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{Reposted from the JCPA website}

Jewish-Americans: Where Do They Now Stand on Israel?

The past few months have been marked in the United States by two consecutive and now co-existing phenomena: first, the coronavirus pandemic which began around mid-March 2020, followed by the protests and subsequent social unrest after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The consequences and ramifications of both are currently changing and developing simultaneously.


For approximately the past two years, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has been studying various facets of the Jewish American community, particularly the “liberal” community, with regard to aspects of their Jewish identity and relationship with Israel.  We are continuing our research and collecting data in an ongoing fashion through a series of surveys and focus groups. Analyzing data requires repeated inquiry and looking at consistent patterns of response before offering any firm conclusions.  Even then, any “conclusions” need to be presented with due modesty, as the data may not be truly representative, the interpretations may be flawed, and/or the circumstances can change so that conclusions reached at one point may become irrelevant at another point.

With this in mind and in looking at our data, we feel that we may indeed be seeing an evolving set of attitudes among Jewish-Americans that seems to reflect general societal trends. These data should be looked at with a critical and skeptical eye, keeping in mind that trends can indeed only be fully verified over time and through the test of repeated results. However, notwithstanding the need for further research, our research points to a trend among Jewish Americans that may signal changes in the traditional “conventional wisdom” regarding the attitudes and behavior of the community, including vis-à-vis Israel.

That “conventional wisdom” includes an overall attitude in many previous studies, including our own previous studies,1 that show that Jewish-Americans considered themselves to be supportive of Israel. However, as pointed out in 2013 by Theodore Sasson,2 this support distinguishes between the “emotional” attachment for Israel and support for policies of the Government of Israel. We also found (as have others3) that this support or “attachment” may be weaker in younger Jewish-Americans. However, Sasson has also studied this finding and contends that while it may be accurate, support and identification with Israel (“attachment”) increases as younger Jews age.

Is There A Change in What “Pro-Israel” Means?

Our most recent findings seem to indicate that while a general “pro-Israel” description for Jewish-Americans may be correct, we may now have to begin to look at what “pro-Israel” actually means for many of them.  In a study of specifically self-defined “liberal” Jewish-Americans, we found that they supported the concept of Israel as having a primarily “Jewish” identity, but less than 28% were able to “very much agree” with the notion, and 22% either not agreeing or agreeing only a “little bit” (the rest had varying degrees of “agreeing”). While the overall rating of being “pro-Israel” was 70/100, sympathy for the Palestinian cause was not that far behind, at 50/100.

We did find extreme concerns over anti-Semitism, but that did not necessarily translate into a link between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel behavior. Concerns over anti-Semitism appeared to be limited to threats from the “Right,” and our samples rejected associations between the American Left and anti-Semitism. While 46% agreed that anti-Semites are likely to be anti-Israel, only half (23%) agreed that those who are anti-Israel are also likely anti-Semitic.

Do not agree at all Agree a little bit Moderately agree Agree Very much agree Don’t know/not sure Total
People who are strongly anti-Israel or anti-Zionist are most likely anti-Semitic as well 12.22%












People who are anti-Semitic are most likely anti-Israel or anti-Zionist as well 5.16%













We found further evidence of an absence of a definitive attitude equating the importance of dealing with anti-Semitism with supporting Israel in the sample’s response to the following statement:

Bi-partisan political support for Israel is just as important as bi-partisan support against anti-Semitism.

While 52% “very much” agreed, 44% either did not agree at all (16+%) or only agreed “somewhat” (27+%).

An overall perception and fear of right-wing anti-Semitism were reflected in our data, as seen in the answers to the following question:

When it comes to anti-Semitism in the United States, in general, would you say that it predominantly stems from individuals identified with the political Right, with the political Left, equally from both, or would you say it is related to social/cultural/ethnic factors and not political ideology at all?

