British people say it was right for Labour to suspend Ken Livingstone – and they make a clear distinction on what counts as anti-Semitism in attitudes to Israel
A meltdown in the Labour party, triggered by a Bradford MP's offensive tweets regarding Israel and Ken Livingstone's defense of her, has ignited a national discussion on the proper way to talk about Judaism and Israel. What has become apparent is the extent to which the term 'Zionism' – the campaign for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state – has for many become a term of criticism; and the extent to which un-nuanced condemnation of Israel by some on the left has begun to cross the line from legitimate criticism of its government into a broader anti-Semitism.
New YouGov research conducted in the wake of Ken Livingstone's controversial comments reveals that, although people don't tend to think he is anti-semitic - 27% say he is very or fairly anti-Semitic, 29% say he is not really or not at all and 44% don't know - there is a clear consensus that Labour was right to suspend him. 45% say they were to do so, 22% say they were wrong and 33% don't know. The numbers for Labour voters are similar (43% right, 26% wrong and 31% don't know).
British people also draw a clear distinction between what does and does not count as anti-Semitism in the context of Israel. Most people (60%) think that criticising the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic, but the majority (53%) say that hating Israel and questioning its right to exist is anti-semitic.
Some comments made by Naz Shah, the Labour MP at the centre of the storm who Ken Livingstone defended as not anti-Semitic, appear to fall into this second category, such as a Facebook post arguing for Israel’s population to be “transported” to America.
Labour voters are close to average on whether hating Israel counts as anti-Semitic (54% say it is and 20% say it is not), while SNP voters are the most likely to say it is not (33%). SNP voters are also most likely to say it was wrong for Labour to sack Ken Livingstone (43%). On balance British people are more likely to say Labour has only a small or non-existent problem with anti-Semitism (45%) than a fairly or very big problem (32%).