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