A related effect is evident in voting behavior: Despite overwhelming and robust agreement with statements indicating they would never vote for an anti-Semitic (95/100) or anti-Israel (76/100) candidate, when asked about Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two Democratic representatives who have histories associated with arguably anti-Semitic/anti-Israel stances, we found a willingness for many in our sample to vote for them over a “moderate” and “pro-Israel” Republican if that opponent did not have other positions they agreed with. It would appear, thus, that values other than those related to Israel or even possibly anti-Semitism eclipse those related to Israel or Jewish issues for at least some of these voters. While about 18% would be “conflicted and not be sure of what to do,” fully 31% would vote for either Omar or Tlaib outright, with another 23% saying that Israel would not be the deciding factor if they were not in agreement with the candidate on other issues.

If Rashida Tlaib or Ilhan Omar were running in my district in a general election against a more pro-Israel “moderate” Republican:

The picture is even starker when it comes to Donald Trump. Despite actions and behavior that are conventionally viewed as “pro-Israel,” few said that they would vote for Trump or even abstain or vote for a third-party candidate in the next election (under 2%). This is far less than we saw with respect to the generally perceived anti-Israel Omar and Tlaib, where, as noted, 18% were conflicted while about 20% endorsed the notion of voting either (moderate) Republican, abstaining, or voting for another candidate.

Even when asked to choose between a candidate in a primary election who is “pro-Israel” but with whom they disagreed on other issues, or another candidate who has a questionable or negative attitude toward Israel but whom they agreed with on other issues, results were similar, with 25% saying they would be conflicted, 57% who would vote for the candidate they agreed with most, and about 15% who would vote for the “pro-Israel” candidate or abstain. We see again that issues unrelated to Israel drive much of the concern in voting behavior for many Jewish-Americans.

In a local primary election, if I was faced with a pro-Israel candidate with whom I disagreed on many issues, and a candidate with whom I agreed on almost everything but who has a very questionable or negative attitude viz. Israel, I would:

We previously found that liberal Jewish-Americans of all ages attached little importance to themselves or their children choosing life mates from their own ethnic group.4 In many other areas, in fact, liberal Jews and liberal Americans, in general, seem to have many of the same values. We noted then that as attitudes of liberal Jews continue to mirror attitudes of the general liberal population, Jews as a distinct “bloc” may become indistinguishable from the general liberal population and less significant as a separately-defined social group. Some of the blending of values may be taking place and reflected in our latest data.

In following up on our initial results, we conducted additional focus groups in order to gather more in-depth qualitative information to supplement our broader quantitative data. We again looked at the concept of what being “pro-Israel” means for Jewish-Americans. Our smaller focus group samples reflected some clear trends, which supported our larger survey findings. Taking both our quantitative and qualitative data into consideration, we can now infer the following themes present in the Jewish-American population:

Liberal Jewish-Americans By and Large Claim They Are “Pro-Israel”

Our samples generally described themselves in “pro-Israel” terms, and they appear to believe that they are, although their view of “pro-Israel” may not match what others believe to be consistent with such an attitude. As we have seen from our larger surveys and discussed above, what “pro-Israel” means is not always clear. For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders, himself a Jewish-American (although not always describing himself as such), states that he is “pro-Israel,”5 while at the same time behaving in ways that have traditionally been considered to be the opposite (e.g., refusing to attend AIPAC, publicly describing the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel as a “reactionary racist,” questioning unconditional military assistance to Israel). While not all of Sen. Sanders’ positions reflect the majority of liberal Jewish-American thinking, the general attitude of being able to be both “pro-Israel” and, at the same time, vocally and openly critical of Israel by opposing either specific Israeli policies or the current Israeli government, is present.  In one focus group, for example, we found that despite the questionable “pro-Israel” position of Sen. Sanders, our liberal Jewish-American sample would likely still vote for him, if he would have been his party’s nominee. We found this to be true to varying degrees of every Democratic candidate. Our Jewish-American sample focused on distinguishing between being “pro-Israel” and “pro-Israeli government.” Many seem to have a particular distaste for Benjamin Netanyahu, and many describe their opposition to Israeli “policies,” although their ability to provide clarity on other than general themes (e.g., “occupation,” “human rights”) was limited and anchored to generalities and even clear inaccuracies in our focus groups discussions.

