By Jonathan Hoffman
January 8, 2010
When I read that IJPR were doing a survey of attitudes of British Jews towards Israel, I was delighted. Those of us committed to activism and Israel advocacy know that support for Israel runs deep (if all too often silent!) among British Jews. Witness the numbers who turned out at the demonstrations in London (over 15,000) and Manchester (2,000) almost exactly a year ago, despite bitterly cold weather and a hoax cancellation email (London) from Jewdas. Or remember the large sums donated via the ZF to buy care packages for IDF soldiers. Here at last was a survey that would give us quantitative evidence of that support and could be used in articles and debates on blogs with naysayers who insisted that support for Israel was weakening or that “We are British not Israeli so should not be the victims of antisemitism triggered by Israel’s operation in Gaza”. It would enable us to show that Anthony Lerman (ironically the previous Director of IJPR) is in a tiny minority with his belief that Israel causes antisemitism.
The results of the survey might still confirm what we already know. But the methodology (called 'self-selection') calls that into question. That is because there is no pre-filtering of respondents. One is asked to confirm that one is over 18, Jewish and resident in the UK but those who have any familiarity with antisemitism on the Internet (eg on Guardian: Comment Is Free) will know that Israel haters have no compunction about lying - especially when they can do it anonymously. The IP address reveals whether a completed questionnaire comes from the UK or abroad, but I very much doubt that Ipsos-Mori (who are doing the survey for IJPR and the Pears Foundation) will check all the IP addresses. The survey is also wide open to multiple responses. And the elderly - who perhaps do not use the Internet - are a significant omission as they remember the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and are likely to be more Israel-minded than many younger people. (The IJPR website offers no postal option for those wishing to participate in the survey).
The survey asks some extremely sensitive questions. For example, the respondent is asked if s/he feels “My loyalties to Britain sometimes conflict with my Jewish loyalties towards Israel.” The “dual loyalty” trope is beloved of antisemites. And he is asked whether “The State of Israel is responsible if its actions provoke antisemitism in Britain or elsewhere.” The rogue respondent will answer “yes” to that one, too. And "no" to the question “do you consider yourself to be a Zionist?” You don’t need to be Bob Worcester to realise that if rogue respondents are a sizable number, the results could be skewed in an extremely problematic direction.
The organisers say that there are ways of filtering out rogue respondents. I don’t doubt that when there are clear inconsistencies in the answers, this can be done. But some antisemites are very clever about hiding their tracks and know enough about Judaism to be able to give convincing answers. Another safeguard is said to be the group discussions which will take place alongside the questionnaires. There is some validity to this but the normal practice in surveys is to put much more weight on the questionnaire responses than on the groups.
The right methodology (considerably more expensive, though) would have been to recruit a representative sample of respondents through synagogues and other communal bodies. “What about those who are not members?” I hear you say. Well Ipsos-Mori could have recruited from IJV and JBIG too, for example. And most Jews are a member of something.
As it is, this is a survey whose outcome could be skewed significantly away from support for Israel, due to rogue respondents, multiple responses and all the problems of self-selection bias. That is what I – and others - will argue, if the results show disappointing support for Israel. (I'm setting out the case now, so that I cannot be accused of 'sour grapes' after the results are published). In that case, the Pears Foundation’s outlay of several thousand pounds will have been wasted.
What a crying shame.