Yachad have been an element of my research for two years. There is discomfort in writing about them, because they are, on the surface, representing a legitimate position. Despite my opposition to their core political argument, I focus on exposing Israel’s enemies, not criticising Zionists I disagree with.
As Yachad’s Director Hannah Weisfeld just showed us all, with her astonishingly hypocritical attack on ‘Im Tirtzu’s’ right to be heard, when you blur the lines, you can lose all your integrity. So even though I comment on them here, I am still going to try to maintain balance and insight.
Following my recent article, three Yachad activists visited my blog to argue the case. In all honesty, I didn’t believe there was much to argue. What they did was awful. I had hoped there would be some recognition of that, perhaps a belated ‘it was wrong’ shrug, acknowledging the blatant hypocrisy of their position.
Instead I faced an ‘across the board’ wave of self-righteous, elitism. Free speech and open platforms it appears, are only inherent rights on ‘their side’ of the argument. Once they turn up to defend their own group’s attempt at stifling open discussion, they justify their actions with lengthy and extremely acrobatic theoretical discussions.
What’s more, I was surprised by those who turned up to fight Yachad’s corner. And in truth, it was the discussion that unfolded, the identity of the participants and some of the strange positions that were put forward, that led to this piece being finished.
This research has been split into three parts.
The first deals with the limited power of the group and the way they take moral ownership of an entire political block that does not even identify with them.
The second part will be released in a few days. It will look at the funding and core politics of Yachad. Reinforce the description of an astroturf group and then explain how Yachad have disengaged from the real left wing of Israeli politics and have entered a ‘post-democratic’ stage built on a ficticious ‘end of days’ scenario within Israel.
The last section will discuss the difference between Yachad’s anti-Zionism and Zionism, analyse some of Yachad’s ‘anti-Zionist’ actions and look at some of the long term effects on those who participated in Yachad’s tours.
Yachad are an astroturf organisation. Unlike the natural core ‘grassroots’ strength of activist organisations such as ‘Sussex Friends of Israel’, Yachad exist solely because of a small number of wealthy benefactors. Don’t read this wrong. Everyone needs donors. But if SFoI had no donors, they’d still have followers, and if they didn’t have funds to get to Brighton to demonstrate, they’d walk there. With grassroots movements ‘the cause is the thing’.
Beginning as an astroturf group, doesn’t automatically mean you cannot succeed, but Yachad, whether they wish to admit it or not, will never overcome the sheer indifference of their target constituency. With Yachad, ‘the self is the thing’.
There will be a handful of activists who gain exposure by being at the front of the group.
There will be several virtue signalers, who are passive but make themselves feel better or look better by public identification with the group. Generally, those in the public domain, (teachers may be a good example of this).
You will also have some that can use affiliation as a personal stepping stone.
You will see short term activity where people are personally and directly confronted (university space would be a good example). Such political activity looks good on a CV. You get titles like ‘student leader’ and so on. Rarely will this self-centered activism continue after university.
And that’s about it. The actions of the group will seem large because it is well funded. The research they conduct (more on this shortly) is a good example of this. Yachad will fill halls at events because it can afford to bring in speakers that will attract Zionists like me. It will also punch well above its weight because some of the core elements will be well educated, affluent and in positions of relative clout.
But on the ground it will always lack the fighting power of a real grassroots movement. In theory an astroturf movement like this could create a momentum but for Yachad the problem remains the natural indifference of the potential recruits. Yachad cannot organise a public protest. If they held a Yachad conference, consisting only of Yachad’s leadership, nobody would show up.
All they can do is what they did here, use connections to get publicity (the Jewish News article), use their core activists to write two or three letters (which because of their individual clout gets listened to), point to their research (to suggest they speak for a silent majority) and use their general polished look (the funding) to give the appearance of a legitimate fighting force.
These people wouldn’t walk to Brighton. It’s unlikely they’d go unless they could take a taxi. There is little point arguing against what is blatantly obvious.
Yachad’s so called ‘silent majority’
So let us look at Yachad’s constituency. In short, it doesn’t really exist, and where it does it is insignificant. What they do is rely on a trick fit for a magician. Let me explain.
The first person who attempted to defend Yachad’s position after my article was the Chairman Gideon Smith. The second, unbelievably, was one of the main architects of Yachad’s recent ‘independent’ research, Stephen Miller. Stephen, an academic, informed me that he was “one of the HGSS members who wrote to our shul arguing that Im Tirtzu should be banned”.