To further illustrate our point, subsequent to our studies, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) approved language for the 2020 platform that was hailed as “Pro-Israel.”6 That language included a reference opposing “unilateral annexation” (while not a consensus, it is a position held by many Israelis and possibly a majority in the government)  and “settlement expansion” (without defining the parameters), as well as favoring a “Palestinian state” without specifying any conditions (such as ending terror and incitement), which many Israelis would require to be present before agreeing to such a move. Also of note was the stated position of committee member Josh Orton (an advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders) as well as of J Street, the self-described “political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” advocating that the term “occupation” be added to the platform before the final draft is submitted.7

There Is a Varying Degree of Identification with and Sympathy for the Palestinians

A demonstration outside AIPAC’s Policy Conference in 2017. (Facebook Screengrab)

“Pro-Israel” liberal Jewish-Americans feel at least some sympathy for Palestinians, with overall mild-to-moderate levels of sympathy. What can be considered a distinct but possibly significant minority (which may be up to 25%) appears to hold beliefs that are intensely critical of Israel and Zionism itself, including attitudes that Zionism may be a colonial and/or racist, apartheid movement as practiced in Israel today. In one example of the dichotomies in some factors relating to support for Israel, we found that a majority support the concept of Zionism and the importance of a “Jewish” state, but also cannot endorse the notion that Israel respects the “human rights” of all those living under Israeli rule.

Anti-Semitism Is a Significant, Major Concern for Most Liberal Jewish-Americans

Our research findings are consistent with other results8 that show most liberal Jewish-Americans identifying the notion of anti-Semitism as a strong concern and something to be condemned. It ranks as one of the most important, if not the most important, social issue on the minds of liberal Jewish-Americans.

Anti-Israel/Anti-Zionist Attitudes Are Not Seen by All as Anti-Semitic

While anti-Semitism is associated with anti-Israel sentiment in our samples, the opposite is not similarly linked. When framed as opposition to Israeli policy or behavior, a portion of the liberal Jewish-American community does not associate such behavior with anti-Semitism. However, a significant minority (around 30%) clearly see specific individuals who are publicly critical of Israel as “anti-Semitic.”

The “Trump Effect”

We found a distinct, expressed personal aversion toward Donald Trump in our focus group samples, consistent with the overwhelming number of survey participants indicating they would not be voting for him. The groups showed a discrepancy between attitude toward policy and attitudes endorsing policy, depending on the identification of that policy with Donald Trump. For example, our sample was essentially unequivocal in endorsing a “tough” policy toward Iran and agreed that Iran is a significant threat, but few were willing to consider reversing their support of the Obama policy supporting the JCPOA even while agreeing that Iran may be violating aspects of the agreement. While this may be due to a sincere belief that the JCPOA still represents a better approach, the opposition of Trump to the agreement was seen by many as a reason to actually continue supporting it.

Violence, Holocaust Denial, Nazi Ideology, and Financial Support for Terror

There is a general distaste for violence, an overwhelming aversion toward the expression of Holocaust denial or distortion, as well as any behavior associated with overt Nazi ideology (waving swastikas, selling Mein Kampf). Similarly, the notion of financial support for the perpetrators of terror activity (“pay for slay”) was viewed very negatively.

Lack of Awareness of Iranian and Palestinian Arab Support of Genocidal Views

Our focus group participants showed a general lack of awareness regarding the prevalence of Nazi themes and Holocaust denial among the Palestinians or, for that matter, Iran. We found that more than half of those presented with examples of Israel-related activity involving those themes were not aware of its existence and practice.

Perception of “Sympathy” (Support) toward Israel and the Palestinians

In focus group “tests” of perceived sympathy and approval (by presenting specific examples), we found:

  1. Positive reaction to Israeli activity that demonstrated values such as equality, fairness, mutual cooperation, but these examples also increased sympathy toward the Palestinians.
  2. When examples critical of Israel were couched in “human rights” language, such as with BDS or the Adalah Arab rights center, there was a distinct minority that identified with and expressed sympathy toward these movements (although most were not sympathetic).
  3. Messages that presented information related to Palestinian violence and incitement were rated both as “persuasive” and creating “more sympathy” for Israel.

Change in Attitudes in Our Focus Group Samples

Our focus group studies included a probe to measure the change in attitudes in certain variables as a result of the cumulative effect of the material related to the use of Nazi imagery, Holocaust denial, and violence by the Palestinians and Iran.

