What do you think the great British public think about Israel? You may be surprised...

November 24, 2016 23:21

Ahead of the publication of this year’s BICOM poll of UK attitudes to Israel I have been playing a little game, largely at the expense of my friends and family. Over the last week I have been subtly throwing into conversation the odd polling question and asking them to assess what the great British public think about Israel. The mood amongst my very unscientific sample is grim. They massively underestimate warmth towards Israel (it is actually 19%), massively overestimated warmth towards the Palestinians (it is actually 20%) and hugely overestimated the support for an Israel boycott (it is actually 12%). When I told them the real figures I was met with astonishment and claims that the poll is wrong.

But the most interesting thing about the poll is how much stability there is in the figures. Warmth towards Israel hasn’t really moved in the four years since the poll started; compared to 2011 it has increased by 2%. The figures on BDS and boycotts haven’t significantly changed either, despite some very noisy campaigns that have led some to conclude that they were making progress. That isn’t true. The BDS movement has failed to breakthrough to a wider audience and they know it. The innate British sense of fair play instinctively opposes singling out one country for a boycott in these circumstances.

The findings also support the assertions frequently made by British and Israeli Prime Ministers that the two countries are strong allies that face shared threats from the likes of ISIS. But perhaps the most interesting figure in the poll is the answer to the question about the Balfour Declaration. Respondents were given the full text of the 1917 declaration and asked if it was the right position for the British Government to adopt.

We have never asked this question before and had differing views about the likely result. We felt, with the centenary of Balfour fast approaching in 2017, it was a good time to gauge public opinion. The 40% support for the Balfour Declaration and the policy of establishing a Jewish national home is fascinating. Forty percent of the British public are Zionists in all but name as they support Jewish national self-determination in the land of Israel. Seventeen percent opposed the policy and the rest were ‘don’t knows’. This suggests that support for Israel goes far beyond the 19% ‘warmth’ for the State of Israel and that there is a much larger group with sympathetic views.

There is even some encouragement for those who fear that people’s views are unduly influenced by TV news reports about the Middle East. The poll shows that viewers are much more sceptical and critical than we give them credit for. Ninety-five percent believed TV news coverage chooses the most dramatic pictures even if they don’t reflect accurately what’s going on and 89% believe that media coverage fails to provide enough explanation of the background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

James Sorene is CEO of BICOM - Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre - an independent British organisation dedicated to creating a greater understanding of Israel in the UK

November 24, 2016 23:21

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