Australia Loves Its Jews, but Nearly One in Five Question Their Loyalty, New Survey Shows

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Thousands participate in a pro-Israel rally in Sydney, Australia during the 2014 Gaza War.
Thousands participate in a pro-Israel rally in Sydney, Australia during the 2014 Gaza War.Credit: Henry Benjamin / J-Wire
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Australians hold a very favorable view of the local Jewish community, but nearly one in five believe that their connection to Israel compromises their loyalty to Australia, a new survey of attitudes in the country toward the Jewish community, antisemitism and Israel shows.

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The survey, titled “CROSSROADS21: Australian Attitudes to Israel and Jewish People,” also shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians care little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though in recent years their sympathy toward the Palestinians has strengthened somewhat.

Among those who describe themselves as knowledgeable about the conflict, nearly half believe that their government should adopt a tougher stand toward Israel.

The survey was commissioned and funded by Plus61J – an online news publication focusing on Israel, Australia and the Jewish world. Conducted by Australia’s Social Research Centre in late January, it is the first of its kind to be undertaken since the mid-1980s, and involved a large sample of 3,459 respondents.

To gauge levels of antisemitism in the country, respondents were asked how open they were to befriending Jews and to what degree they accepted certain negative stereotypes about Jews. A total of 92 percent said they were as comfortable having Jewish friends as having friends from other groups in society.

More than 80 percent of respondents disagreed with the notions that Jewish people talk about the Holocaust to further their agenda and that they can’t be trusted in business. Well over 70 percent rejected claims that Jews consider themselves better than other Australians, that they have too much power in the media and that they are more obsessed with money than other Australians.

It is a sign of how aligned most Australians feel with the local Jewish population that nearly two out of every three respondents (62 percent) said they supported banning the swastika in their country in order to protect Jewish people from antisemitism – just 12 percent disagreed. But despite their overwhelming revulsion from the Nazi symbol, 30 percent of the respondents said they knew “little” or “virtually nothing” about the Holocaust.

A global survey undertaken by the Anti-Defamation League in 2014 found that Australia distinguished itself as one the least antisemitic countries in the world. That seems to be borne out by the findings in the CROSSROADS21 report.

About 116,000 Jews live in Australia, where they account for a tiny fraction of the population – 0.4 percent. More than four out of five respondents, however, overestimated their share, with 40 percent saying it was more than 5 percent.

This week, controversy erupted in Australia’s Jewish community over a decision to invite convicted Jewish-American spy Jonathan Pollard to a Jerusalem Day event this coming Sunday, which is being hosted by the Orthodox Mizrahi movement. Critics of the decision cited questions raised by Pollard’s actions regarding the so-called “dual loyalty” of American Jews.

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther leave the federal courthouse in New York in 2015.Credit: AP

One of the questions asked in the CROSSROADS21 survey was whether having a connection to Israel makes Jews “less loyal to Australia than other Australian people.” Among the respondents, nearly one in five (18 percent) thought this statement was “definitely” or “probably” true – but 82 percent believe the statement to be “probably” or “definitely” not true.

The findings show that two out of three Australians were “not interested at all” or only “a little bit interested” in the Middle East and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When asked which side they supported, the majority of the respondents (62 percent) said they were equally sympathetic to both, while 19 percent said they sided with the Palestinians and 11 percent with the Israelis. Sympathy with the Palestinians was highest among 18-to-24-year-olds.

Among the small minority who said their views about the conflict had changed in the past five years, a net 5 percent said they sympathized less with Israel and a net 5 percent said they sympathized more with the Palestinians. Among the small minority (15 percent) who described themselves as knowledgeable about the conflict, 47 percent said their government was “not critical enough” of Israel.

Sympathy for Israel was highest among supporters of the Liberal/National coalition and lower among Labor and Greens voters. However, it was Greens voters who most strongly rejected negative stereotypes about Jews, indicating that their criticism of Israel is not at all rooted in antisemitism.

Prof. emeritus Andrew Markus from the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization at Monash University, Melbourne, advised Plus61J on the methodology and survey questions and analyzed the results.

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