A new report has revealed that approximately 60,000 Americans live in Judea and Samaria, making up approximately 15 percent of the total population in the settlements. The number of American immigrants living in Israel, including their children, has been estimated at about 170,000.
Sara Yael Hirschhorn of Oxford University presented her findings at a two-day Limmud event in Jerusalem. Her research, spanning over 10 years, is part of her upcoming book, “City on a Hilltop: Jewish-American Settlers in the Occupied Territories Since 1967,” scheduled for release in 2016.
The study shatters old myths about this influential segment of Israeli society, their motivations and who they are.
In her book, Hirschhorn focuses on three settlements that had American immigrants among their founders: Yamit (which was evacuated in 1982 following the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord), Efrat (one of the biggest today, with about 10,000 residents) and Tekoa (a modest community of about 3,000, with a religiously mixed population).
“This provides hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel,” she said at the event.
She says that this seems to contradict the notion that American Jews immigrate to Israel after they have failed at home, and move to Israel in an attempt to begin their lives anew. She discussed the two common preconceived notions of American immigrants.
“One prevalent image is of the zealot for Zion, the most fanatical ideologues within the movement,” she said. “On the other hand, there is the prevalent image of the immigrant suburbanite of occupied Scarsdale, a settler stripped of ideological significance who’s just some kind of new-age yuppie living the American dream over the Green Line.”
She debunks both of these stereotypes. Hirschhorn claims that American immigrants to Israel are successful, ideologically motivated, religious, and right wing. The demographic she presents is one of successful, motivated people.
“What my studies reveal is that they were young, single, highly-educated – something like 10 percent of American settlers in the occupied territories hold PhDs, they’re upwardly mobile, they’re traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious practice, and most importantly, they were politically active in the leftist socialist movements in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s and voted for the Democratic Party prior to their immigration to Israel.”
She also presents what seems to be the internal contradiction. American Jews are overwhelmingly left-wing and liberal, yet when they arrive in Israel they reappear on the right of the political spectrum. She rationalizes the seeming contradiction,
“They’re not only compelled by some biblical imperative to live in the Holy Land of Israel and hasten the coming of the messiah, but also deeply inspired by an American vision of pioneering and building new suburbanized utopian communities in the occupied territories. They draw on their American background and mobilize the language they were comfortable with, discourses about human rights and civil liberties that justify the kind of work that they’re doing.”
She brings as an example Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the spiritual leader of Efrat, who spoke about “squatting on a hilltop in Givat Dagan near Efrat and squatting with African-Americans in Selma.” Hirschhorn says they “use the values and language of the left to justify projects on the right.”
This is the second Jerusalem conference hosted by Limmud, an international Jewish charity based in the UK.