A survey of Jewish Canadians indicates that we are not a Zionist monolith. This will be news to no one who has enjoyed a family seder or logged onto social media in recent years. However, it is useful to have a fairly comprehensive public opinion survey on the range of issues that tend to most divide us.
For some, the organizations that co-sponsored the survey will lead to outright dismissal. Undertaken by the polling firm EKOS on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) and (UJPO), the goal of the exercise was no doubt to show considerable support for the positions espoused by these two groups that are routinely critical of Israeli policies.
By and large, though, the methodologies of the survey appear to have been relatively unbiased, and to ignore the findings is to bury our heads in sand.
Almost half (48%) of Jewish Canadians surveyed believe that “accusations of antisemitism are often used to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.” More than one-third (37%) have a negative opinion of the Israeli government. On the matter of the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, 45% oppose and 42% support the move. Nearly one-third (30%) think that a boycott of Israel is reasonable and 34% also oppose Parliament condemning those who endorse such a boycott. Almost one in three (31%) oppose the military blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The sponsors of the survey see the results as evidence that Jews whose positions are often dismissed as marginal actually represent a large swath of Canadian Jewish opinion.
We quibble with aspects. One question asks: “In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled unanimously that the wall built by the Israeli government on Palestinian territory violates international law. In response, one year later, over 170 Palestinian citizens’ organizations called for a boycott to pressure Israel to abide by international law. Do you consider the Palestinians’ call for such a boycott to be reasonable?” It may be a bit much to ask someone answering a phone at dinnertime to disagree with something called the International Court of Justice and 170 Palestinian organizations. Overall, though, most of the questions were not misleading nor did they have preambles intended to lead the respondents, as did this one. The survey does, nonetheless, reflect a prevailing narrative that Israel has no legitimate security concerns and erects barriers along the West Bank and blockades Gaza just for fun. But that is the playing field we are on.
Whatever criticisms or doubts we might have about the survey should not distract us from the reality it means to deliver. There are serious divisions between Diaspora Jews and the approach of the government of Israel. Ignoring, papering over or stigmatizing these differences of opinion will harm both Jewish cohesion in the Diaspora and crucial support for Israel. As we have said in this space many times over the years, Israel’s leaders must make decisions based on its security needs, not on what makes it easier for Diaspora Jews to be proud Zionists. However, we do Israel and our own community a disservice by isolating and denouncing those who disagree with the positions of our main communal agencies.
An election is approaching in Israel and that could lead to more of the same or to a significant shift in policy – or to some sort of hybrid between the two. Things change quickly, particularly in that part of the world, and what is true in a survey today may not be true in a year or five.
Even if Israeli policies remain largely the same after April’s election, it is probably not a sustainable position for Canadian or other Diaspora Jewish communities to pretend that a (seemingly) growing chorus of dissent is nonexistent, insignificant, misguided or ill-willed. That is a recipe for irrelevance, particularly among younger Jews.
In fairness, the idea that the Jewish “establishment” is a monolith is an unjust characterization. A diversity of opinions exists in our communal organizations and, certainly, in the plethora of traditional media (like this one) and new media (blogs, online publications and social platforms), a million flowers bloom. So, we challenge the premise that our community enforces a strict ideological membership code. But, we definitely could be better at acknowledging the full range of diversity – even if that means arguing and contesting positions, or even shifting our communal narrative. Indeed, that is entirely in keeping with our community’s tradition.
The survey raises questions we rightfully should be addressing.