Adelson-Backed Group Surveys Israeli-Americans on Level of Loyalty to Israel, Then Censors Survey

Survey question seeking to elicit support for Israel

An L.A. based pro-Israel group, the Israeli-American Council (IAC), with the financial support of Sheldon Adelson, has compiled a survey measuring the level of loyalty of Israeli-Americans to Israel and America.  The survey was disseminated to tens of thousands of Israelis living in the U.S., with the collaboration of the Israeli embassy and consulates, which used their e-mail lists to distribute it.  The IAC appears to have pretensions of becoming an Israeli-American version of Aipac.

Apparently, several Israeli diplomats finally examined the poll they were promoting and determined there were several intrusive, even embarrassing questions.  Word spread to the media, where the story was covered by Haaretz.  Though at first the foreign ministry (currently run by settler MK  & deputy minister, Zeev Elkin, after the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman just before the last elections) defended the project and said the government had nothing officially to do with it, the prime minister has suspended further circulation of it.

Troubling questions from original survey which have subsequently been censored

Though the survey is still available online, a comparison of the questions currently asked in English and Hebrew (which are different in each survey) with the accompanying Haaretz screenshot, reveals the more troubling questions have been excised in order to minimize the damage.  Here are some of those questions:

1 – In case of a crisis in US-Israel relations, who will you publicly support?

2 – How does the attitude of presidential and Congressional candidates to Israel influence your vote?

3 – Should American Jews support Israel even if they do not agree with its policy?

4 – What is the extent of the influence of US Jewry on American policy?

5 – How closely is the concept of “Jew” related to the State of Israel?

6 – Do American Jews influence Israel’s power?

The first question directly raises the notion of dual loyalty in expectation (or hope) that respondents would announce their wholehearted support for the homeland.  The second question indicates that IAC (& certainly Adelson) hope that Israelis’ votes are heavily influenced by how supportive candidates are of Israel (or at least their particular view of Israel).  Surveys of American Jews reveal repeatedly that only a small number (about 10%) are heavily influenced in their voting habits by how loyal candidates are to Israel. Though Israeli-Americans may have slightly different priorities than American Jews, I’m convinced their poll results would not be dramatically different. The third question further bolsters the notion that Israelis living in this country must support Israel even when they disagree with it.  Question 5 is quite troubling since it equates being a Jew with being Israeli.  This is a notion that I fight here with every fiber of my being.  While there certainly is some connection between being an Israeli and being a Jew for Israeli Jews, there is also a connection between being a Palestinian and being Israel for Israeli Palestinians.  But the most important overarching identity for both must be Israeliness.  If there is no unique Israeli identity, then Israel can’t exist except as an extension of religious identity.  I reject this notion wholeheartedly (without rejecting religion entirely as one among many identitying factors).  Question 6 again returns to the dual loyalty theme and posits the notion that American Jews are an extension of Israel here in the U.S.  This is a deeply problematic notion, dare I say.

Here are questions from the “cleaned up” version.  Even they are troubling:

To what extent do the presidential candidates’ or members’ of Congress attitudes towards Israel impact your voting decision?

Have you attended an Israel-related event in the past two years?

Your social circles include mostly: Israelis; American Jews, not Israelis; Non-Jews; American Jews and former Israelis alike; Jews and non-Jews alike.

Thinking about American Jews’ impact on American policy, [how much] do American Jewish organizations have?

To what extent are you interested in and seek updates on Israel’s internal politics and national Israeli issue?

Are you married to a Jew?

How frequently do you visit Israel?

To what extent is your or your children’s Jewish identity important to you?

To what extent do you feel Israeli?

Do you go to a Synagogue?

Do you or your children go to a Jewish school (day school)?

Would you or your children participate in more activities if there were a larger variety of activities in the Israeli spirit/culture?

I was trying to put my finger on what especially irks me about the poll.  After all, I don’t mind when the American Jewish Committee or Pew asks the same question of American Jews.  But that’s because I am an American Jew too.  And we are all Americans, citizens of this country.  Knowing what drives our electoral decisions seems a legitimate question.  But why does a pro-Israel organization supported by the Israeli government want to know the views of Israeli-Americans?  What business is it of the Israeli government to poll Israelis about their attitudes toward U.S. politics?  There’s something terribly intrusive about it.

The question that most exposes the underlying assumptions of the survey is the one displayed above: it reveals the project’s goal of mobilizing support among Israelis here, for Israel.  Note that among the choices there are only ones that express support for Israel.  It reminds me in some way of the Four Sons: the “worst”  Jew (perhaps akin to the Son Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask) answers that he is so uncomfortable about Israel that he censors himself and refuses to discuss the subject because he’s presumably so ashamed.

What’s the motivation between another quite personal, intrusive question: who do you hang with?  What does it tell the Israeli government when it finds out that Israeli-Americans hang only with fellow Israelis, or non-Jews?  Not to mention, what the hell business is it of theirs anyway?  Do respondents who only fraternize with fellow Jews earn extra points?  Does this mean that their Jewish identity is somehow more trustworthy?  More kosher?

I’m also curious about the reason the pollsters wanted to ask Israeli-Americans what impact they believe American Jews and American Jewish organizations have on American policy.  Note they didn’t ask “American policy toward Israel.”  Instead, they asked the far more general, even vague question about Jewish impact on overall U.S. policies.  If this were David Duke or a white supremacist site, this question would be flagged as outright anti-Semitism, which is why it makes me terribly uncomfortable.

