‘Israel is UK’s strongest ally in Middle East’ – BICOM study finds

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestine demonstrators protest outside Downing Street in London, Britain September 9, 2015. © Toby Melville
Israel is the UK’s strongest ally in the Middle East, according to a poll conducted by the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), a controversial lobby group.

Some 57 percent of Brits consider Israel to be the UK’s leading ally in the Middle East, an increase on 52 percent from last year.

The BICOM study found that most Brits support Israel and the country’s official positions on key issues such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Balfour declaration.

BICOM has been accused of being a “sophisticated” pro-Israel lobby group seeking to “cultivate elite opinion” in the UK. Its online survey, which is conducted annually, involved more than 2,000 British adults.

Fifty-six percent of those polled said they thought boycotting Israel hurt both Palestinians and Israelis.

The study also found that 51 percent do not boycott Israeli goods and do not understand why anyone would.

BICOM chief executive James Sorene said: “Our poll shows a very significant shift against the idea of boycotting Israel. The majority opposing it has increased by as much as eight per cent over the past year.”

Forty-eight percent of those polled agreed with the statement: “Hating Israel and questioning its right to exist is antisemitic.” Some 20 percent disagreed.

Polling also found more Brits feel warm towards Israelis (24 percent) than Palestinians (20 percent) and that most Brits (43 percent) believe the British government was right to issue the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

The controversial declaration was a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild – head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland – that promised to support the idea of a Jewish homeland in historical Palestine as long as the rights of existing non-Jewish communities were not “prejudiced.”

Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, said: “Today’s results affirm the strong ties between our two countries. It is encouraging that, more than ever, Britons view Israel as their strongest ally in the region. Equally important, most people correctly believe that demonization of Israel is, in fact, anti-Semitic, and must not be tolerated.

According to a 2013 Spinwatch study conducted by UK-based academics and journalists, BICOM owes its existence to arms trade with Israel.

The report, titled ‘The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre: Giving peace a chance?’ states that BICOM’s principal donor is Poju Zabludowicz, the son of Finnish arms magnet Shlomo Zabludowicz.

While BICOM initially sought to influence public opinion, it later changed its strategy to “insulate elites from what it sees as the negative opinions about Israel,” according to the Spinwatch report.