Public rejects Israel boycott

By Barry Toberman and Leon Symons, January 29, 2009

The british are against a boycott of Israeli goods, according to a survey conducted for the JC by YouGov this week.

By a significant majority, they also feel that the imposition of sanctions would make no difference to Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. Although almost half the 1,859 adults surveyed believe that Israel is acting too harshly towards Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, the large percentage of “don’t knows” to the three questions indicates that many do not feel strongly about the issues.

Asked whether Britain should boycott goods from Israel in protest against Israeli policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, 29 per cent replied that it would be a good idea, 41 per cent were against, with 30 per cent saying “don’t know”.

Proponents of a boycott cite the effect of international sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid era.

But when YouGov asked how people thought Israel would react in a similar situation, just 14 per cent believed the Israelis would make more concessions to the Palestinians.

Another 14 per cent thought Israel would refuse to make further concessions but 48 per cent replied that sanctions would make no difference to Israel’s policies. One-quarter of those questioned said they did not know.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents felt that Israel was “acting far too harshly towards Palestinians”, more than double the number (22 per cent) who considered that “Israel is doing all it reasonably can to live in peace with Palestinians”.

However, despite the heavy media coverage of the Gaza conflict and anti-Israel reaction, 31 per cent replied “don’t know” when asked which view was closest to their own.

The high incidence of “don’t know” responses suggested to YouGov president Peter Kellner that “these are issues that a great many people do not feel strongly about.”

When questioning people about events which had been headline news, he would normally have expected a much lower number of “don’t knows” — in the region of five to 10 per cent.

Mr Kellner had also anticipated that more respondents would support the view that Israel had acted too harshly against the Palestinians. On this issue, the margin between opposing views was narrowest among Tory voters and widest among Liberal Democrats. There was an equal split between the sexes among those opposed to Israeli actions, but men were twice as likely to support the view that Israel was doing all it reasonably could to live peaceably with its neighbours.

On the question of a boycott, those who said they were likely to vote Conservative and who expressed a view were against the idea by a margin of five to two. Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters were more evenly divided with a slight majority among Lib-Dems in favour of a boycott. Mr Kellner added: “Even among those who think that Israel has acted too harshly, just 24 per cent think sanctions would work. Sixty-two per cent think either that sanctions would make no difference or that Israel would harden its line [in the event of their being applied].”

Despite the YouGov findings, talk of boycotts has continued to appear in a variety of different places.

Food writer and author Joanna Blythman, writing on the Guardian’s “Comment Is Free” website on Friday, called for a total boycott of Israeli produce. She wrote: “By refusing to buy Israeli produce, ethically-minded consumers can be part of the wider Boycott Israeli Goods campaign (BIG) and add to the international condemnation of Israel’s tactics in Palestine.”

Replying on Wednesday on the same website, Seth Freedman wrote: “Is she really prepared to forgo not just the avocados and oranges about which she writes, but also every single medical and technological device that is manufactured in Israel and can be found in houses, hospitals and communities the length and breadth of the world?

“And is she really advocating a total boycott of all Israelis, regardless of what they do to earn their keep … what about the Israeli search-and-rescue teams who are sent around the globe to assist in disaster zones where the local governments lack the resources or skills to help themselves?”

Last week, with the exception of one abstention, Oxford City Council voted in favour of a motion condemning Israel’s “disproportionate” response in Gaza and calling for a boycott of Israeli products and companies.

The motion, proposed by the Green Party’s Craig Simmons, did not refer to Hamas. Labour councillor John Tanner, who seconded the motion, said the council occasionally debated international issues. The last time was the Iraq war, when it voted against Britain’s participation.

Asked why Hamas was not mentioned, he replied: “Of course the [Hamas] rockets are a problem but not on the scale of destruction in Gaza, which was disproportionate. During the debate, I recalled the IRA bombing of civilians in Birmingham. We didn’t send in the RAF, we dealt successfully with the IRA violence.”

In Ireland, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is trying to raise money for a full page advertisement in the Irish Times which will call on the Irish government to cease buying Israeli arms and for a boycott on Israeli goods and produce. The German-owned Lidl supermarket chain has put a notice on its website stating that it has not made any donations to Israel.

Lidl PR manager Marco Ivone said the notice had been posted in response to allegations on international websites during the Gaza incursion claiming that both Lidl and Aldi, another German supermarket chain, gave money to Israel. “We have no idea why or where these claims came from but they are simply not true,” said Mr Ivone.

The number of reported antisemitic incidents in Britain has risen to more than 250, the Community Security Trust said this week.

Yougov / Jewish Chronicle survey results

Question: Some people have suggested that we in Britain should boycott goods from Israel, and refuse to buy them, in protest against Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Responses %
Good idea to boycott Israeli goods 29
Bad idea to boycott Israeli goods 51
Don't know 30

Question: Some people say that international sanctions against South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s helped eventually to bring an end to the ‘apartheid’ system under which all political power was reserved for white people. How do you think Israel would react, over time, to international sanctions against Israeli goods and services?

Responses %
Israel would react over time by making more concessions towards the Palestinians 14
Israel would react over time by REFUSING to make more concessions towards the Palestinians 14
Sanctions would make no difference to Israel’s policies towards Palestinians 48
Don't know 24

Question: Which of these views comes closer to your own?

Responses %
‘Israel is doing all it reasonably can to live in peace with Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza 22
‘Israel is acting far too harshly towards Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza’ 47
Don't know 31

(Some of the ‘don’t know’ responses have been rounded up or down for the sake of clarity)

Last updated: 1:58pm, March 4 2009