Equally as important, is the notion of measuring the impact of American Jewish organizations on government policies.  I wonder what they think the answer will tell them.  Presumably, whether Israelis believe the Israel lobby is a useful or effective lobbying instrument for Israel.  Frankly, I’ve got to believe that since Israeli secular Jews living in this country  largely derogate their Jewish (especially religious) identity, that they will not have much use for the Lobby.  That either means that IAC believes Adelson wants to hear that American Jewish organizations are ineffective in Israeli eyes; or that he wants to have his notion that the Israel lobby is powerful reinforced.  I’m not sure which.

Sheldon Adelson celebrates bankrolling new Israeli-American advocacy group.

The question asking whether the respondent is married to a Jew is yet another one of those obnoxious questions that indicate the insularity of the poll and the thinking behind it.  Clearly, the presumption here is that if an Israeli is married to a Jew that he’s worth fighting for; but that if he or she is not, she’s pretty much lost both to Israel and the Jewish people.  As I said, an offensive notion–and likely one of the reasons Bibi put the kibosh on this.

Asking to what extent those surveyed “feel Israeli,” exposes the underlying fear that Israelis living in this Goldeneh Medina (“Golden Land”) will lose their connection both to their Israeliness and Jewishness.  I’d guess that Sheldon Adelson is looking at the level of emigration from Israel and especially the types of Israelis who are leaving, and wondering whether these highly educated young professionals will be lost to Israel forever.  If this assumption is true, then Israel is truly in trouble.  But if Israelis largely retain some sense of their national identity even after years of residency here, then there’s hope.

I can see springing from this question and its answer a potential impulse for a Birthright-type program for Israelis in this country.  In order not to “lose” the children of such emigrants perhaps Adelson would create a Birthright II to ‘save’ the next generation of Israeli yordim.  Personally, I find both Birthright and the notion of saving Jews for Judaism or Israelis for Israel ridiculous.  Judaism and Israel aren’t brands.  They’re not products.  They’re values (or should be).  If they’re not values then they aren’t worth anything.

The goal of this survey is to measure the extent to which Israel can rely on its citizens here to take up the cudgels on its behalf.  How can the government enlist the support of these individuals to make them ambassadors of goodwill for the homeland?  Even more pointed: how can it transform them into soldiers in the battle against delegitimization, that wicked crusade sponsored by anti-Semites everywhere?

There is something terribly defensive about this poll.  It seeks to measure negatives: how much loyalty has Israel retained among those who have left?  How much can it rely on them to fight the good fight?  Instead of discussing values, hopes and dreams, the respondents come across as commodities or promotional material to be used in the effort to sell Brand Israel.

Given that the IAC was founded with funding from Haim Saban ($700,000 between 2009-2011), one of Aipac’s most wealthy and powerful donors, and that with Adelson’s financial support it will be expanding its presence from Los Angeles to establish “branches” throughout the country and become a national pro-Israel advocacy group, it seems that the group intends to become an Israeli-American version of Aipac.  Just as the latter sees itself as THE address of American Jewry regarding Israel, this survey reveals an intent to understand and mobilize the political power of Israelis in this country.

Here is the vision behind this organizations expansion as explained by a director with SWU and Aish HaTorah afffiliations, Adam Milstein:

1) continue [its] best efforts to strengthen the relationship between the State of Israel and the U.S.
2) remain connected to the Israeli people and their culture
3) maintain their Jewish identity and stay committed to their Jewish values and their heritage.”

He expanded on that vision here:

Milstein said he hopes the IAC’s expansion will also help the group achieve its third aim — strengthening the political power of the Israeli-American community in hopes of bolstering American support for Israel.

Among the group’s activities listed on its website are recruiting Israelis to attend pro-Israel rallies; funding the L.A. Celebrate Israel Day; funding pro-Israel shlichim (counselors) on U.S. college campuses; sponsoring Israeli scout groups that reinforce a strong Israel identity among youth.  They also hosted a speech by pro-Israel neocon, John Bolton in 2010.

For those of us already uncomfortable about the presumptuousness of Aipac in speaking on our behalf on this subject, this cannot be good news.  I hope that Israeli-Americans will make their own voices heard that IAC is not anything they need or want.  I hope as a product, IAC will be a dud.

The IAC board is composed of a number of directors who boast, unsurprisingly, current and prior affiliations with StandWithUs.  The CEO, Sagi Belsky worked for five years within an Israeli government ministry and prior to that as a Jewish Agency shaliach.  The chief operating officer’s most recent employment was as a public diplomacy (hasbara) officer at Israel’s DC embassy.

As a example of the art and science of poll-taking, this survey is nonsense. It isn’t offered to a scientific cross-section of Israelis in this country. Instead, it’s offered to those who are on lists compiled by the Israeli foreign ministry. That is, a self-selected group that has already announced their loyalty to the government by adding their names to its official lists. The questions, as I’ve noted, are slanted to arrive at pre-conceived results. Further, they removed questions in the middle of polling, meaning that some respondents answered some questions which others didn’t. In other words, this is a perfect storm of atrocious polling techniques.

I scoured several philanthropy websites which offer non-profit 990 reports and could find none that matched either ‘Israeli American Council’ or its former name ‘Israeli Leadership Council.’  I’m guessing that the group is using a fiscal sponsor as a pass-through or else it hasn’t filed its own 990 reports.  This is a potentially alarming development that may indicate a lack of fiscal transparency.  I’ve written to the group’s CEO asking how its 990 may be accessed.

Thanks to Dena Shunra for her translation work, which made me realize the poll had been censored.