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By Barry Rubin
“90 percent of Jews in Britain believe that Israel is `the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people,’ 82% consider it to play an important and even central role in their Jewish identities and 72% categorize themselves as Zionists, in contrast to only 21% who do not. Furthermore, an estimated 95% of Jews in Britain have visited Israel at least once, 77% agree that Jews have `a special responsibility to support Israel’ and 87% agree that Jews are responsible for ensuring `the survival of Israel.’”
Let’s also remember that these people are under an around-the-clock barrage of anti-Israel opinion and information from the British media, universities, and other institutions, which makes their steadfastness all the more remarkable.
“The dovishness of the community comes across very clearly: 67% favor giving up territory for peace; 74% are opposed to the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank and, perhaps most strikingly, 52% think that Israel `should negotiate with Hamas in its efforts to achieve peace.’”
I don’t think the first two points are particularly dovish as such. Israelis overwhelmingly favor giving up territory IF that would secure real and lasting peace. As for expanding settlements, it has been Israeli policy not to do so since…1993. That’s 17 years ago. So supporting that position is not exactly anti-Israeli, indeed Benjamin Netanyahu accepted it back in 1996. I admit the point about Hamas is shocking but perhaps they mean if it ever moderates (don’t hold your breath).
The article continues:
“However, at the same time, the hawkishness of the community is also apparent: 72% consider the separation fence/security barrier `vital for Israel’s security’ and the same percentage viewed Operation Cast Lead as `a legitimate act of self-defense. Furthermore, fully 87% of respondents believe that “Iran represents a threat to Israel’s existence.”
Those three points aren’t hawkishness, that’s common sense. To have a barrier to keep out terrorists, who killed hundreds of people before it was built and literally none since within Israel’s borders seems a rather proven policy. To attack the Gaza Strip when Hamas had declared the ceasefire ended and was firing scores of rockets appears to make sense. And to think that Iran is a threat to Israel’s existence cannot be described as “hawkish” but as sane.
The article goes on:
“The apparent paradox captures perfectly the nature of Israel’s ongoing dilemma. The peace versus security equation needs to be balanced on a daily basis; most overtures toward peace involve taking risks on security, and most clampdowns on security involve damaging prospects for peace. What Jews in Britain are saying – in much the same way as Israelis are saying – is that we want both.”
Makes sense to me. Then why does he continue:
“My personal view is that there are signs of considerable disquiet in the findings, which indicate that all is not quite as rosy as some would like to believe.
“Consider the following. In our investigation of the state of Israeli society, 67% agree that there is `too much corruption in Israel’s political system.’ Approximately six out of 10 believe that both Jewish and non-Jewish minorities `suffer from discrimination.’ Three-quarters think that `Orthodox Judaism has too much influence in Israel’s society’ and that includes, surprisingly perhaps, almost half of those who self-define as `religious’”
Well, Israel’s political system is too corrupt and there is certainly room for improvement but you should hear what Israelis say about these things. Why should this turn them against Israel? Do British people turn against their country—or you could mention any other place in the world—because it has not achieved full justice or has corruption?
But the article doesn’t see it that way:
“Each of these findings suggests that a majority of Jews in Britain is looking at these aspects of Israeli society and struggling in some way to reconcile the realities they see with the values they believe ought to underpin a Jewish state. Perhaps it is the allegations against Ehud Olmert or Moshe Katsav, perhaps it is the growing alienation of Arab Israelis, perhaps it is the stranglehold Orthodox authorities have over the conversion process, but whatever the reason, it is clear that these types of difficult issues are leading some Jews in Britain to view Israel through quite critical eyes.”
Yet these problems and complaints don’t mean that those values aren’t in place. Orthodox authorities only have a stranglehold over conversion within Israel, which does recognize conversion abroad. Perhaps that is a significant point to explain. Even if one favors allowing Reform and Conservative rabbis within Israel to do conversions, upholding Jewish law as it has existed for many centuries should not be described as some shocking misplacement of values.
There’s more. A clear majority of British Jews considers Israel to be “an occupying power in the West Bank.” Forty percent do not think that control of the West Bank is vital for security; 43% do not believe that Israel has “little or no choice in most of the military action it takes.”
And one-third thinks that Israel holds either as much responsibility – or even more responsibility – for the failures of the peace process than its neighbors.
Again, I don’t find this shocking. Since Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank in exchange for peace, it is occupying the territory and is thus stating that controlling the West Bank might not be vital for Israeli security, as long as there is a full peace settlement. And of course Israel has a choice in taking military action. For example, it did not have to attack in 2006 even though Israeli soldiers were killed and kidnapped. It decided to do so.
Incidentally, to see what British Jews have to face, here's Melanie Phillips' exposure of how British newspapers distorted Israeli President Shimon Peres's remarks. There are between one and four such stories every day in the UK.