in response to growing antisemitism in several countries in Europe and the US, 39% said they should immigrate to Israel, 31% said legislation in foreign countries should be passed to combat antisemitism, and 17% said the status of Jews in Europe should be addressed.

Gesher CEO Ilan Geal-Dor said that the connection between Israel and the Diaspora was getting more distant and that efforts to arrest this trend must be made.  “We must stop and ask ourselves the reason for this phenomenon," Geal-Dor said. "Diaspora Jewry is important to Israel, and vice versa. It is therefore vital that we place this question at the forefront of the public debate in the forthcoming elections, to ask what their plans are regarding the strengthening of ties with Diaspora Jewry, and how this will be expressed the day after the elections."

Shira Ruderman, director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to strengthen Israel's ties with the Jewish community in the United States, noted that most Israelis do not know any Diaspora Jews. "The greatest challenge of our generation is connecting Israeli Jews with Diaspora Jewry in general and to the Jewish community in the United States in particular,” Ruderman said. “Israel's leaders have two important roles: responsibility for the citizens of Israel, and a commitment to the Jewish people. In elections, when the government looks for public trust, they must tell us how they see the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, and how they plan to work to strengthen that connection the day after the elections.”

Dan Tadmor, director of the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, said that Israeli and Diaspora Jews alike “share a common history, a common culture and values,” but that there is “a real need to expand dialogue,” between the two sides “to dispel many prejudices and objections.”

The poll was conducted on a sample of 500 Jewish Israelis in December 2018, with a margin of error of 4.3%.

Jeremy Sharon