Yet the real highlight of the exchange came later. After I had suggested Yachad had no following, Stephen responded thus:
At least three major surveys (and yes, I was involved with other professional researchers in all of them) demonstrate that very dovish positions on settlements, recognition, Palestinian rights, Israeli tactics are shared by a clear majority of British Jews (who incidentally also express overwhelming attachment to, and pride in Israel).
And here is the magicians trick. Yachad take ownership of everyone who has ‘dovish’ views. They even took ownership of me. As I stated at the time, the design of the survey occurred within a ‘left leaning’ paradigm. Stephen’s clear identification with Yachad’s ideology drives this home even further. But even then, I found I was in the ludicrous position of arguing against Stephen Miller over Yachad’s actions just as Stephen dared to imply my own vote is part of Yachad’s constituency.
I am a ‘dovish’ Zionist. Most Israelis are ‘dovish’. As most Zionists are aware, Israel’s inability to find peace is not due to Israel’s actions, but rather the rejectionist attitudes of the Arabs. I am part of the Oslo generation, I lost friends to the waves of terror, I saw the results of too many explosions, had friends who lost family and walked the streets hearing the explosions, in cafes, in clubs, in discos and on buses. Like many of Israel’s wavering voters, I switched allegiance not because I didn’t want to give up any land, but because there was nobody there to safely give it up to.
As I explained to Stephen Miller, Israeli politics is split mainly on the lines of ‘who is responsible’ and ‘what can be done’. Almost none of this of course is represented in Yachad’s survey, which is the underlying flaw in the entire exercise. Had I been questioned for the survey, my own answers, would allow Hannah Weisfeld to take ‘ownership’ of my political stance. As someone who considers Yachad teetering on the edge of the anti-Zionist cliff (and stepping over sometimes), nothing could be further from the truth.
Yachad is not Zionist Union, nor does it represent the majority of Zionists who would grab peace with both hands if it were available. So when I slam Yachad’s tiny constituency, and in response one of the architects of the research uses the results to indicate that Yachad’s constituency is large, I have just witnessed an enormous con. The sleight of hand of the magician. Yachad’s own research does not support that suggestion at all.
On page 22, part of the discussion over ‘obstacles to peace’ takes place (see image on left). This is the counter-argument to the reported headlines of ‘settlements’. This is the section on what Zionists believe the Arabs need to do for peace. And it is on these core issues, that the divisions on the left wing of Israel emerge.
The research shows that 70% believe recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is a must. 63% say the same over the incitement in the schools. 60% don’t believe there is a partner at all.
So as Yachad engages with elements that are even to the left of Meretz on the Israeli spectrum, these numbers represent a constituency that appears to align somewhere from the midst of the Zionist Union, through the centre parties and into the more dovish elements of the Likud. This image does not reflect Yachad’s position at all. For Yachad, Israel is the one with it (almost) all to do.
So Yachad are picking and choosing which elements of the survey they wish to discuss and ignoring those parts that absolutely reject Yachad’s platform. If you are a left leaning, dovish Zionist, who has problems with some of Israel’s actions, would happily give up land and dismantle some settlements, but feel Oslo and Hamas in Gaza have shown us how problematic and dangerous peace making is, then you, like most Israelis, are very much in the centre. Yachad have *absolutely no right* to claim you as their own. Remember, it is not me making the statement on the back of these figures, but one of the academics involved in the study, who used the numbers to imply that ‘a clear majority’ sit with Yachad.
As someone who intimately understands the nuances of Israeli politics, I can honestly say I have rarely heard such nonsense. It is self-righteous, elitist, hogwash.
The second piece in this series, looking at the funding and core politics of Yachad, will follow in a few days. You can get a notification when the second piece is released by subscribing to the blog using the link on the page.
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19 thoughts on “So this is Yachad – part one: astroturf and magic tricks”
As a rabbi I am always interested in making more and more Jews passionate about Judaism, Israel and Zionism. Yachadnicks often claim that thanks to them scores of otherwise alienated young Jews now feel to be part of the Zionist movement and of the Jewish world. Anecdotal evidences seem to prove the opposite: there seem to be many more Jewish youngsters on Birthright tours than at Yachad events. But I’d like to know more. Has the above mentioned claim ever been tested? Did anyone notice a significant increase in synagogue memberships among young British Jews, due to the admirable presence of Yachad in the (Jewish) media?
