Public perceptions of the religious dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict are illuminated in a six-nation ICM poll released on 13 March and undertaken on behalf of the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (established in 2006), the Middle East Monitor (MEMO, founded in 2009) and the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC), launched in 2010 at the University of Exeter.
Fieldwork was conducted online on 19-25 January 2011 among a representative sample of 7,045 adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Spain. There were 2,031 British respondents.
The survey posed ten questions relating to the Israel-Palestine situation, several of them sub-divided, and only those touching overtly on religion are highlighted here. Broader findings can be found in the three major published research outputs from the poll:
the 41 pages of national data tables at:
the 44-page ICM report and analysis at:
the 50-page MEMO report and analysis at:
Additionally, through the kindness of ICM, BRIN has been given access to the unpublished data tables for Great Britain, giving breaks by gender, age, working status, housing tenure, education level, ethnicity and region.
Asked which three or four things came into mind on hearing the words ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, 47% of the weighted sample of Europeans cited religious conflict, ranging from 34% in The Netherlands to 51% in France. The British figure was 46%.
Answering the same question, 24% of Europeans mentioned Islamic organizations, with a low of 20% in Britain (but 27% among the over-55s) and a high of 30% in The Netherlands. 17% of Europeans referred to Muslims/Arabs, including 15% of Britons (rising to 21% in the North-West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the East Midlands).
65% of Europeans agreed that Israel is a country where there is oppression and domination by one religious group over another. The proportion was highest in Spain (72%) and stood at 57% in Britain, but reached 63% among men and ethnic minorities and 66% for those with a university degree or equivalent. Only 9% of Britons and 13% of Europeans said that all religious groups were treated the same in Israel, the remainder giving other replies.
17% of Europeans and 23% of Britons (the largest proportion of all six countries, and increasing to 30% for the over-55s) agreed that European citizens who are Jewish should be allowed to serve in the Israeli army. 34% and 20% respectively disagreed, with 22% and 29% uncertain.
12% of Europeans and 6% of Britons agreed that being critical of Israel makes a person anti-Semitic. 50% and 52% respectively disagreed, with 17% and 25% undecided. Agreement was highest in Germany (19%). In Britain disagreement reached 59% with men, the over-55s and Londoners and 61% among the university-educated.
36% of Europeans and 28% of Britons agreed that the Israel-Palestine conflict fuels anti-Semitism in Europe. 21% and 20% respectively disagreed, with 18% and 28% don’t knows. Agreement was highest in France (46%). In Britain peak agreement was registered by those owning their homes outright and graduates (32% each), the over-55s (33%), residents of the North-West (34%) and the Welsh (35%).
39% of Europeans and 32% of Britons agreed that the Israel-Palestine conflict fuels Islamophobia in Europe. 20% and 19% respectively disagreed, with 16% and 26% uncertain. Agreement was highest in Italy (45%). In Britain agreement peaked among the 18-24s, graduates and Londoners (36% each), ethnic minorities (38%), residents of the South-West (39%) and students (41%).
48% of Europeans and 40% of Britons agreed that Israel exploits the history of the sufferings of the Jewish people to generate public support. Just 13% and 11% respectively disagreed, with 17% and 27% don’t knows. Agreement was especially high in Germany (53%) and Spain (54%). In Britain 51% of the over-55s and 48% of men were critical of Israel for being exploitative in this regard.
Three brief comments on the overall British data (including questions not considered here) may be ventured.
First, a relatively high proportion of Britons (one-quarter or more) express no clear views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. To a limited extent, this may indicate a position of benign neutrality, but more typically it is likely to reflect a lack of familiarity with the issues. The politics of the Middle East are not necessarily followed closely by everybody.
Second, there is significant criticism of Israel, both for the way it functions as a state and for the actions it has taken on the Palestinian question. This contrasts markedly with the 1950s and 1960s when Israel was widely accorded ‘underdog’ status in Britain. Now it is often seen as oppressor. The trend data can be studied in Clive Field, ‘John Bull’s Judeophobia: Images of the Jews in British Public Opinion Polls since the late 1930s’, Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung, Vol. 15, 2006, pp. 259-300.
Third, much of this antipathy to Israel is probably rooted, not simply in increasing sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, but in concerns that Israel’s role in the Middle East is exacerbating religious tensions in Britain and Europe. This is true both of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, given that preoccupation with Israel-Palestine has been a major factor in giving British Muslims a public profile and voice. International relations are, therefore, frequently being viewed through a British domestic lens.
The overall tenor of the findings, and of the textual reports which analyse and interpret them, seems likely to create some controversy. Doubtless, there will be negative reactions from Israeli and some Jewish quarters in due course. Whether this survey sparks quite so much outrage as the 2003 European Commission poll, which identified Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, is more doubtful.