UK Jewish bond with Israel is strong as ever

Largest survey of MidEast attitudes also shows overwhelming support for two states

By Simon Rocker, July 15, 2010

The vast majority of British Jews remain committed to the state of Israel while divided over its policies on peace and security, according to what is claimed to be the most definitive survey on the subject.

Ninety per cent regard Israel as the "ancestral homeland" of the Jewish people, 87 per cent believe Jews have a "special responsibility" to ensure its survival, and 72 per cent consider themselves Zionists.

But differences become apparent on more detailed political questions: 52 per cent think the Israeli government should negotiate with Hamas, compared with 39 per cent against.

And while 59 per cent believe that Israel is less responsible than its neighbours for the failure of the Middle East peace process, 34 per cent disagree.

The survey, based on more than 4,000 responses to an online questionnaire, was carried out earlier this year by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) and commissioned by the Pears Foundation, one of the major funders of Jewish and Israel-related causes in the UK.

71% comfortable in the UK
23% have seen anti-semitic incident
37% say concern for Israel influences their UK vote

David Graham and Jonathan Boyd of JPR say in the initial report into the findings, released this week, that British Jews are "monolithic in their caring and concern for Israel", while holding "highly divergent views on controversial issues".

Religious Jews were more likely to take a "hawkish" stance on political issues, while secular Jews were more likely to be doveish, they observe.

Trevor Pears, executive chairman of the Pears Foundation, commented that the results offered evidence "that British Jews can hold critical opinions of some of Israel's policies, while retaining a positive attachment to the country as a whole".

As many as 73 per cent believe that Jews should be free to criticise Israel in the British media, at least on some occasions, compared to only a quarter who think it never justified.

Only 15 per cent are opposed to a two-state solution, compared to 78 per cent in favour. Two-thirds (67 per cent) think Israel should be prepared to swap land for peace, almost the same proportion as in a survey 15 years ago.

Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) are opposed to settlement expansion. But there was strong support for Israel's incursion into Gaza in December 2008, with 72 per cent believing it "a legitimate act of self-defence"; the same proportion also believe that the separation barrier to stop terrorist attacks is "vital" for Israel's security.

Most UK Jews - 71 per cent - feel comfortable about living in this country, but 26 per cent felt uncomfortable because of Israel.

Almost a quarter, however, (23 per cent) had witnessed an antisemitic incident over the previous 12 months and more than half of those thought it related to Israel. More than a third, 37 per cent, said that Israel figured highly in their voting intentions in British elections.

Mr Boyd said: "Jews in Britain are pro-Israel and pro-peace. Their hawkishness on some issues is typically motivated by a clear concern for Israel's security, while their doveishness on others reflects a deep-set desire to see the country at peace."

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, said: "There is strong evidence that a majority of British Jews remain connected in their support for Israel, her right for security and important calls for peace."

Last updated: 9:46am, July 16 2010