LONDON — While a majority of British Jews say they are committed to Israel, nearly three-quarters of them believe Israel’s ostensibly negative approach to peace is harmful and almost 24 percent would be prepared “to support some sanctions against Israel” if they thought it would encourage the Israeli government to act, a new survey has found.

British Jews are in “despair” over Israel’s settlement policy and believe that the Israeli government constantly creates obstacles to “avoid engaging in peace negotiations,” according to findings of a new academic study funded by Yachad UK, a left-wing Zionist group.

While 84% of those polled express “a deep sense of pride” in Israel’s achievements in art, science and technology, almost three-quarters (73%) now believe the nation’s approach to peace is damaging “to its standing in the world.” The report’s research team concludes 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 survey, carried out by City University among 1131 British Jews between March and June this year, was undertaken by Stephen Miller, Emeritus Professor of Social Research in the Department of Sociology at City University, London; Margaret Harris, Emeritus Professor of Voluntary Sector Organisation, Aston University, Birmingham and Visiting Professor at Birkbeck, University of London; and Colin Shindler, Emeritus Professor of Israel Studies, SOAS, University of London.

Almost three-quarters of British Jews now believe Israel’s approach to peace is damaging ‘to its standing in the world’

The survey – carried out nationwide – has respondents who are members of Orthodox synagogues, those who are members of the Reform or Liberal movements, and those who say they have no religious affiliation.

The Yachad UK survey is the first major survey of British Jewish attitudes to Israel since the Institute for Jewish Policy Research survey (IJPR) in 2010.

Yachad UK, which describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” was founded in 2011 and has been at the forefront of controversy in Britain as its attempts to join mainstream communal organizations such as the Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies were repeatedly blocked by those who accused it of being an anti-Israel movement.

Hannah Weisfeld is the director of Yachad UK. (Courtesy)

Hannah Weisfeld is the director of Yachad UK. (Courtesy)

In September this year, Yachad, which succeeded in joining the Board, ran into trouble with the new Board president, Jonathan Arkush, after writing to David Cameron calling for the British government to exert pressure on Israel over the settlements. The Yachad letter, timed to coincide with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the UK, drew outrage from a number of deputies and Arkush, who condemned the letter.

“It is unacceptable that Yachad, having been admitted to the Board, should show total contempt for the Board’s Constitution which requires it to take such positive steps as possible to further Israel’s security, welfare and standing. This letter does exactly the opposite,” the deputies wrote.

The findings of the new survey are likely to arouse even more concern on the right-wing of the British Jewish community. Seventy-five percent of respondents believe that Israeli government policy on settlements is “a major obstacle to peace” and a similar number (68%) feel a sense of “despair” every time Israel approves further expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

The survey, conducted by the respected polling organization, Ipsos Mori, found that most British Jews (71%) believe that a two-state solution “is the only way Israel will achieve peace with its neighbors in the Middle East.” Seventy-two percent agree that the Palestinians have a “legitimate claim to a state of their own.”

68% feel a sense of ‘despair’ every time Israel approves further expansion of settlements in the West Bank

In the report, 62% of respondents put “pursuing peace negotiations with the Palestinians” as their top priority for the Israeli government, followed by “halting the expansion of settlements” at 46%. Forty-two percent also favored negotiating with Hamas in order to achieve peace (with 42% against), despite the organization being deemed a terrorist organization by the UK, US and EU. And only 26% wanted Netanyahu’s government to prioritize tackling the issue of a nuclear Iran.

Among the key findings of the 56-page report is strong support for Israel to “cede territory” in order to achieve peace (62% for, 25% against). But if withdrawal is seen as posing a risk to Israel’s security, the majority then oppose withdrawal (50% compared with 33%).

Professor Steve Miller is the lead author on the Yachad UK survey. (Courtesy)

Professor Steve Miller is the lead author on the Yachad UK survey. (Courtesy)

Fifty-eight percent agree with the statement that Israel “will be seen as an apartheid state if it tries to retain control over borders that contain more Arabs than Jews,” while 22% disagree. But almost 80% of respondents consider that, in the context of the conflicts raging around the world, those who condemn Israel’s military actions “are guilty of applying double standards.”

In contrast to the 2010 IJPR findings, a majority – 64% – said they believed British Jews had the right to judge Israel despite not living there, up from 52% five years ago. Fifty-two percent said they felt “torn between my loyalty to Israel and my concern over its conduct or policies.”

Younger Jews said they would support tougher action against Israel if they felt it would help the stalled peace process. And in a response liable to engender anger in Jerusalem, on the day that Israel was denouncing EU moves on produce labeling, the survey showed that only 37% of the under-30s felt there was “no justification for requiring Israel to label products produced in the West Bank” – in contrast to 68% of people over the age of 70.

Only 37% of the under-30s felt there was ‘no justification for requiring Israel to label products produced in the West Bank’

The research found that Israel plays a central role for British Jews, with 93% saying the Jewish state played a “central” or “important” role in their Jewish identity, and 90% supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. It reflected significant concerns about the security situation in Israel with many respondents ambivalent about withdrawal from the West Bank because of security concerns (50% vs 33% support the proposition that “Israeli control of the West Bank is vital for Israel’s security”), despite commitment to a two-state solution.

In relation to the conflict in Gaza in 2014, the overwhelming majority (93%) say that the country was entitled to respond to Hamas rocket attacks with military action, but the respondents are divided on whether the scale of Israel’s response was proportionate (56%) or disproportionate (37%). A further 5% say that a military response was not justified.

Emeritus Professor Colin Shindler is one of the co-authors of the Yachad UK report. (Courtesy)

Emeritus Professor Colin Shindler is one of the co-authors of the Yachad UK report. (Courtesy)

The research also shows that those with the most “hawkish” views on Israel are prone to over-estimating how many other Jews agree with them – they believe that their own opinions are roughly twice as common as the research suggests they are.

Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad, said: “The community is shifting. Feelings of despair, conflict between loyalty to Israel and concern over policies of the government, are mainstream, not marginal, positions. The research shows we are more willing to speak out on these issues than ever before. Anglo-Jews who have previously been afraid to give voice to their concerns over Israeli government policy, should realize that they are in fact part of the majority.”

Weisfeld clarified that the Yachad survey is against the backdrop of a Jewish community “that remains fully committed to Israel and its centrality to Jewish identity.”

‘There are real concerns within the community about the security situation in Israel… the only way out of continued rounds of violence is through a political agreement with the Palestinian people’

“There are real concerns within the community about the security situation in Israel, with the majority agreeing that the only way out of continued rounds of violence is through a political agreement with the Palestinian people. This is ever more relevant against the background of the tragic events in the region during the past month,” said Weisfeld.

From the survey’s findings, Weisfeld concluded that a majority of Jews in the UK support “Yachad’s broad approach to Israel.”

“Members of the Jewish community should feel confident to stand up and say loudly that the bulk of the community believes that only by creating a Palestinian state, and not by maintaining the status quo, will Israel’s citizens get the security they need and deserve,” said Weisfeld.

Professor Stephen Miller, lead author of the report, said the research shows that British Jews are overwhelmingly supportive of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They are proud of Israel’s achievements and “mindful of its security needs.”

However, “their attitudes to its policies and conduct are far more diverse, and far more critical, than many would have expected,” said Miller.

“While 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,” said Miller.

Miller said the large differences in political attitude are not randomly spread within the various segments of UK Jewish society.

“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,” said Miller.