A United front from the United Kingdom?

30 July 2010

What do British Jews really think about Israel? For so long a matter of conjecture, this question has been given a definitive answer by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. The JPR has just published the results of its poll of Anglo-Jewry and, for Zionists at least, there is a great deal to celebrate.

Some 82% of respondents say that Israel plays a ‘central’ or ‘important but not central’ role in their Jewish identities with 90% believing that Israel is the ‘ancestral homeland’ of the Jewish people.

72% categorise themselves as Zionists and 77% agree that Jews have ‘a special responsibility to support Israel’. There is also strong support for Israeli measures of self defence, like the security barrier, with a further 72% arguing that Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was ‘a legitimate act of self defence.’

No longer can self indulgent, left wing Jewish groups (Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish voices) claim to be the true voice of the community. No longer can they argue, at least validly, that pro Zionist organisations, like the British Board of Deputies, are unrepresentative of the community. The Jewish critics of Israel are very much fringe voices of discontent, with the extreme anti Zionist Neturei Karta, the fringe of the fringe.

But this does not mean that Anglo-Jewry is uncritical of Israel or unwilling to accept compromise for peace. Far from it, in fact. 35% of respondents think that Jewish people should ‘always’ feel free to criticize Israel with a further 38% saying that there are ‘some’ circumstances when this would be justified. Only a quarter of people believe that there are ‘never’ any circumstances in which criticism is legitimate.

A clear majority (55 to 36%) also favours giving up territory for peace and 78% believe in a two state solution. Some 40% of the respondents believe that Israeli control of the West Bank is not vital for the country’s security. There is also a very large majority (78%) who are opposed to the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank. Interesting nearly the same number also believes that ‘Orthodox Judaism has too much influence in Israel’s society.’

Again, the left has got Anglo-Jewry completely wrong. British Jews are not exactly hawkish when it comes to Israeli security. There is a willingness to accept territorial compromise provided that it does not affect the lives of Israeli citizens. This tallies with a clear and consistent Israeli majority that favours swapping land for peace. Many British Jews are even prepared to think the unthinkable to end the conflict. One of the most startling findings is that 52% of British Jews believe that ‘the government of Israel should negotiate with Hamas in its efforts to achieve peace.’ Only 39% are opposed. This is worse than dovish, it is frankly naïve.

For one thing, what exactly would there be to talk about? Hamas has declared that it wishes to eradicate the Jewish state rather than bargain with it. It considers Palestine to be holy Islamic territory, meaning that not one square inch can be ceded to the ‘infidels’ (Israelis or Americans). It does not oppose Israel because of a minor territorial grievance but because the country has the temerity to continue existing.

Of course, let’s not forget their visceral loathing of Jews. The Hamas Charter is a nasty, poisonous document that accuses Jews of fomenting war and revolution in order to further their interests around the world. They are depicted as malevolent land grabbers, colonialists and subversives.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it is because you have read about it in Mein Kampf. At most, the Jew hating Hamas would agree to a hudna, a temporary cessation of hostilities for tactical purposes, rather than a lasting settlement.

Supporting talks with Hamas sits uneasily with another finding in the poll, namely 87% agreeing that ‘Iran represents a threat to Israel’s existence.’ Yet the Islamic Republic is a threat not just because of its nuclear weapons programme but because it funds and trains Hamas operatives. It is hard to see Iranian influence diminishing if the terror organisation is given formal recognition in talks. The true picture of Anglo-Jewry’s attitudes to Israel is more complex than we imagine. Naturally, every opinion poll will be limited in one way or another. Just over 4,000 British Jews responded to this survey, representing fewer than 2% of the community, though the JPR’s methodology took into account variations in age, religious background, economic status and country of origin.

Yet we should feel entitled to conclude that a sizeable majority of British Jews are Zionistic and back the Jewish state. However, on specific political developments, including the peace process and the fraught question of negotiating with terrorists, there are glaring divisions within the community. Two Jews, three opinions. It all sounds so familiar!


31 December, 2013

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"Iraq may have been a perilous adventure but without it Britain and its allies would still face a protracted threat from Islamic extremism." (Iraq and 7th July - The Guardian)

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