First major survey of attitudes since 2010 finds 73% think Israel’s approach to making peace with Palestinians is damaging its standing in the world
More than two-thirds of British Jews have a “sense of despair” every time an expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is approved, and three-quarters think that Israel’s approach to making peace with the Palestinians is damaging its standing in the world, according to a new poll.
Ninety per cent support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, but the poll also found widespread unease with the policies of the Israeli government. More than half (58%) say that Israel “will be seen as an apartheid state if it tries to retain control over borders that contain more Arabs than Jews” – in effect, if it continues its 47-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The poll is the first major survey of the attitudes of British Jews to Israel since 2010. It was commissioned by Yachad, a pro-peace organisation based in the UK, and carried out by Ipsos Mori, with independent analysis led by City University.
The findings will bolster British advocates of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Although the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, routinely proclaims his willingness to negotiate a two-state solution to the conflict, there has been no progress towards peace since he took office in 2009.
The key findings of the poll include:
* 75% of British Jews agree that “the expansion of settlements on the West Bank is a major obstacle to peace”, and 68% have a “sense of despair” whenever new expansion is approved.
* 73% believe Israel’s approach to peace is damaging its standing in the world.
* 71% see the two-state solution as the only way Israel can achieve peace.
* 72% reject the statement that “the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to a land of their own”.
* 62% support ceding territory to achieve peace, but that falls to 50% if withdrawal is seen as posing a risk to Israel’s security.
* 47% see the Israeli government as “constantly creating obstacles to avoid engaging in the peace process” (32% disagreed).
* A clear majority (70%) backed Israel’s demand that the Palestinians must recognise it as a Jewish state, and almost two-thirds said peace negotiations were “pointless as long as incitement against Israel is taught in Palestinian schools”.
* Most respondents (59%) endorsed the view that the Palestinians are not a credible partner in the peace process.
On last summer’s conflict in Gaza, an overwhelming majority supported Israel’s right to respond to Hamas rockets, but more than a third said the scale of the response was disproportionate.
Stephen Miller of City University, who led the analysis of the poll data, said the figures showed a majority of British Jews held “dovish” views of the conflict. Younger Jews, the better educated and those belonging to progressive synagogues or no synagogues were more likely to be pro-peace.
“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 said.
The number of respondents identifying themselves as Zionists has fallen from 72% to 59% since the 2010 survey, although the authors suggested this could be attributed to changing definitions of Zionism. The vast majority (93%) say Israel plays a part in their Jewish identity, with almost three-quarters saying it is important or central.
Almost one in five British Jews have considered moving to Israel because of concerns over antisemitism, the poll found. Eight out of 10 believed that double standards were applied to Israeli military action compared with other conflicts.
The views of the British Jewish community were shifting, said Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad. “Feelings of despair, conflict between loyalty to Israel and concern over policies of the government are mainstream, not marginal, positions.”
Although British Jews were increasingly willing to speak out over their concerns, “this is against a backdrop of a Jewish community that remains fully committed to Israel and its centrality to Jewish identity”.
A separate poll published this week on attitudes to Israel among the general British public found that more than half viewed Israel as the UK’s main ally in the Middle East. Almost one in eight did not object to a boycott of Israel, with 47% opposed. The poll was commissioned by the pro-Israel organisation Bicom.