‘Jews in Britain strongly identify with and support Israel. They are ready to see Israel swap territory for peace and to talk with Hamas if it will advance the cause of peace. At the same time, they are concerned about Israel’s security, support the separation barrier/security fence and view the 2008/09 operation in Gaza as “a legitimate act of self-defence.”’
These are the central findings of what is described as the most definitive (albeit not the first) study ever conducted of the attitudes of Jews in Britain towards Israel. Entitled Committed, Concerned and Conciliatory: The Attitudes of Jews in Britain towards Israel, and written by David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, it was published on 15 July by the community’s leading research body, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).
The report is available to download from:
The investigation, which was funded by the Pears Foundation, derives from the responses given by a self-selecting sample of 4,081 self-identifying Jews aged 18 and over living in Great Britain.
They completed an online questionnaire administered by Ipsos MORI between 7 January and 14 February 2010. Data analysis and report-writing was the responsibility of JPR.
Relative to the 2001 census and other (Jewish) sources, the sample is broadly representative of the Jewish community in many respects. However, it is somewhat skewed in terms of educational achievement, synagogue membership and secular/religious outlook, and the data have been weighted in these regards.
‘The survey shows that the vast majority of respondents exhibit strong personal support for, and affinity with, Israel: 95% have visited the country, 90% see it as the “ancestral homeland” of the Jewish people, and 86% feel that Jews have a special responsibility for its survival.’
Additionally, 82% state that Israel plays a central or important role in their Jewish identities, 72% categorize themselves as Zionists, 76% consider Israel to be relevant to their day-to-day lives in Britain, and 87% view British Jews as part of a global Jewish diaspora.
‘On the other hand, these strong levels of personal attachment to Israel do not prevent respondents from expressing criticism about Israel’s civil society: 74% think that Orthodox Judaism has too much influence in Israel; 67% say there is too much corruption in Israel’s political system; and 56% feel that non-Jewish minority groups suffer from discrimination in the country.’
‘It further paints a portrait of a community that is highly-engaged with Israel, and that expresses predominantly dovish views on the key political issues: 78% favour a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians; 74% oppose the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank; and 67% favour exchanging land for peace. A majority (52% against 39%) favours negotiating with Hamas to achieve peace.’
Notwithstanding, ‘respondents are clearly sympathetic to Israel’s need to defend itself. Nearly three-quarters agree that “The security fence is vital for Israel’s security” and a similar number agree that Operation Cast Lead (the Israeli military action in Gaza in winter 2008/09) was “a legitimate act of self-defence.” Nearly nine out of ten respondents believe that Iran represents a threat to Israel’s very existence.’
‘Perhaps most significantly for a community that has long debated the acceptability of Jewish criticism of Israel in public, a slight majority (53% to 45%) believes that Jews living in Britain have the right to judge Israel, and nearly three-quarters believe that Jews should be free to speak their mind about Israel in the British media in at least some, if not all circumstances.’
In general, the more religious respondents claim to be, the more hawkish their stance on political and security issues. Those with higher levels of educational attainment tend to exhibit more dovish viewpoints compared with Jews with lesser education.
Commenting on the findings, JPR Executive Director, Jonathan Boyd, said: ‘Fundamentally, we found that most Jews feel a strong sense of connection to Israel … Jews in Britain are pro-Israel and pro-peace. Their hawkishness on some issues is typically motivated by a clear concern for Israel’s security, while their dovishness on others reflects a deep-set desire to see the country at peace, both with itself and with its neighbours.’
The report does not discuss in any detail how the attitudes of British Jews towards Israel may have changed over time. Readers interested in possible trends should consult JPR’s previous report from 1997 (based on data gathered in 1995): Barry Kosmin, Antony Lerman and Jacqueline Goldberg, The Attachment of British Jews to Israel.