We don’t know what Australian Jews think about Gaza

May 31, 2024
Australia and Israel flag together relations textile cloth fabric texture

Since October 2023, much has been said about what Jewish Australians think about Israel’s war in Gaza. If you’ve been reading the statistics quoted in media articles, you can be forgiven for thinking that the vast majority of Australian Jews support Israel’s war in Gaza and believe that the student protests on Australian University campuses constitute antisemitism and should be shut down. In reality, we have no idea what the majority of Australian Jews feel about either of these issues because there is no representative survey that has asked us.

Instead, the statistics that are stated in media articles, provided by both Jewish and non-Jewish contributors, are ostensibly drawn from a survey that was finalised prior to the attacks of October 7, 2023, the subsequent violence of the Israeli military in Gaza, and actions in support of Gaza on our University campuses. If you read these articles carefully, you will note that the oft cited statistics don’t even relate to the Israeli military actions and the fallout from them. Instead, they cite wide support for Zionism and Israel and conflate this with support for what has unfolded in Gaza over the past seven months.

For example, a recent article in The Australian by Mark Liebler (May 14, 2024) stated that 90% of Jewish Australians believe Israel is ‘central to our identity and survival’. Many of the larger Zionist organisations in Australia state that upwards of 70% of Jewish Australians support Zionism. There are several media articles using the same statistics to represent what they believe are the views of the majority of Jewish Australians. These statistics do not provide any insights into our feelings about what is happening in Gaza today, or accurately present the broader range of views within the Jewish community because the data they are based on is flawed in several important ways.

The statistics are based on the Crossroads23 survey, which was open for one week [from May 30 to June 6 2023] and generated 1080 responses. Given that the latest percentage for the Jewish population in Australia is 0.4%, (approximately 118,000 people), a sample of 1080 only constitutes 0.9% of the views of Jewish Australians. This is hardly a representative sample. The sample also skewed heavily towards older Jewish Australians, with 70% of respondents over the age of 55. In fact, only 9 participants were under the age of 34. The survey was disseminated via Zionist organisations’ email lists and social media, to the point that the survey itself states a limitation that ‘those with organisational connections will be over-represented’. This means that in addition to the survey only representing the views of a fraction of Jewish Australians, it does not have a representative sample of those of us who choose not to be members of traditional organisations, may be geographically outside of city centres, or are otherwise not plugged into mainstream Jewish communal networks.

Another statistic frequently quoted in the media is over 70% of Australian Jews support Israel. Again, this percentage seems to be based on the Crossroads23 survey, and again, this percentage is deceptive. Participants are asked: “Although there are different opinions about what the term Zionism means, in general, do you consider yourself to be a Zionist?” Without a clear definition of Zionism provided with this question, the findings are somewhat meaningless. Were participants supporting political, liberal, labor, revisionist, cultural or religious Zionism? Did they mean they support the concept of Israel’s right to a homeland? Keeping in mind the older age group of the sample, what do young Jewish Australians think about Zionism? And how might this relate or not, to their views on the Israeli actions in Gaza? We simply don’t know. What we do know is that almost 1,000 Jewish Australians signed a letter calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza back in November 2023. This is equivalent to the number of people the mainstream media claims support Israel: further evidence that the stats quoted now by the Zionist lobby are outdated and potentially misrepresent the Jewish community.

What these often-quoted statistics don’t tell us is what Jewish Australians feel about the current Israeli military actions in Gaza. We don’t know if the actions of the Israeli military since October 2023 changed the views of some Australian Jews in terms of how much support we feel for Israel’s actions, whether our feelings about Zionism have shifted, or whether we support young people protesting in favour of Palestinian rights on university campuses or not. The statistics can’t tell us this, because the Crossroads23 survey is the most recent conducted and it was completed well before 7 October 2023, and any subsequent military actions arising from that. A survey titled “Australian Jews in the Shadow of the War” was distributed in November last year by the Executive Council of Australian Jews and other Jewish organisations, aimed at understanding the “views of Australian Jews about the war, their feelings about Israel and how they may be affected as Jews living in Australia”. Findings were due to be released in December, however to date none have been. Given that the dissemination method of this survey seems to have mirrored the process followed for the Crossroads23 survey, it is unlikely that the findings will accurately represent the views of Australian Jews anyway.

If we are to quote statistics in the media that seek to represent the views of Australian Jews, we urgently need to conduct new high-quality research. This means ensuring that our research reaches a reputable sample of Jewish Australians, representative of ages, genders, locations, and denominations, including clear and specific questions on the views on actions of the Israeli military in Gaza, clear definitions of all terms (such as Zionism), and is accessible via a variety of platforms, organisations, and locations that Jewish people might encounter. This will take time. Until we have this, we need to stop quoting statistics that are inaccurate at best and deceptive at worst.

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