Survey finds 41 per cent of young Jews would back sanctions against Israel to advance peace

By Simon Rocker, November 12, 2015

Two in five British Jews aged under 30 would back sanctions against Israel if it encouraged the country to engage in peace talks with the Palestinians, according an internet questionnaire funded by the left of centre organisation, Yachad.

While the overwhelming majority of UK Jews remained strongly attached to Israel, the survey found that they hold a “strongly dovish stance on peace” and were deeply opposed to settlement expansion.

But though critical of the Israeli government’s approach towards peace negotiations, most also believed that there is no credible partner on the Palestinian side.

On fundamentals such as recognising Israel’s legitimacy, British Jews “speak as one”, the report said.

But “deep-seated differences” existed on policies towards the Palestinians, while more than half were sometimes torn between their feelings of loyalty to Israel and concern about its actions.

The survey of 1,131 British Jews was carried out earlier this year by City University’s department of sociology and funded by Yachad, the campaign group for a two-state solution.

The overwhelming majority – 93 per cent - said that their relationship with Israel forms part of their identity as Jews; 90 per cent supported its existence as a “Jewish state”; 84 per cent took pride in its scientific and cultural achievements, and 78 per cent saw it as a “vibrant and open democracy”.

But three-quarters regarded expansion of “West Bank” settlements as a “major obstacle to peace”. Nearly a quarter – 24 per cent - would back sanctions against Israel if it advanced peace, while 66 per cent were opposed.

The figure in support of sanctions went up to 41 per cent among Jews under 30. Forty-two per cent of young Jews thought that the British government should take tougher action against settlement expansion (with 35 per cent opposed).

Forty-two per cent of the sample backed the idea of negotiations with Hamas – the same number as oppose it.

But 59 per cent believed there is no credible Palestinian partner for peace (against 30 per cent who think there is), while 70 per cent said the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state, not just its right to exist.

Forty-one per cent believed most Palestinians did not want peace.

Overall, 71 per cent were in favour of a two-state solution (compared with 16 per cent against); 62 per cent believe Israel should give up territory for peace, with 25 per cent opposed.

A majority, 53 per cent to 29 per cent, considered Israel an occupying power on the West Bank.

A large proportion, 68 per cent to 18 per cent, said they felt “a sense of despair” at approval of settlement expansion, while a majority believed Israel had been taking a negative approach to peace negotiations.

Nearly three-quarters – 73 per cent - thought Israel’s current stance towards peace talks damaged its standing in the world.

Nearly half (47 per cent to 32 per cent) said the Israeli government was “constantly creating obstacles to peace”, and most believed that settlement expansion would lead to an “unstoppable pressure for sanctions”.

While 93 per cent believed in Israel’s right to resort to military action against Hamas, 37 per cent thought its response to rocket attacks in 2014 was “disproportionate”.

Attitudes towards the West Bank were more complex, with some respondents holding “self-contradictory” views. Despite a majority supporting territorial withdrawal for peace, 50 per cent believed Israeli control over the West Bank vital for its security (compared with 33 per cent who did not).

But 58 per cent agreed that Israel could be seen as an “apartheid” state if it attempts to rule over an Arab majority.

A clear majority, 64 per cent to 25 per cent, supported the right of diaspora Jews to voice their opinion of Israeli policies - up from a figure of 53 per cent in support, according to the survey of the community’s attitudes to Israel conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) conducted in 2010.

But the proportion who described themselves as Zionists – 59 per cent – was down from the 72 per cent in the JPR survey.

The diversity of views was also apparent on other issues. Forty per cent believed that the Arab areas of East Jerusalem should form part of the capital of any Palestinian state (with 31 per cent against). But 42 per cent believed Israel’s Jews should have more say over policy than its non-Jewish citizens (with 48 per cent disagreeing).

Nearly one in five, 19 per cent, of the sample had considered moving to Israel because of antisemitism in Britain. More than three-quarters, 78 per cent, felt condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza last year reflected double-standards.

While young Jews were more dovish than older Jews, non-Orthodox synagogue members were more so than strictly Orthodox Jews.

“Support for dovish positions is two or three times higher among non-members and members of Reform, Liberal and Masorti synagogues than among strictly Orthodox synagogues,” the report stated.

Hawks significantly overestimated how widely their views were shared – by two-fold- while doves underestimated theirs by 10 per cent.

“If individual Jews are poor at judging the prevalence of their own views on Israel, how well does the Jewish community as a whole, through its leaders and spokespeople, perform that task,” the report asked.

More than half of the under-30s, 55 per cent to 29, said that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians had weakened their attachment to the country.

Hawks “tend to see Israel’s political actions as justified and hence they are more likely to view external criticism as motivated by malice or prejudice,” the report stated. “Doves… are less prone to see external criticism as being fuelled by antisemitism.”

The report was written by three emeritus Jewish professors, Stephen Miller, Margaret Harris and Colin Shindler with former JC editor Ned Temko as editorial adviser. They said they were confident that the survey – based on three forms of sampling with the involvement of polling company Ipso Mori – was “ broadly representative” of British Jewry.

Yachad director Hannah Weisfeld said: “The community is shifting. Feelings of despair, conflict between loyalty to Israel and concern over policies of the government are mainstream, not marginal positions.”

The research supported the notion that a majority of Jews backed Yachad’s “broad approach” to Israel and were, she said, “more willing to speak out on issues than ever before. Members of Anglo-Jewry who have previously been afraid to give voice to their concerns over Israeli government policy should realise that they are in fact part of the majority.”

Professor Miller said: “Our research shows that although British Jews are overwhelmingly supportive of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, proud of its achievements and mindful of its security needs, their attitudes to its policies and conduct are far more diverse, and far more critical, than many would have expected."

He added: “These wide variations in political attitude are not randomly distributed through the Jewish community; they are closely associated with religious and educational divisions within it. This raises important questions about how the diversity of British Jewish opinion can be fairly represented to the British public. And more fundamentally, how these differences in opinion, associated as they are with existing segmentation on religious lines, will impact on the concept of ‘community’ as applied to British Jews.”

Last updated: 2:35pm, November 12 2015