A majority of Canadian Jews feel that Israel is “moving in the wrong direction,” according to a recent poll commissioned by New Israel Fund of Canada and JSpaceCanada.
The poll, conducted by EKOS at the end of February, found that 59 percent of people surveyed felt that Israel was moving in the wrong direction, while 13 percent felt it was moving in the right direction and 20 percent said they did not know.
The survey comes two months after a far right-wing government coalition was formed in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have turned out to protest policies that would restrict the power of the supreme court, and infringe on civil rights.
“Some of the things that were surprising to us (in the survey) were just how overwhelming opposition to the legislation being put forward by the government was. I thought we would have some 50-50s, but almost in every case, on every policy proposal by the Israeli government today, we’re looking at a six-to-two majority, an eight-to two majority,” Joe Roberts, director of JSpaceCanada, said in an interview with The CJN.
Three-quarters of respondents said that they are either “very attached” (34 percent) or “somewhat attached” (41 percent) to Israel.
The poll surveyed 288 adults who identify as Jewish by religion or ethnicity. The margin of error is 5.8 percent.
Professor Robert Brym, of the Department of Sociology and Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, who oversaw the survey said more surveys are needed to corroborate the findings.
“However, this poll provides a fair baseline representation of Jewish community perspectives in issues of viral importance to the approximately 404,000 Canadians who identify as Jewish by religion or ethnicity,” he said in a press release issued by the two groups.
Policies that affect societal change and personal civil rights prompted the strongest opposition, with 83 percent of respondents opposing proposals that would ban Pride Parades and legalize conversion therapy for LBTQ people, while 89 percent of those surveyed opposed gender segregation in public spaces for religious reasons.
Proposed changes that would make it easier for Israel’s government to overturn decisions by the supreme court were opposed by 74 percent of respondents; while changes to Israel’s Law of Return, to not allow those with one Jewish grandparent to claim citizenship were opposed by 60 percent of those surveyed.
Political decisions concerning the West Bank were met with less unanimity, with 54 percent of respondents saying they opposed expansion of settlements in the West Bank. On the question of “incorporating parts of the West Bank into the State of Israel,” 49 percent were opposed, while 23 percent supported the proposal, 16 percent neither opposed nor supported it and 13 percent had no response.
The survey also examined attitudes toward allowing Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s minister of national security, and Bezalel Smotrich, minister of finance and minister responsible for the West Bank to meet with Canadian government officials. Over half, 58 percent, of respondents opposed establishing ties with Ben Gvir, who the survey question identified as having been convicted of incitement to racism and with Smotrich, who had described himself as “a proud homophobe.”
Results of the survey indicate that the Canadian government and mainstream Jewish organizations should be taking a harder line with the Netanyahu government, beginning with refusing to establish ties with Smotrich and Ben Gvir, the two sponsoring organizations say.
“The greatest contribution to people who want to bash Israel or to inflame antisemitism is to hear abject silence from the Jewish community that we would implicitly support Smotrich and Ben Gvir, the radical policies of this government. We need to be talking also about how silence on those issues is a very bad look for Jews,” said Ben Murane, executive director of the New Israel Fund of Canada.
The survey “showed a lot of unity in the community, but a unified voice that may not be represented and not being heard,” Roberts said.
“We’re often called ‘alternative voices’ in the community. We’re not alternative voices, we’re representing the majority of Jewish Canadians. Actually, the organizations that are unwilling to take a stand are the outliers, and not organizations like JSpaceCanada and New Israel Fund of Canada.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which represents “more than 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated with their local federations,” disputes that it has been silent in the face of recent events in Israel.
“While marginal groups may heckle from the sidelines, in fact, CIJA not only has the access, but has used its privileged position to meet with senior Israeli leadership on both the government and opposition sides. Indeed, such encounters took place just a week ago, when a CIJA leadership mission travelled to Israel, nor has that been the first intervention since the Netanyahu-led coalition formed the current government,” CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel said in an email to The CJN.
“Our ongoing consultations with communities across the country put us in a unique position to convey concerns, share our perspective and offer suggestions on how Israel can most constructively move forward. ‘Quiet’ neither means silence or agreement, rather, it speaks to a more effective, nuanced and responsible way of sharing concerns and offering suggestions.”
Smotrich is scheduled to address a meeting of Israel Bonds in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 12. The Biden administration has said it will not meet with him and several news outlets have reported that American officials are considering denying him entry into the country.
Already a controversial figure, Smotrich called for the West Bank town of Huwara to be “wiped out” in a statement on March 1. The comments came after Jewish settlers burned and ransacked the village, killing one Palestinian man, in the wake of a shooting that left two Jewish brothers dead.
The minister has since said his remarks were taken out of context and he was referring to the Israeli army targeting terrorists and their supporters.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned Smotrich’s views, when he visited the UK a year ago. More recently, 120 American Jewish leaders signed a statement saying he “should not be given a platform in our community.”
“These two ministers (Smotrich and Ben Gvir) are so far out of line with Canadian values we want the government to send a message that we will not build relations with them, meet with them in Canada or elsewhere. There’s not going to be a conversation at the G-20 on the sidelines between the finance ministers… It’s not going to happen,” Roberts said.
The situation in Canada and the United States are not comparable, because the United States requires visiting Israelis to obtain a visa, while Canada does not, CIJA pointed out in an email.
“When differences arise, as they have any number of times over the years, both Canada and Israel have articulated their positions and expressed concerns in a constructive way. We expect that will continue to characterize the relationship going forward,” Koffler Fogel wrote.
Prominent Canadian Jews have also voiced objections to the Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms. Irwin Cotler, former justice minister and the current envoy on antisemitism, wrote in an essay in the Globe and Mail that the proposed changes to the Israeli Supreme Court “if adopted, will have the combined effect of seriously undermining the independence of the judiciary, its ability to review government legislation, the separation of powers and related checks and balances, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights.”
An open letter to Netanyahu from 15 major philanthropists, including Birthright co-founder Canadian Charles Bronfman, was also highly critical of the proposed judicial reforms.