The Independent View: Jewish opposition to Israeli policies

Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2002, there has been significant Jewish opposition in the UK, Western Europe and the United States to Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, and to the repressive measures Israel takes against Palestinian resistance. Jews for Justice for Palestinians, now with nearly 2,000 signatories, is by far the biggest Jewish peace group in the UK or Europe. JJP is a founder member of European Jews for a Just Peace, the federation of 13 peace groups in 10 European countries.

JJP’s core beliefs can be summarised as:

Palestinians have the right to their own state in the areas occupied by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, no less than Israel has the right to a secure existence within the 6 June 1967 borders. Israel must negotiate in good faith to withdraw to the 1967 borders, subject to an agreed, equitable land swap to accommodate the built-up areas in some of the settlements.

Violence against civilians is unacceptable, no matter who commits it.

Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for the 750,000 Palestinians who were driven out or fled in 1947/49, and who, with their children and grandchildren, make up today’s Palestinian refugees. Israel must negotiate a fair and practical resolution of the issue.

Our beliefs are based on the humanitarian values of Judaism, universal values of human rights and international law. As disquiet about Israel’s policies has grown, our beliefs have become common and are now shared by many in the community. All this was established by the meticulous City University survey “Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel”, published in 2015.

The survey shows that Israel plays an important part in the identity of most Jews, but also that, far from there being widespread support for Israel’s policies among Jews, there is actually a wide diversity of attitudes, as one would expect to find in society generally. Depending on the question asked, responses varied from large majorities opposed to Israeli policies to significant minorities opposed.

Some examples will suffice to show the diversity: 

Question % agreeing
Expansion of settlements on the West Bank is a major obstacle to peace 75%
Israel’s standing in the world is being damaged by its approach to the peace process 73%
The Palestinians have a legitimate claim to a state 72%
We support a two-state solution in order to achieve peace 71%
We despair at every further expansion of settlements 68%
Israel should give up territory in exchange for guarantees of peace 62%
Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank 53%
We are concerned about Israel’s conduct or policies 52%
The Israeli government is constantly creating obstacles to avoid  peace negotiations 47%
Israel does not have the right to retain control of the West Bank 38%
The British government should take tougher action to oppose West Bank settlements 32%
We support sanctions against Israel if we thought it would encourage Israel to engage in the peace process 24%
There is a credible partner for peace on the Palestinian side 24%

Even in respect of the Gaza war in 2014, which created a strong defensive reaction from the big Jewish organisations, the respondents split about 50:50 between those who were wholly supportive of Israel’s actions, and those with reservations because the scale of the attacks was disproportionate, or because efforts should have been  made to negotiate, or (only 5%) that Israel was not entitled to use armed force at all.

It is deeply disturbing that the major Jewish organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council continue supporting Israeli policies to the hilt, rather than reflecting the true diversity of opinion among Jews. That can only inhibit people from having confidence to debate the conflict fully, as they would debate any other conflict.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Arthur Goodman is the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Liaison Officer of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and a member of the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.

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12 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Sep '17 - 3:16pm

    Many thanks for a most interesting, informative and calm piece on a most important matter.

  • Miranda Pinch 13th Sep '17 - 4:18pm

    A very good article from Arthur Goodman that I would just like to add to.
    I am Jew myself and a signatory to Jews for Justice, but since 2009 I have also worked with and alongside Jews working for Palestinian human rights within Israel and the West Bank. Just this year I met with Women Wage Peace, Women in Black, Zochrot, Ta’aush and Rabbis for Human Rights and then there is B’tselem and so many more. All agree that the situation for Palestinians is unjust and inhumane and each, in their own way, is working towards fighting their government’s policies.
    I think that this is so important because so often British or Israeli Jews claim that they are speaking for all Jews and they patently, are not; neither here nor in Israel.

  • An important article reflecting the true diversity of opinion among British Jews. The survey shows a worringly low proportion of Jews that agree there is a credible partner for peace on the Palestinian side.

    The most prerssing issue at this juncture is the rapidly deterioating conditions in Gaza, exacerbated by the infighting among Palestinian groups that has led the PA to impose sanctions on Gaza http://jcpa.org/abbas-political-battles-escalate/. The Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, seems pre-occuopied with the political problems of the alliance Hamas has forged with his bitter political rival Muhammad Dahlan. It is suggested, he may disband the Palestinian National Council to shore-up his position and push forward with pressing the UN to grant Palestine full UN membership.

  • I’m a member of LDFP, also US-based Jewish Voice for Peace, fighting for Palestinian rights and the right to boycott supporters of the occupation. If you haven’t checked out “Breaking the Silence”, you should do so. Former members of the Israeli armed forces talk openly of official abuse of Palestinians.

  • Thank you Arthur for a most welcome article. I went on a study tour to Israel and the Occupied Territories earlier this year and my horror at what I saw and heard about the Israeli treatment of Palestinians was matched only by my admiration for the courage of the Israeli Jews we met who were working for peace and justice. Our tour was interrupted on one occasion by the arrival of heavily armed police who demanded to know why we were in a settlement and who we had been talking to. We had been reported by a settler who had overheard our lecturer Professor Jeff Halper, an internationally respected Israeli academic, use the word “Palestinian”. After harassing our driver and attempting to intimidate us, the police drove off to haul Prof Halper off a public bus and take him to a police station for a few hours’ questioning. Our group included a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst and a retired nurse – dangerous people indeed.
    Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly the oppressive nature of the Israeli regime and the bravery of those who stand up for human rights.

    Our Conference debate is very timely as we prepare to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Sep '17 - 11:52am

    Thank you Arthur. I have always thought it should be possible to be critical of the actions of the Israeli government without being thought of as anti Semitic so it is good to hear about JJP and the research about the opinions of British Jews in what must be a very difficult situation for them. Thank you for your clarity.

  • Seems that Netanyahu is backing a two-state solution for Iraqi Kurds http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/14/israel-becomes-first-state-back-independent-kurdistan/. An independent Kurdistan presents an opportunity to redress the broken promises from the nullification of the Treaty of Sevres by the Treaty of Lausanne.

  • Arthur – this is a very useful article. I would really hope that our Party would engage more with organisations like yours in the UK and I would also mention Yachad which has a rather different perspective but is also very critical of Israeli government policies. In Israel itself there are many wonderful NGO’s such as the ones Miranda Pinch mentions and which share Lib Dem values on human rights rather than try to defend the indefensible. It would be good to see friends of Israel in the Party engaging more with them rather than just with those on the right of Israeli politics who don’t seem to share our values at all. Finally, I would mention the very fine online Israeli newspaper Haaretz which is similar in balance and objectivity to our own Independent and i newspapers.

  • Arthur’s article speaks of condemning all violence against civilians. Whilst this is an unexceptionable position, it is also a very partial one. ‘Violence’ must always be contextualised. Palestinian violence is usually random, individual and desperate – children throwing stones, young adults rushing at soldiers with knives or scissors. Its very desperation and the primitive nature of its weaponry, is evidence of the huge disparity of power between the Israeli state and the occupied Palestinian people. Stone throwers, even those who havent reached ages in double figures, are frequently detained for ferocious military questioning. Knife wielders who havent got within yards of their intended targets have been shot dead by fully armed IDF members. And, of course, Gaza has been pounded repeatedly by bombing that has killed thousands, including hundreds of children.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Sep '17 - 6:04pm

    The debate around The Balfour Declaration was excellent. Although plenty of jewish people disagree with the actions of the Israeli government regarding their treatment of the palestinian people, where is the civic demonstrations both at home and abroad? How strong is civil society in Israel?

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