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New poll by pro-Israel lobby group BICOM evidence of growing anxiety

November 10, 2015 at 5:47 pm

The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) has published the findings of a new poll it commissioned, conducted by Populus, on British attitudes towards Israel.

The main findings, according to BICOM’s press release, are that “more than half of Brits think Israel is the UK’s main ally in the Middle East and a majority views Daesh as a threat to both countries.”

“Majority of Britons see Israel as key Middle East ally” read one headline. BICOM breathlesslytweeted: “52% of Brits see Israel as UK ally more than any country in Middle East!”

Quite the claim. But what BICOM did not mention is that the only other regional countries included in the poll were Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

The question asked was: “Thinking about Britain’s role and interests in regard to the Middle East, do you think that each of the following countries is an ally of Britain or not?” Russia was also included.

52 percent is actually remarkably low. Israel has been a publicly-trumpeted ally of successive British governments for decades. Despite this, and despite the resources and money being dedicated by Israel to ‘rebrand’ itself, barely half of those polled could identify Israel as a UK ally.

Another key focus of the BICOM poll was the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The poll stated that “in response to events in Israel and Gaza, some people have been calling for a boycott of goods and produce from Israel” (not even an accurate description of BDS’ origins).

Respondents were then asked to what extent they agree or disagree with a series of statements, the first of which read: “A boycott would hurt both Palestinians and Israelis because a successful Palestinian economy needs a strong Israeli economy alongside it as its largest trading partner.”

This argument has been repeatedly refuted, and, naturally, the poll makes no mention of the fact that Palestinians – including trade unions, agricultural workers, and others – have called for BDS. Still, even with that set up, only 47 percent expressed agreement.

Another statement read (and now it gets really funny): “I don’t boycott goods or produce from Israel & find it difficult to understand why others would single out Israel to boycott given everything else that’s going on around the world at the moment.”

This read less like a ‘statement’ and more like a letter in The Jewish Chronicle, so no surprise that 43 percent agreed and 12 percent disagreed. It’s also false: Israel isn’t ‘singled out’ for boycott: there are dozens of consumer boycott campaigns, as well as government-level sanctions and embargoes.

One of the statements, however, was less loaded: “An economic boycott of Israel would increase Israel’s willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians.” Here, by contrast, it was evenly divided between those who agreed (23 percent) and those who disagreed (26 percent).

The response to this statement is a (relatively) more reliable indicator of opinion about the boycott since, presumably, one views with favour a step that increases Israel’s willingness to negotiate.

Only 19 percent of Brits expressed “warm and favourable” feelings towards Israel, with 63 percent feeling “cold and unfavourable”. By comparison, 61 percent feel warm towards the USA, 25 percent feel warm towards Turkey, and 20 percent feel warm towards the Palestinians.

Furthermore, without “an agreement with the Palestinians to create their own Palestinian state”, only 17 percent of the British public supports “Israel’s right to exist as a majority Jewish state.”

This is not the first time that pro-Israel groups have commissioned polls with unintended consequences. A year ago, a joint BICOM-Jewish Leadership Council survey found that twice as many British adults blame Israel for the failure to achieve a final settlement as they do the Palestinians.

Advocacy organisations who commission polls often do so as part of a campaign for change – in order to bolster the legitimacy of their demands. BICOM’s new poll, however, is different.

Israel is already a British ally, and has been for some time. No one will be surprised to find that Daesh is viewed as a threat. Thus what the poll actually shows, despite BICOM’s best efforts, is that public support for existing government policy is actually quite weak.

In line with BICOM’s modus operandi – the ‘We Believe in Israel’ initiative notwithstanding – the poll is intended to influence opinion-formers, not the general public. The fact that this is deemed necessary is further evidence of a growing anxiety amongst Israel’s friends and lobbyists in the UK.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.