  1. We found a small change in attitude toward the statement: “People who are anti-Israel or anti-Zionist are most likely anti-Semitic as well” with a few participants changing their answer from “disagree” to “agree.”
  2. We found a small but measurable effect that themes related to Nazi imagery, Holocaust denial/distortion, and violence had on decreasing sympathy toward the Palestinians, Iran, and BDS.
  3. Overall, “pro-Israel” sentiment remained stable, and a small portion also reversed their position that “Israeli policies are sometimes racist.”

Focus Group Conclusions

  1. We see that liberal Jewish-Americans describe themselves as “pro-Israel,” despite having attitudes and positions not always consistent with either mainstream Israeli public opinion or of Israeli government policy. This appears to be consistent with the dichotomy between emotional “attachment” and practical support for policies.
  2. The language of “human rights” by anti-Israel activists plays an important role in the cognitive assessment of Israeli policy and has worked in general to create doubt toward and legitimize questioning of Israeli policy and to reinforce some negative associations with Israel among some people.
  3. There appears to be a widespread lack of knowledge, information, and/or ignorance of certain anti-Israel behaviors, especially as it relates to Palestinian violence, incitement and hate messaging, as well as Holocaust imagery and Nazi ideology. This appears to contribute to the strength of sympathy for the Palestinian messages associated with human rights themes.
  4. We found that when positive human rights cognitions associated with Israeli behavior are promoted, sympathy for Israel increases, but so does sympathy for the Palestinians.
  5. When cognitions associated with the promotion of and incitement to violence, Holocaust denial, and Nazi ideology are associated with the Palestinians, sympathy for Israel increases, and sympathy for Palestinians decreases.

The COVID-19 Effect

COVID-19 has created for many a “new reality,” at least temporarily. We attempted to measure attitudes and possible attitude changes in a sample of randomly-selected Jewish-Americans taken between May 15 and May 19, 2020. Our survey covered 700+ “Jewish-American” respondents and yielded a margin of error of 4%. The following is the introduction to the survey our respondents were given:

The coronavirus crisis may have created a new reality for many and also may have resulted in changes in how people look at a variety of issues. In Israel, a new unity, centrist coalition government is about to take charge as well.  We, at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli “think-tank,” are interested in learning if and how attitudes toward certain subjects and issues may have changed in the wake of your experience with the coronavirus and the government changes in Israel. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers. We are particularly interested in how the Jewish community in the United States views things currently. Please choose the response that most reflects your thinking NOW. Many thanks!

The following is a summary of the results:

  1. Self-perception of “Jewish identity” did not appreciably change, with over 80% saying that their Jewish identity has remained essentially the same.
  2. About 45% felt that there is greater anti-Semitism in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic began.
  3. Overall, over 85% of the respondents stated that they feel the same connection (no more nor no less) to Israel as before the coronavirus pandemic began.
  4. When probing attitudes on “annexation” of territories held by Israel, we found that close to 60% of the sample (and over 70% of those under age 60) did not firmly oppose “annexation,” although a solid 40% did oppose it. A minority favored it outright (about 12+%), and 30+% had “no opinion” or were not aware enough of the issues to answer. About 17% felt that it is a matter for the Israeli government to decide.
  5. When asked about which issues were “more relevant” post-Corona, what stood out was the percentage of the sample that endorsed “health care” (82%) and “extremism and hate groups” (over 72%). Only about 32% said the Jewish community’s economic situation was “more relevant” now, less than all other issues probed, including immigration (35% “more relevant”) or their personal economic situation (45% “more relevant”).
  6. For non-domestic issues, about 31% felt the “Iran nuclear danger” and “Global terrorism” (37%) were “more relevant.” However, “climate change” was considered even more relevant (56+%). The relevance for support for Israel remained largely the same, with only about 22% endorsing the notion that support is now more important or relevant.
  7. The sample showed an increased priority of concern for domestic issues (42%) as opposed to priority for foreign issues (9%). About 48% indicated equal concern for both.
  8. Attitudes toward China appear to be a major issue, with only about 5% of the sample feeling that China has been a trusted partner in the fight against the coronavirus. While a small minority has “no opinion” (5%), the rest feel either that China was a “hindrance” (26%) or expressed concerns about China (62%).
  9. A majority (64%) feel that the timing of the opening the economy should be primarily a medical/scientific decision. The rest of the sample is split between other choices, but less than 20% feel the decision should be made by either state or federal government decree.
  10. About 84% feel that we should wait before “reopening” the economy. Most of the sample (64%) have not experienced a worsening of their economic situation, but even among those that have, a clear majority still favors waiting (21%-3%).

