The level of sympathy in the UK towards Israel is the highest in decades. So why are we feeling so isolated?
It is crucial we assess what is happening through an empirical lens as well as an emotional one
With all the antisemitic incidents, the anti-Israel demonstrations on our streets, and the often-distorted narrative propagated by parts of the media, it feels as if the whole world is against us right now. It has been the most gruelling period to be a Jew in the UK that I can recall, and it’s difficult not to feel isolated, alienated and anxious about the future.
Just two months after the last major flare-up in Gaza in 2021, JPR research found that 73% of British Jews felt as if they were being held responsible by non-Jews for the actions of the Israeli government at that time. We don’t have equivalent data for our feelings right now, but the proportion is almost certainly even higher.
Yet amidst all the apprehension, it’s important to assess what is happening through an empirical lens as well as an emotional one. And based on research conducted by YouGov over several years, it is striking to see that levels of British public sympathy for Israel actually doubled in the month immediately following October 7, while equivalent levels of sympathy for the Palestinians fell to their lowest levels for years.
Sympathy for Israel doubled following the 7 October attacks
In the four years before October 7, about 20-25% of people in Britain sympathised with the Palestinians, compared to just 10% with the Israelis. The remainder – about two-thirds of the whole – either felt sympathy with both sides equally or had no opinion. Sympathy levels over these four years were largely steady; biannual data gathered by YouGov found essentially the same results each time.
But straight after the October 7 attacks, sympathy for Israel jumped from 10% to 20%, while sympathy for the Palestinians fell from about 25% to 15%. In short, for the first time in years, there was a complete realignment in public opinion, with actually more sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians.
Over the following few weeks, as Gazan casualties and fatalities began to mount, the picture began to change again, although perhaps not quite as one might expect. While sympathy for the Palestinians gradually climbed, reaching around 20% by early November, sympathy for Israel remained fairly steady, staying at more or less the same level. So whereas before October 7, there were about five Palestinian sympathisers for every two Israeli sympathisers in Britain, a month later, the ratio was about one-to-one.
We need reliable data to shape our community’s future
When I share this information with many British Jews, they are often extremely surprised. It simply doesn’t align with their perception of reality; their feelings of isolation and alienation are such that the empirical reality just doesn’t compute.
But this is reliable data, conducted by a credible research agency. And we are lucky to have it – it gives us critical information, not only about public sentiment during the crisis, but even more importantly, benchmark figures from before the war to contextualise what we’re seeing now. This is not ‘nice to know’ information; if the Jewish community is to be able to respond intelligently to the threats that exist, it has to collect the right data, on the right issues, in a careful and methodical way, on an ongoing basis.
But we only have this data because YouGov gathers it. Few, if any Jewish community organisations have seen fit to invest seriously in the research work required to understand, even in the simplest terms, what is going on. And not just on this issue, but on numerous others too – even on the most basic demographic statistics such as Jewish births and deaths and migration.
The October 7 attacks on Israel, and their impact on Jews worldwide, should demonstrate to all of us that Jewish communal life is not a game. The world has changed, and we as a community urgently need to step up our act. Emotions are high, and likely will be for some time. In that context, having cold, hard data, and using it to shape communal policy, is more critical than ever.