Massive majority opposes Israel cultural boycott

By Marcus Dysch, September 28, 2012
Habima on stage at the Globe theatre

Habima on stage at the Globe theatre

An overwhelming majority of the British public opposes a cultural boycott of Israel.

New polling figures reveal fewer than one in five Brits believe that Israeli actors, dancers or musicians should not be welcome to perform here, and three-quarters can see no reason why British performers should not travel to Israel.

The figures are revealed in an exclusive poll conducted for the JC by YouGov.

The research follows a number of high-profile disruptions of Israeli cultural performances in Britain, including the barracking of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms, protests against the Habima theatre company when it appeared at the Globe, and disturbances during the Batsheva contemporary dance group's appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Asked whether Israeli performers "should not be welcome to perform in Britain, even if they receive a subsidy from the Israeli government", 53 per cent of the public disagreed, saying they had no objection. A further 30 per cent said they did not know.

Just 17 per cent believe Israelis should not be welcome in Britain - a figure far below the level of support claimed by anti-Israel and pro-boycott campaigners.

The number backing a boycott does not rise above one in four in any of the categories polled, including when defining the public by age, gender, income and background, geographic location or voting intention.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters are slightly more opposed to a boycott than Labour backers, with 61 per cent of supporters of both parties happy to welcome Israelis, compared to 54 per cent of Labour voters.

There is noticeably more support for Israeli artists among older people, with 61 per cent of over-60s backing performers coming to Britain, compared to 48 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds. Support is also considerably higher among men than women.

A slightly higher percentage of Scots back a boycott, with one in five believing Israelis should not be welcomed.

When the question was reversed, the majority supported British arts figures going to Israel.

While one in four objected to Brits performing there, 73 per cent of those asked said actors, dancers and musicians should be willing to appear in Israel or said they did not know.

Lib Dem voters were the most vocal opponents of the proposition that Britons should not go to Israel, with more than one in three opposed to performances in the country. Conservative voters were the most supportive, with fewer than one in four backing a boycott.

The polling was carried out on Sunday and Monday, with more than 1,700 adults across Britain questioned.

Anti-Israel activists have previously suggested support for cutting cultural ties is high among the British public, with further claims that Israel is now regarded in the same category as apartheid South Africa during the 1980s.

Film directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have been among the leading British proponents of a boycott, while Sir Paul McCartney, Madonna and Rihanna have ignored calls to cancel performances in Israel.

Last updated: 3:22pm, September 28 2012