(Sorry for the mystypoes I write on a smartphone)
“Yachadnicks often claim that thanks to them scores of otherwise alienated young Jews now feel to be part of the Zionist movement and of the Jewish world. Anecdotal evidences seem to prove the opposite: there seem to be many more Jewish youngsters on Birthright tours than at Yachad events.”
I’m not sure that’s a sensible test. Progressive Judaism also seeks to engage alienated young Jews in their Judaism; would you say that the fact that Orthodox synagogues have more members “seem[s] to prove the opposite”?
(I also find it problematic that you consider an increase in synagogue membership to be the only indicator of increased Israel engagement amongst young Jews, when that’s obviously not the case, much as I love synagogues and work at several!)
If there are more young members in Modern Orthodox synagogues than in Liberal synagogues (I don’t know whether this is the case), yes, I assume that Modern Orthodox are more effective in recruiting youth than Liberals. And that the cost of Modern Orthodox lifestyle are more sustainable than Liberals.
Am I correct, then, that there are no data to proof what Yachadnicks seem to be so proud of?
Brilliant analysis. Well done, David!
It is good that Yachad is being examined.
Any group or individual that takes a stand needs to be both visible and examinable
To many on the ‘left’ (lefty liberal neo-fascist coalition of anti-Israelis) try to avoid close examination as often their motives will bring them into disrepute, as will knowledge of their funding..
Your efforts are appreciated
My above comments apply to all groups across the spectrum, ‘right’, ‘left’ and ‘center’.
Transparency is a must
Yachad’s £40,000 paid for a survey set up and controlled by them and their supporters has been an amazingly effective spend, because they keep on quoting their survey’s “findings” as if it had real survey legitimacy.
It’s difficult enough to get an accurate survey of political opinion even on a straightforward single YES/NO issue– like the recent Brexit referendum, or on which of five or six political parties a defined demographic will cast its votes for.
Yet Yachad has the enduring chutzpah to go on quoting as definitive fact a survey in which this agenda-driven group compiled the questions and irretrievably corrupted the sample by having a small group of themselves and their political allies nominate a significant chunk of the Orthodox respondents to be approached.
This is about as reliable a survey as one on the health benefits of smoking organised and bankrolled, including nominating a core of the respondents, by a tobacco company.
I wrote a critique of the survey and the outrageously unethical use to which it was put by the Director of Yachad on publication of her selection of its findings, almost immediately after its first publication.
One of the most significant unethical dimensions to the use of this survey to promote a pre-determined political campaign was her release of this agenda driven selection of an unreliable survey to the main UK without the accompanying report of the survey and the relevant data till well after the headlines duly parroting the Yachad Director’s selection had claimed headlines in The Guardian and other key liberal news media.
Once released, it was clear to anyone with even basic knowledge of the key requirements for valid and reliable social science research that this was an agenda driven and unreliable survey on a variety of fronts, including its approach to identifying (in fact hand picking one cohort of respondents) and its direction and supervision by a group consisting entirely of people with a deep commitment to the political lines it seeks to promote.
In any case, there’s still plenty we don’t yet know about the survey. What did the letters inviting the prospective respondents say? Did they reveal that the survey was sponsored by Yachad (which would be likely to have led to potential respondents unsympathetic to Yachad to decline, leaving an even more biased group). And on what date or dates was the survey conducted? That might radically have affected the responses, depending on what events in Israel and the Palestinian territories, or even in the Jewish press, were being published at the time of the survey.
In fact, most of us hold opinions which vary according to who we’re talking to or what’s happening at the time, even to what mood we’re in. It’s relatively unusual for someone to have a consistently held opinion that says words to the effect of “I feel “a sense of despair” at the approval of settlement expansion”. How many people actually go around spontaneously thinking thoughts like that? But of course if suggested to you as something you might agree with, you might be inclined to tick a box that says “somewhat agree” that can then be combined with stronger opinions to form an apparently large group of respondents who have this idea constantly in their mental furniture.