Our sample was overwhelmingly “non-conservative,” with 55% describing themselves as “liberal” or “progressive” and 31% as “moderate.” Consistent with other surveys of the Jewish population, most respondents (here about 85%) were older, over the age of 60. However, the trends among the under 60 portion were similar for most of the issues tested, indicating a general consistent trend in our findings.

Anti-Semitism continues to be a “hot button” issue, and based on previous studies, the use of the term “extremism and hate groups” would appear to be a concern associated mostly with right-wing elements.

A tweet showing a mural depiction of George Floyd wearing a keffiyeh, said to be created by Palestinian artist Walid Ayoub on the West Bank separation wall. (Twitter, Haaretz)

The George Floyd Effect/Black Lives Matter (BLM) Protests

Shortly after the conclusion of our COVID-19 study, we planned to conduct several follow-up focus groups to gather greater insight into some of our results. Some of these groups were held, but the intervening social unrest in the wake of the George Floyd incident provided a different backdrop to our findings.

We conducted another large survey (520+, <4% margin of error) of Jewish-Americans between June 11 and June 22, 2020, corresponding with the time period either following or during which significant protests were held in the United States against the claim of systemic racism and police brutality.  These protests were accompanied by incidents of looting and violence, including areas that had large Jewish populations.9

We found that consistent with the COVID-19 study, our samples did not show a change in self-perception relative to their Jewish identity, with an overwhelming majority stating it has remained the same.

With regards to anti-Semitism, about 45% in our BLM study (similar to what we found in the COVID-19 study) felt that the events resulted in an increase of anti-Semitism (in varying degrees). Very few felt anti-Semitism decreased at all.

About 25% of our sample clearly felt that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and protests might significantly increase anti-Israel sentiment. Another 25% felt it would not increase these sentiments at all. The other 50% fell “in the middle,” stating that they felt it could increase anti-Israel sentiment “a little” (25%) or “a moderate amount” (25%).

When asked about attending either a BLM-sponsored protest, a non-affiliated protest against “systemic racism,” or “taking a knee” at a protest against “systemic racism,” about 55% of our sample would attend. About 15-20% were undecided about each of these issues, and about 25-30% disagreed with attending any protest or taking a knee.

When asked about whether they personally would be willing to yield their place at school or work to a Black-American as part of an “affirmative action” program, the numbers significantly fell, with less than 25% agreeing to do so and over 30% undecided. The rest (about 45%) disagreed.

When asked about “defunding” police (without defining the term), about 30% agreed, but about 50% disagreed outright (about 20% undecided).

Agreement with providing monetary reparations to Black organizations and institutions was split evenly, with about 38% agreeing and 38% disagreeing. Another 24% was undecided. When asked about reparations for individual Black Americans, only 25% endorsed the notion, with about 28% undecided and 47% opposed.

This sample generally reflected traditional voting patterns among Jewish-Americans, with 78% stating they will vote for Joe Biden and 13% for Donald Trump.

Modern Orthodox Youth: A Preliminary Probe

Another, smaller sample (N=56) of younger Jewish-Americans who were educated in Orthodox day schools and studied in religious institutions in Israel for their post-high school “gap” year were also surveyed. These young people with solid Jewish identities regularly attend synagogue services. Compared with the general Jewish-American samples:

