Minority support for Sharon among British Jews

March 16, 2004
Richard Kuper
Simon Rocker

Jewish Chronicle, 18-Jun-2004

Fewer than a quarter of ‘moderately identifying’ UK Jews support the policies of the current Israeli government, according to a new survey. Almost four times as many identify with Israeli doves rather than hawks.

Conducted for the United Jewish Israel Appeal, the study reveals a picture of widespread uncertainty about Israeli policy though also a strong attachment to the country and concern about ‘biased coverage’ of it in the British media.

More than 78 per cent say they ‘care deeply‚ about Israel’ against just five per cent who don’t. Forty-seven per cent had visited the country three or more times, and 17 per cent had either lived or were born there. Twenty-two per cent supported the policies of Ariel Sharon‚s government six per cent strongly. Twenty-eight per cent were against 10 per cent strongly. The remaining 50 per cent were ‘not sure’ or ‘mixed’.

Thirty per cent identify with the doveish camp in Israel, compared with only eight per cent for the hawks.

Twenty-five per cent say ‘neither’ and 38 per cent are ‘not sure’. Thirty-one per cent are ‘often very critical’ of Israeli government policy, against 28 per cent who are not.

But three-quarters are ‘disturbed’ by ‘biased media coverage’ of Israel, compared with only eight per cent who say they are not.

The poll is part of a much larger study of identity among ‘moderately engaged’ Jews in Britain. It is to be released by the UJIA in the autumn and is based on in-depth interviews with families and 4,200 questionnaires distributed to parents of Jewish day-school and cheder [religious, i.e. like ‘Sunday School’] pupils.

Of the 1,400 respondents to the survey, about two-thirds have been classified as being ‘moderately engaged’ Jews, as opposed to those Jewishly committed.

The figures on Israel are based on the ‘moderately engaged’ sample and show them to be ‘more confused and ambivalent about Israeli policy than ‘critical and oppositional’ according to the architects of the survey, Professor Steven Cohen, of the Hebrew University, and Dr Keith Kahn-Harris, of the Open University.

‘Like many Israelis, they worry about Israel’s future and are unsure of what to do’ they said.

Israel occupies a central place in the consciousness of British Jews, which is nurtured in Jewish educational and Zionist frameworks and strengthened by frequent travel to the country.

According to the survey, almost half describe themselves as Zionist. Just over one-quarter do not.

Thirty-five per cent said their Jewish friends were ‘often very critical’ of Israeli policies, compared with 23 per cent whose friends were not. Forty-four per cent said their non-Jewish friends were ‘often very critical’ of Israel. One in five said their friends were not.

More than two-thirds wanted to be ‘better informed’ about the situation in Israel.

The findings reveal a widely shared set of attitudes about Israel summed up by Professor Cohen and Dr Kahn-Harris as: ‘I love Israel. I don’t always agree with what Israel is doing. I hate when the media says it’.

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