A large plurality of Canadians holds an unfavourable view of the Israeli government, which is not reflected in Ottawa’s pro-Israel policies, according to a new poll co-sponsored by two groups that are harsh critics of the Jewish state.
The government of Canada is “biased toward Israel,” and that is not consistent with the perspective of a large number of Canadians, said Tyler Levitan, a a spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), one of the sponsors. “The poll shows that 46 per cent of people polled, who had an opinion, had a negative view of Israel.
“The Canadian government should take into account those views,” he added.
Levitan was referring to a survey of 1,000 Canadians conducted Jan. 25 to Feb. 2 by EKOS Research Associates on behalf of IJV, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), as well as Murray Dobbin and Dimitri Lascaris. Its results were included in a report titled Disconnect: Canadians’ views of the Israeli government vs. Canadian government policy toward Israel and Palestine.
Dobbin is a prominent Canadian progressive activist and commentator, while Lascaris is a former federal Green party justice critic and sponsor of a party motion backing boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Thomas Woodley, president of CJPME, said, “Both [prime ministers Stephen] Harper and [Justin] Trudeau have maintained policies which are highly supportive of Israel, but are not very reflective of how Canadians view that country.”
Respondents were asked four questions designed by the poll’s sponsors: Generally speaking, do you have a positive or negative opinion of the government of Israel?; Do you believe that the Canadian government has generally been more pro-Israel or more pro-Palestinian?; Do you believe that the media in Canada are generally pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian?. A fourth question asked whether they thought criticism of Israeli government policy can be legitimate or is anti-Semitic.
The results of the survey, published Feb. 16, show that 46 per cent of Canadians hold a negative view of the government of Israel, 28 per cent have a positive view and 26 per cent had a neutral perspective.
On the question of whether Ottawa is perceived to be more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian, the survey showed that far more Canadians believe that the Canadian government is pro-Israel (61 per cent) than pro-Palestinian (16 per cent).
On the question of a perceived media bias, among those with an opinion, 45 per cent view the media as neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestine.
Among those with an opinion, 91 per cent accept the view that criticism of Israeli government policy is like criticism of any other country and is not necessarily anti-Semitic.
The report takes aim at Israel advocacy organizations, including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which the report asserts too readily brands criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.
“One of the most intriguing and unexpected results was that, in general, Jewish respondents do not reflect the narrative that pro-Israel lobby groups like CIJA promotes. More Jews hold negative (39 per cent) than positive (32 per cent) views of the Israeli government. Over three-quarters consider criticism of the Israeli government to be like criticism of any other country and not necessarily anti-Semitic. And many more of them view the Canadian government as biased toward Israel (70 per cent ) versus 16 per cent toward Palestine. This may challenge claims by CIJA that it speaks for all Canadian Jews and that Jews in general agree with its narrative,” the report stated.
However, Martin Sampson, director of communications and marketing for CIJA, urged caution when interpreting the poll results.
“The questions appear to be designed to elicit answers that support the perspectives of the anti-Israel activists who funded the research,” he said.
“For example, the intentional use of the term ‘government’ in the first question is interesting and may skew the results. It is conceivable that people would be more skeptical of a government – any government – than of the citizens of the country or the country itself. Asking what Canadians think about Israel’s government, therefore, should not be conflated with what Canadians think about Israel and Israelis.”
Sampson said the question on whether criticism of Israel could be considered anti-Semitic “is an absurd false dichotomy. Like Canada, Israel is a democracy and as such, it is completely fair to debate and criticize individual Israeli policies. Doing so is not anti-Semitic. But denying Israel’s right to exist, applying double standards by requiring behaviour one would not expect from other democratic nations, or singling out Israelis for boycotts, certainly is.
As to the report’s assertion that its finding challenge CIJA’s claims that it speaks for all Canadian Jews, Sampson stated, “Our job is to advance the public policy interests of Canada’s organized Jewish community. We do not claim to speak for all Jews…We carry out our mandate to advance a diverse array of public policy objectives on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Canadian Jews across the country who are affiliated with their local federation.”
“Finally, the small sample size of certain subgroups in the poll renders that data statistically insignificant. For example, only 26 respondents described themselves as Jewish [by religion]. Their responses cannot be used to draw any statistically sound conclusions about what Jewish Canadians think,” Sampson said.
Levitan said the poll was commissioned because “we thought that the Canadian government position on these issues was not reflective of so many Canadians.” It is more biased in favour of Israel than is supported by the public, he said.