  1. The younger sample basically showed the same pattern of agreement/disagreement with the issue of annexation/extending sovereignty.
  2. On anti-Semitism, only 1/56 ever experienced a physical anti-Semitic attack, with 10/56 claiming to have experienced a verbal anti-Semitic attack.
  3. Compared to the general sample, they demonstrated a greater willingness to attend either a BLM-sponsored protest (66% with 14% undecided), a non-affiliated protest against “systemic racism” (85% with 7% undecided), or “taking a knee” at a protest against “systemic racism” (61% with 26% undecided).
  4. However, when it came to being personally willing to yield their place at school or work to a Black-American as part of an “affirmative action” program, these numbers significantly fell to a greater extent than the general sample, with only 16% agreeing to do so, and another 30% “undecided.”
  5. They were slightly more willing to “defund” the police (37% with 25% undecided) and more willing to endorse monetary reparations to Black-American organizations/institutions (55% with 25% undecided), although their endorsement for individual reparation was mostly the same (28% agreeing with 34% undecided).
  6. Only 1 out of 56 surveyed said they would vote for Donald Trump.

Current Observations

A number of significant observations can be made regarding our latest two surveys. Anti-Semitism continues to be a major concern for Jewish-Americans, with increased incidence perceived in both the wake of COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests. This may be related to a historical tendency for anti-Semitism to be linked to social instability.10 There is also a concern that the BLM movement can result in increased anti-Israel sentiment. Despite this, identification and solidarity with BLM protests against “systemic racism” are high, with the identification in our limited younger Orthodox group even higher than the larger, broader sample of the Jewish community. We also found a cognitive inconsistency between the ideological identification with BLM-associated protests and activities and a willingness to personally be part of “affirmative action” if this would mean yielding a place to a Black-American. Similarly, willingness to defund police and agreement to pay monetary reparations is lower than the willingness to protest publicly against “systemic racism.”

The results, especially in the younger Orthodox group, show Jewish-Americans largely publicly identifying with positions associated with BLM against systemic racism. The open question is to what degree will identification with and support for a specific issue that is determined to be justified, influence Jewish-American support for issues related to Israel that many in the BLM movement oppose and/or even express hostility toward. As intersectional consistency becomes more entrenched, and as deviation from the stated or implied positions of these movements become less acceptable, the possibility of Jewish-American public identification with and support for positions related to Israel that are unpopular with the movement may increase. Add to this the significant number of Jewish-Americans who subscribe to what can be described as a liberal or progressive worldview that also tends to be unsupportive of many Israeli policies, and one can understand how ideological pressure to distance from identification with Israel may increase. Progressive ideology appears to increasingly be more accepted in traditional “liberal” circles, including Jewish liberal circles. The trend of increasingly tepid support for Israel, especially Israeli policies perceived to be at odds with liberal-progressive values, was measurable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and BLM protests. The subsequent data shows that the trend is still present. The shifting vector of general support may also be responsible for changes in how some (although still a clear minority of) Jewish-Americans, people who would ordinarily appear to have been “pro-Israel,” now view a most fundamental tenet of Zionism, i.e., the right for Jews to have a “Jewish state.”

Since this stage of our research has concluded, an article by Peter Beinart, who once purportedly supported and identified with a “humane, universalistic Zionism,”11 starkly demonstrates what our data and conclusions have found. Considering our data, the belief of the once presumably Zionist Beinart, whose article proclaimed, “I no longer believe in a Jewish state,12” is not particularly shocking or surprising. There has been a distinct and sharp pushback against Beinart by several writers to the right of him ideologically13,14 as well as others closer to his thinking.15 While his ideas may reflect the feelings of a portion of Jewish America that may not have felt that way in the past, most left-progressive Jewish organizations still do not publicly agree with Beinart.16

In the longer term, there is a need for greater understanding of the cognitive mechanics that can allow the support of specific issues (such as those related to perceived “social justice” concerns) while maintaining a deep public pro-Israel stance. In the current social climate of the United States, this may be quite a formidable task. In the shorter term, it is critical for Israel that strategies supportive of pro-Israel forces in the United States be applied to insure they remain relevant. These strategies will have to be empirically sound and reflect what the data is saying, as opposed to what some wish the data said. Understanding the behavioral dynamics of how ideology and practice interact within both the Jewish-American community and other selected American communities requires a measured and scientific approach. Such a strategy is critical for and in the interest of those who favor a strong U.S.-Israel alliance irrespective of who the president is or which party is in power.

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