The Yachad Director’s response to careful, reasoned methodology and interpretation critiques like mine and Professor Geoffrey Alderman’s was instructive. It was to label us “zionist thought police” who “they cannot bear to listen to anyone who doesn’t share their view”
Even more eyebrow-raising was her suggestion that we were part of an organised operation, which she, the Director of this supposedly legitimate and serious opinion survey characterised in these words:
“another group of people were busy shouting – mainly at each other – that there must be something wrong with the data because it does not reflect their opinions. Self-appointed experts were wheeled out in the form of long-ago ex-chairs of the Zionist Federation, lecturers in education or just “those who do not agree with the results – no qualifications needed” – to try to undermine its publication.
The truth is, because the research was funded by Yachad they could not bear to read the results.”
No serious opinion survey would have a Director and commissioner of research who commented in these terms on critiques of their article. And none of the surveyAdvisory Group selected by the Yachad Director, consisting of Yachad supporters, saw fit to dissociate themselves from her conduct and actions.
It’s a great pity that the Yachad Director and the associated Yachad supporters who were the Advisory Group seem not to have been ready to abide by this elementary ethical principle in responding to critiques of polling which they conducted and interpreted, taken from the Code of Ethics of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, a principle endorsed by all accredited public opinion poll organisations:
” We will correct factual misrepresentations or distortions of data or analysis, including those made by our research partners, co-investigators, sponsors, or clients. We will make good faith efforts to issue corrective statements to all parties who were presented with the factual misrepresentations or distortions, and if such factual misrepresentations or distortions were made publicly, we will correct them in a public forum that is as similar as possible. We also recognize that differences of opinion in the interpretation of analysis are not necessarily factual misrepresentations or distortions and will exercise professional judgment in handling disclosure of such differences of opinion.”
“4. We will not knowingly imply that interpretations should be accorded greater confidence than the data actually warrant. When we generalize from samples to make statements about populations, we will only make claims of precision and applicability to broader populations that are warranted by the sampling frames and other methods employed.
5. We will not engage in data fabrication or falsification.”
Yachad have gone against the grain for a few years now. Today, I ended an email exchange with Dr. Norman Finklestein, the famed pro-Palestinian. If Yachad, like Dr. Finklestein are being altruistic, I don’t believe them and i want themto be honest..Yachad are not interested in the care and welfare of the Palestinians. My guess, is they are very left of center and using the title of Yachad as a platform for left-wing idealism. After seven years of being a Zionist activist, I have heard it all.
Finkelstein is not pro-Palestinian; he is anti-Israel. Small words with big meaning
Interesting Mike. Finkelstein intrigues me. How was the exchange, what ground did you cover?
Finkelstein always argues that everyone is playing the ‘Holocaust’ card.
I think that he is the biggest player of the ‘Holocaust’ card that there is
His entire narrative is ‘Holocaust’ based
Without the ‘Holocaust’ he would have no subject and no audience
yes, the irony of that situation struck me as I recently re-read the Holocaust Industry. Does he shout at himself when he looks in the mirror?
My article in the Jewish News, September 2014, about the Yachad application to join the BoD:
But of course, Yachad doesn’t have 4,000 members. Or any members. It has signatories but no serious accountability to the people who sign up. It employs people its bankrollers and company directors choose. Brandishing numbers like 4,000 — or the 1800 or so who’ve signed a statement of principles that sits on their web site does not create membership or accountability. That’s why Yachad is an Astroturf organisation bankrolled by Mick Davis and his friends of the Jewish Leadership Council and the New Israel Fund. It operates primarily is a private company which has a Board which does not hold open elections and employs people. Have you ever seen an advertisement for a Yachad post? It also has a Yachad charity– established only in November 2015 with the very same trustees as the company board members. This is a nifty little arrangement which enables them to get tax refunds and various other helpful privileges for anything they can call non political work (they handily have a couple of eminent lawyers on their board/trustees who no doubt help them keep that kosher). And Yachad the Company can be as political as it likes. All legal. Ain’t that grand? http://yachad.org.uk/about-us/staff/
My submitted article said 2,000 signatories to their mission statement ( if even that’s true), NOT 4,000 members.
That’s newspaper accuracy for you!
Don’t let the thought police stifle your freedom – click the link and come along to hear for yourself what the group Yachad tried to silence has to say: http://bit.ly/C4TSalon5
Excellent analyses by all.
Great piece, David. Especially clear is your point that if Yachad were truly concerned for the welfare of Palestinians, their focus would be considerably different. This excellent piece by Khaled Abu Toameh illustrates just some of the concerns they might have: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/8821/palestinians-syria. Keep up the superb work.
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