Setting the record straight on British Jews’ support for Israel

An article in the Jewish News inadvertently misled readers on the number of British Jews who aren’t Zionists – in both the headline and the body of the article (UJS passes motion ‘ensuring representation’ for ‘40% of UK Jews who aren’t Zionists’, Dec. 13).

A motion calling for the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) to “ensure representations on panels and events” for “40 percent of Jews who do not identify themselves as Zionist” has been passed at the organisation’s annual conference.

The motion, proposed by Noam UK’s Board of Deputies representative Toby Kunin, demanded Jewish organisations became more welcoming to students not identifying as Zionist.

In fairness to the Jewish News reporter, he was clearly only citing a claim by Toby Kunin.  However, readers, and, evidently, the Union of Jewish Students, likely failed to understand where Kunin got that number, despite the following clarifying passages:

Kunin pointed to a paper published by City University’s sociology department on the attitudes of British Jews to Israel for his claim that 40 percent of Jews do not identify themselves as Zionist – and research by the JPR that the figure at around 70-30 in favour of Zionism.

But he insisted this estimate of how many Jews were non-Zionist was not the central point of the motion, with the overall aim to make “all welcome” in communal organisations.

We looked at the research paper in question, published by City University’s sociology department (and funded by the left-wing group Yachad) in 2015, and found the origin of the 40% figure.

Here’s the relevant section:

The number of respondents who describe themselves as Zionists appears to have fallen from 72% to about 59%, although the authors argue that this probably reflects changes in the way the word ‘Zionist’ is interpreted.

Proof that the percentage of Jewish respondents describing themselves as “Zionist” does, as the paper acknowledges, merely “reflect changes in the way the word ‘Zionist’ is interpreted”, and the fact that the word has increasingly been used in the pejorative by anti-Semites, is found in the opening sentence of the paper:

A new study of the attitudes of British Jews shows that the vast majority support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (90%) but there is widespread unease with the country’s policies.

Of course, support for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is the definition of Zionism – a belief held by 90% of respondents.

Additionally, the JPR study cited by Jewish News, putatively showing 70-30 split between Zionists and anti-Zionists, also acknowledges that the word “Zionist” means different things to different people, whilst citing widespread support within the Jewish community for Israel, and a strong connection to the state.

So, a mere 10% of Jewish respondents don’t support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and thus can be called anti-Zionists.

It’s of course up to the UJS whether they wish to “ensure representations on panels and events” to those who reject Israel’s right to exist. But, that decision should have been made with full knowledge that anti-Zionist Jews, much like Corbyn supporting Jews, are a tiny fringe within the community, and the 40% figure cited during the debate is inaccurate.

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