When it comes to hate, listen to UK Jews

Are boycotters of Israel antisemitic? Jonathan Boyd looks at the stats

February 08, 2019 10:37

Are boycotters of Israel antisemitic? That was the fundamental question being posed in the JPR/CST paper published last week. There has been some confusion over what we found, so allow me to clarify.

If we ask Jews what they think, the answer is pretty conclusive. EU research conducted by JPR in 2018 found that 75 per cent of UK Jews consider those calling for boycotts of Israel to be at least “probably” antisemitic, if not “definitely” so.

That’s important to consider if one draws on the MacPherson definition, which, expressed simply, maintains that a hate crime is “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.” If that is correct, one can argue that boycotters are antisemitic.

Of course, boycotters maintain that they are not antisemitic; they are political activists seeking to redress the injustices of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

It’s not an easy argument to win, either way. But statistics can shed some light here.

First, our data show a clear statistical relationship between hostility to Jews and hostility to Israel. The more hostility one shows towards Jews, the more likely one is to also show hostility towards Israel, and vice versa. Correlation is proven, even if causation is not.

Second, different types of hostility towards Israel correlate differently with anti-Jewish sentiment, and vice versa. For example, the claim that “Israel exploits Holocaust victimhood for its own purposes” has a strong association with anti-Jewish sentiment; calling for boycotts of Israeli goods and products shows a weaker association. Describing Israel as “an apartheid state” is weaker still. To be clear, they all correlate, but we find greater anti-Jewish malice associated with some anti-Israel beliefs than others.

Third, focusing on the 10 per cent of people in Great Britain who contend that “people should boycott Israeli goods and products”, a majority (58 per cent) also agrees with at least one of nine anti-Jewish views presented to them in our research, such as tropes relating to wealth, superiority or nefarious uses of power. The equivalent figure for those in British society who do not hold the boycott contention is 29 per cent. Supporters of boycotts are therefore twice as likely as the population in general to bear at least some anti-Jewish feeling.

One could argue that people supporting boycotts and holding just one anti-Jewish belief out of the nine presented – meaning that they also disagree with, or are neutral on, the other eight – is too low a bar to set.

But the more we investigate supporters of boycotts, the more damning the findings become. Thirty per cent of pro-boycotters hold at least three of the anti-Jewish beliefs researched, compared with 8 per cent of non-boycotters. Twelve per cent hold at least six anti-Jewish beliefs, compared to 1 per cent of non-boycotters. In short, there are clear subsets of those supporting boycotts that are dramatically more likely to hold multiple anti-Jewish views than everyone else.

That said, 42 per cent of people who say they agree with boycotts of Israel, disagree with, or are neutral on, every single one of the nine negative statements about Jews presented to them. Presumably, these are either people who genuinely believe that boycotting Israel could shift the needle in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or they are simply following the crowd, picking up ideas that are fashionable, and making them their own.

So what’s the bottom line? On balance, I believe British Jews are right to be cautious. Boycotters themselves are twice as likely as others in the population to hold at least one anti-Jewish view and about ten times as likely to hold six or more. Put bluntly, when British Jews see smoke, they have good reason to also fear fire.


Dr Jonathan Boyd is JPR Executive Director

February 08, 2019 10:37

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive