Criticism of Israel and antisemitism – shades of prejudice

JVL Introduction

The Economist reports here on two recent surveys carried out in America and Britain assessing the link between antisemitism and critical attitudes towards Israel.

Strong antisemitic attitudes were found in 7% of Americans, with little difference across the political groups identified. In Britain by contrast, only around 4% were found to have strong antisemitic attitudes except for the very right-wing group where it was 14%.

In both countries, strong anti-Israel attitudes were significantly more common on the left but the link with anti-Jew sentiment increased  from left to right on the political spectrum.

“The data simply show that most left-wingers who criticise Israel do not dislike Jews as people”.

See also JVL’s own analysis of the Staetsky report Antisemitic criticism of Israel is NOT widespread in the Labour Party which reported that critics of Israel on the left and far left had the weakest links to strong antisemitic attitudes.


This article was originally published by The Economist on Sat 12 Oct 2019. Read the original here.

Drawing the line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel

ONE REASON debate over Israel gets heated is that both sides question each other’s motives. Supporters of Israel note that anti-Semites often cloak their prejudice in criticism of the Jewish state. They say some views—like saying that Israel should not exist—are by definition anti-Semitic. Pro-Palestinian advocates retort that charges of Jew-hatred are intended to silence them.

Such mistrust has grown in Britain and America, as anti-Semitism has resurfaced at both political extremes. On the left, legislators in America have accused pro-Israel colleagues of dual loyalty, and implied that Jewish money bought Republican support for Israel. In 2012 Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, defended a mural depicting hook-nosed bankers.

The right has used similar innuendo, often by linking liberals to George Soros, a Jewish investor. Muddying matters more, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has also denounced Mr Soros. In America right-wing anti-Semitism also takes a more explicit, occasionally violent form. In 2017 marchers in Virginia chanted “Jews will not replace us.” And in 2018 a shooter at a synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 people.

Can criticism of Israel be disentangled from anti-Semitism? Two recent polls in America and Britain that tried to do so reveal a pattern: hostility to Israel and to Jews are correlated, and the link is much stronger on the political right than on the left.

In 2016 Daniel Staetsky of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a think-tank, wrote a survey to distinguish these beliefs. It contained one series of statements about Israel as a country, and another about Jews as people. Ipsos MORI then polled Britons to see if they agreed with these views, and Mr Staetsky scored the respondents’ hostility based on their answers. At our request, YouGov repeated the survey in America.

Few respondents expressed negative opinions of Jews. About 4% in Britain and 7% in America scored at least five out of eight on the anti-Semitism scale. Nonetheless, these rates imply that 2m Britons and 23m Americans are overtly anti-Semitic.

Moreover, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic beliefs were correlated. Americans with a mark of at least six out of nine on the anti-Israel scale scored 3.4 for anti-Semitism on average, compared with 0.7 for everyone else. In Britain the figures were 2.4 and 0.5.

But this effect’s size changed with respondents’ declared ideology. In America “liberal” foes of Israel had an average anti-Semitism mark of 2.3. For “conservatives” critical of Israel, it was 5.4. Among anti-Israel Britons, “very left-wing” people scored 1.6 for anti-Semitism on average, whereas “very right-wing” ones averaged 4.4.

The causes of this gap differ by country. In Britain lots of people at both ends of the political spectrum dislike Israel. But those who criticise Jews cluster on the far right.

In America, the left and right are equally anti-Semitic. However, American conservatives mostly support Israel. Many evangelical Christians see Israel’s Jewish majority as fellow people of the book. And Republicans’ hawkish foreign policy often aligns with Israeli positions. So in both countries, conservatives who do criticise Israel—a smaller share of America’s right than Britain’s—are often anti-Semitic, too.

None of this means that concern about left-wing anti-Semitism is overblown. The data simply show that most left-wingers who criticise Israel do not dislike Jews as people. Or if they do, they are embarrassed enough to hide their bias from pollsters. ■

Sources: YouGov poll of 1,500 Americans; “Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain”, by D. Staetsky, using Ipsos MORI poll of 5,466 Britons

This article appeared in the Graphic detail section of the print edition under the headline “Drawing the line”

Comments (6)

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was boy in !956. I have Jewish friends,one who I worked with for many years. He is also a Labour Party member. I was a guest at his daughters wedding. I go to Rugby League games with him and his two sons. It would laughable to say I am antisemitic.. However, I virulently criticize the Israeli State for its treatment of the Palestinians,. I believe the Israels have and are committing some of the worst crimes against humanity jn my lifetime. This does not make me antisemitic in any way.

  • Paul RETI says:

    Clearly the Israelis have not responded as well as they could have to the too long ongoing conflict. But to conclude, as Stephen Mitchell does, that “Israeli … treatment of Palestinians … are some of the worst crimes against humanity” seems to me be exaggerated and thus fails The Sharansky 3D Test, and so is an example of Jew hate.

  • Greg Douglas says:

    Paul Ret’s comment on Stephen Michell’s reference to the”worse crimes against humanity” as being an example of Jew Hate doesn’t make sense. The history of the Nakba emphasises the criminality of the actions.
    So I agree with Stephen. Does that mean that I as a Jew am guilty of Jew Hate?

  • Richard Kuper says:

    Paul Reti says: ““Israeli … treatment of Palestinians … are some of the worst crimes against humanity” seems to me be exaggerated and thus fails The Sharansky 3D Test, and so is an example of Jew hate.”

    This is not an argument but an abandoned of all logic. It is one thing to say that Stephen Mitchell’s description of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians “seems” exaggerated. (Personally, I think it “is” exaggerated.) But to move from that to say it is an example of Jew hate is a simple non sequitur.

    I hate pointing it out, but you can hate someone who is Jewish without that being generalisable to Jew hatred. You can even hate Israelis – who happen to be Jewish – without that being Jew hatred. The very best you could squeeze out of it is Israeli hatred. It certainly is not generalisable to all Jews who are not Israeli; and you’d be stretching it to generalise it to all Jewish Israelis, since there have historically been hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis who have been highly critical of what Israel has done to the Palestinians. And why should hate of what Israelis have done equate with hate of Israelis in the first place – why can’t it just be hating what they have done?

    All this without bothering to bring in Sharansky’s silly 3-D Test. One of the D’s is delegitimising Israel and what counts as delegitimising is not an exact science – but rather what Sharansky or Reti or whoever says is delegitimising. Personally I think Israel’s ongoing occupation delegitimises Israel, as does its use of torture, house demolitions, collective punishments, theft of Palestinian lands and much else. And those responsible for all these delegitimations are of course Jewish Israelis. Clearly antisemitic to the core…

    I find Reti’s statement that “the Israelis have not responded as well as they could have to the too long ongoing conflict” a tad understated. Tsk, tsk! Wrap them over the knuckles!

    But I’m not going to sue or accuse him of bad faith and more…

  • David says:

    Apart from polling and historical precedents, common sense tells me that America’s “special relationship” with “Israel” is doomed. It is abundantly clear that the borderless “Jewish state,” which has devoured over $134.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer provided aid since 1948, serves no useful purpose for the U.S., a country now in obvious decline economically and geopolitically. Sooner or later, all nations act in their own best interests and America will not be an exception. It will inevitably have no option other than to cast “Israel” adrift.

  • Tom Loeffler says:

    I support Stephen Mitchell’s original comment, with the caveat that “the Israelis” in the fourth line should read “the Israeli state”. There are plenty of Israelis who not agree with their current right-wing government’s policies, and some of them have campaigned for years against Israel’s human rights violations. Also, to be fair, there are plenty of past and present UK government policies that a large proportion of UK citizens did not agree with (e.g. military intervention in Iraq and Lybia).
    I would strongly recommend people interested in this topic to read a recent article by Jonathan Cook, which puts the claim of antisemitism in the Labour Party in perspective.

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