Maslow’s Pyramids of Diaspora Support for Israel

Beyond a nearly universal approval of Israel’s existence, Jews outside of Israel have to reconcile Israel’s political necessities and national interests with those of their home nation, very often putting them at odds.

Celebrate Israel Day parade in NYC. When do Jewish interests collide? (Photo - Youtube capture)

When Jews in the Diaspora proclaim “I stand with Israel,” one logically wonders about the practical application of this sentiment. A supporter may choose to contribute financially, politically or via activism. It is of particular interest to see how Diaspora Jews incorporate support for Israel into their political priorities.

The vast majority of the Jews in the world are Zionists; which is to say that most Jews support the existence of a national home of the Jewish people in the land of their ancestors. However, beyond a nearly universal theoretical approval of Israel’s existence, Diaspora Jewry is involved in a complex paradigm in which Jews living outside of Israel have to reconcile Israel’s political necessities and national interests with those of their home nation.

This is not to suggest that Israel has conflicting or adversarial relations with the given individual’s home country, but simply a question of priorities and the extent to which they affect political choices made by a particular proponent of the Jewish State.

Despite theoretical support, in reality many Diaspora Jews have an arm’s length relationship with the physical state of Israel. That is, they may philosophically understand the need for a Jewish state based on Jewish identification as a distinct people with a clearly defined national character and supported by the painful results of the nearly 2000-year Jewish exile; but, these individuals struggle to give any serious consideration to Israel’s political and perhaps, existential needs within the framework of their own political priorities. As such, their support for Israel may never be realized in any political sense.

It is important to note that the “home country” and Israel are generally not incongruous entities, as nations with the largest Jewish populations have deep political, commercial, cultural, and academic ties with Israel. Israel itself is a rapidly developing economy with great expertise in premium industries, a unique status in its region as a liberal democracy, and a highly diverse and vibrant society with much to offer to the world. As such, an individual may reasonably view an investment of political capital in Israel as an investment in their home country. Also, the choice of prioritization between domestic and foreign policy issues is present for all voters and not exclusively for the supporters of the Jewish State.

The interrelation between an individual’s prioritization of issues in their home country and Israel can be nicely described with American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. The Maslowian pyramid is stratified according to the level of priority of an individual’s needs, starting at the most fundamental physiological level and finishing at the top with self-actualization.

In our case, the pyramid represents a hierarchy of an individual voter’s political priorities. In our framework we will leverage a dual pyramid arrangement. One pyramid affects the individual directly and is applicable to meeting their needs and aspirations in the home country. The second pyramid of needs is representative of Israel and is to be positioned relative to the first pyramid. This relative positioning of the second pyramid determines the individual’s prioritization and support for Israel in the political sense.

In this pyramid framework we have three levels of mutual prioritization between the home country and Israel: Sequential, Staggered and Stacked.

“Sequential” means each level of Maslowian hierarchy is sequentially aligned between the two nations. So, once a given level of necessity in the home country is satisfied, the concern switches to satisfying this same level of need in Israel. Sequential prioritization may be illustrated if we consider the satisfaction of the basic physiological needs in the country of residence and the immediate subsequent prioritization of the same physiological necessities in Israel prior to prioritization of the next order of necessities in the home country.

“Staggered” prioritization is when an individual’s concerns for Israel and the home country are not symmetrically aligned as they are for the prior group. Here, multiple levels of necessity have to be satisfied in the home country before concern for Israel’s most essential needs enters the consideration. The staggered alignment is the most flexible and offers the greatest number of possibilities with highly individualized prioritization choices.

“Stacked” prioritization is when individuals prioritize Israel in a relative fashion to their home country. Jews in this category still believe in Israel’s right to exist, but do not prioritize concern for Israel over any degree of concern for their home country. Such individuals may find ways to support Israel, however will likely never do so politically, as the pinnacle of the pyramid could be ever shifting and never fully reachable. As such, in a political sense, it is particularly easy for the individuals who fall into this category to support and elect politicians detrimental in most fundamental ways to the State of Israel.

While it is possible under certain circumstances for the “Sequential” and “Staggered” categories of Zionists to cast a vote for a politician who may be a threat to Israel, the individuals in the “Stacked” category are guaranteed to make that choice if the political candidate checks their boxes on the domestic policy front.

Considering that existential threats are a far greater concern for Israel than for any western nation that has a significant Jewish population, we can deduce that individuals who fall into the “Staggered” and “Stacked” categories may underestimate Israel’s exposure to the most fundamental existential threats. It’s also possible that if existential or significant risks faced by Israel were to abate, supporters who find themselves in the “Sequential” and “Staggered” categories would downgrade Israel on their list of priorities.

Some may reasonably allude to the increasing threats to personal safety that Jews are experiencing around the world, and especially in Western Europe. Here, it is important to note that many of the same politicians who have shown ambivalence or even support for antisemitic views have also expressed hostility toward the Jewish State, thus aligning the political choice between the two countries at a fundamental level.

Nonetheless, a significant group of Jewish voters may struggle to adjust in the face of cognitive dissonance, as evolving reality may suggest that they must abandon their prior political loyalty. Some may ignore the issue and vote as they did before, while others may simply choose to skip the election instead of supporting a party that they previously opposed.

As we can imagine, while the vast majority of the world’s Jews can be considered Zionists, the extent to which their Zionist sentiment is reflected politically varies. The above is a simplified framework that attempts to illustrate the complex nature of the political considerations that an individual may face in seeking to reconcile the priorities between two separate (though at times codependent) entities.

It should be clear for rational individuals that the traditional antisemitic canard of an Israel-firster is false. Instead, what is far more likely to take place for Diaspora Jews who espouse political support for Israel is a partial reprioritization between domestic and foreign politics with foreign policy possibly containing a synergistic appeal as the home nation stands to benefit from economic, cultural, and academic cooperation with Israel. At the same time, some Diaspora Jews may support Israel financially, actively or even professionally, but never realize their support for Israel in any political sense.


Michael Yadov is a Director at the American Forum for Israel and a teaching staff member at ZOA’s Fuel For Truth.

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2 comments on the article

  1. I think it’s more ideologically driven. Conservative Jews support pro-Israel candidates and Progressive Jews support Progressive candidates even if they are a threat to Israel.

    1. Brian, thanks for the comment. I don’t disagree with you. My interest is the point at which American Jews would prioritize support for Israel enough to change their vote between candidates. There is a category discussed in the article which addresses individuals who claim to support Israel, but would never switch their political allegiance because of it.