So, what do you really think about Israel?
British Jews are great supporters of the Jewish state aren’t they? We are about to find out
It is usually taken for granted that the great majority of British Jews are largely supportive of Israel, with a small minority who are not. But the levels of support or critical dissent — and what they relate to — have largely been a matter of guesswork. Now the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) hopes to give us a better picture through a new online survey of Anglo-Jewish attitudes towards Israel that was launched at the end of last week.
It is not the first attempt to gauge public opinion on the topic, but on two previous occasions in the past 15 years, questions about Israel were included as part of a much broader look at Jewish identity. This is the first time researchers have focused entirely on Anglo-Jewish attitudes to Israel and their questionnaire is more extensive.
Whatever the findings, which should appear some time in the summer, the one thing you can be sure of is that there will be arguments about how representative they are. But JPR, which has a track record in social and demographic research, including analysis of data on the Jewish population from the last Census, is better placed than any other organisation to measure the reliability of the sample.
Since there has been increasing debate in recent years over how representative organisations such as the Board of Deputies are — especially when speaking on Israel — the survey is timely. Polls of this kind, which are common among American Jewry but still pretty novel here, are one way of helping to keep Jewish organisations accountable by comparing official pronouncements against grassroots sentiment.
Recent research among American Jews has suggested declining attachment to Israel among the young and the more secular. It will be interesting to see whether there are parallels here, although British Jews, being geographically closer to Israel, visit there more regularly than their American brethren. They are also more religious ,at least in terms of synagogue affiliation.
Besides examining emotional and cultural ties to Israel, the survey is groundbreaking in going into unprecedented detail about political issues. It asks questions about Operation Cast Lead — Israel’s incursion into Gaza a year ago — settlements on the West Bank and Israel’s security barrier. It also asks whether people think that Israeli actions help to cause antisemitism here and whether Israel bears any responsibility for the failure to achieve a peace settlement.
Asking such questions at all may be controversial to some but, unless we ask them, the arguments about support for Israel in this newspaper and elsewhere will continue to fly in a statistical darkness. Although there remains a vocal constituency which believes that Jewish organisations should be more assertive in lobbying for Israel politically and in the media, anecdotally one also hears more about young Jews in particular feeling “conflicted” about Israel.
At this year’s Limmud, for example, there was talk of setting up a Jewish equivalent to J-Street, the doveish advocacy group in the United States. It could be just that, talk, and amount to little else, but it may indicate that differences over Israel may be wider than some think.
Simon Rocker is the JC’s Judaism reporter. To take part in the JPR survey, go to www.jpr.org.uk/index.php