A poll undertaken by the Union of Jewish Students in France returned some bizarre and seemingly contradictory ideas among the French public about Zionism, Israel and Jews.
More than half of the 1,007 respondents to the poll – 53% – viewed Zionism as a Jewish conspiracy aimed at manipulating the world to benefit Jews. Likewise, half of respondents said Zionism is a racist ideology.
Thirty-eight percent said Israel’s existence “feeds antisemitism” and 26% said that boycotting Israel is justified. Asked if Israel was a “threat to regional stability,” 57% said yes. More than half – 51% – called Israel a “theocracy.”
These are disturbing findings. Some of these are not matters of opinion – Israel is not a theocracy, no matter how many French people say it is. Other responses are deeply distressing. The assertions that Israel is a threat to regional stability – rather than being seen as a stabilizing force in a region roiling with instability – or that Israel’s very existence makes people hate Jews indicate a pattern of opinion that is seriously disordered.
But here’s where it gets really weird: 46% of respondents acknowledged that Israel is a democracy and 48% see it as a “normal country like all others.” A remarkable 54% of respondents view anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism and 59% correctly identify Zionism as a “movement of liberation and emancipation for the Jewish people.”
Together, these responses paint a picture of French confusion and contradiction – a picture that would probably be replicated to a degree in other European and North American polls, were we to undertake them. One might be tempted to critique the pollster and their methodology. After all, polling is suffering a crisis of credibility these days and this particular poll is so confounding in its contradictions that it simply can’t be right.
Or can it? Is it possible that the French (and others) are so baffled by the truths and fictions floating around that they could, as a community or as individuals, hold such cognitively dissonant ideas such as the acceptance that Zionism is a movement for the liberation and emancipation of the Jewish people and that it is a Jewish conspiracy to manipulate the world and that its fulfilment creates antisemitism? Could people believe both that Israel is a democracy and Israel is a theocracy? One could argue that different individuals responded differently to the questions, but with affirmative responses to all these questions ranging near or above majority levels, it is almost certain that some people responded affirmatively to contradictory positions.
In fact, this makes as much sense as any other explanation. The poll seems to suggest that the French (and we would extrapolate to most Western countries) hold very confused, bizarre and inconsistent views about Jews and Israel.
For all the work Zionists have done explaining ourselves for the past seven decades, we seem to have a long way to go.