SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar contributes to major study on British Jewish attitudes to Israel

12 November 2015

Emeritus Professor Colin Shindler at SOAS, University of London has contributed to the first significant study of British Jewish attitudes to Israel since 2010.

The new study, based on data collected by the independent research organisation Ipsos MORI, has revealed that three-quarters of British Jews think Israel’s approach to peace is “damaging to its world standing”.

The research team led by Professor Stephen Miller, City University London concluded that the majority of British Jews hold “dovish” views on the conflict and see Israel as having a negative approach to the peace process.

The majority express “a deep sense of pride” in Israel’s achievements in art, science and technology (84%), but almost three quarters (73%) now believe the nation’s approach to peace is damaging “to its standing in the world”.

It is the first significant study of British Jewish attitudes to Israel since 2010, when a similar survey was conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).

The new survey found that 71% see the two-state solution as the only way Israel can achieve peace and 72% reject the statement that “the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to a land of their own”.

When asked to select priorities for the new Israeli government, elected in 2015, “pursuing peace negotiations with the Palestinians” was the most commonly selected goal, followed by “halting the expansion of settlements”.

Professor Miller, lead author of the report, said:

“The way in which British Jews engage with Israel is sometimes the focus of intense debate, and sometimes just taken for granted, but rarely is it subjected to serious empirical analysis. This study, together with the 2010 survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, start to provide some hard data.

“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.

“Whilst the majority view on issues like settlement expansion, withdrawal from the West Bank and Palestinian rights to a homeland is decidedly dovish, there is a significant minority who take a more hawkish position - for example, opposing the ceding of territory for peace, rejecting the idea that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank or that the Palestinians have a right to a land of their own.

“These wide variations in political attitude are not randomly distributed through the Jewish community; they are closely associated with religious and educational divisions within it. This raises important questions about how the diversity of British Jewish opinion can be fairly represented to the British public. And more fundamentally, how these differences in opinion, associated as they are with existing segmentation on religious lines, will impact on the concept of ‘community’ as applied to British Jews.

“Our data also raise some intriguing questions about the changing construction of the term ‘Zionism’ and about the mechanisms by which British Jews judge how well their personal views accord with the opinions of others.”

Further details are available on the City University website.