Report finds British sympathy for Israel has risen since 7 October

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Report finds British sympathy for Israel has risen since 7 October

A new survey from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research on British attitudes to Israel in the wake of the Hamas attacks shows support for the state has doubled.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

A new report from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), on British attitudes to Israel in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks, shows that the proportion of British adults sympathising with the Israeli side has risen.

The pre-war level of sympathy for the state has doubled from about 10 percent to 20 percent, whereas sympathy for the Palestinian side has fallen  from 24 percent to around 15 percent.

Nevertheless, says JPR’s executive director Dr Jonathan Boyd, “levels of sympathy for the Palestinian side have been gradually climbing since October 7, and are now approaching their pre-war levels; and criticism of Israel’s military actions is high”.

The report draws on data from YouGov and Ipsos surveys, and shows very clearly that younger people are much more likely to sympathise with the Palestinian cause, whereas older people are more likely to back Israel.

British adults, the report says “are over twice as likely [as those in other countries] to think that Israel does not try to minimise harm to civilians than it does make such efforts; and British adults are more likely to think that the UK should be more critical toward Israel than it has been. The younger respondents are, the more likely they believe the UK should be more critical”.

And there is a clear generational difference on the issue of arrests at pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Overall, British adults are twice as likely to think the police should be making more arrests at pro-Palestinian demonstrations than less, though almost all subgroups think the police should arrest people who openly support Hamas at demonstrations in the UK;

Dr Boyd says that over the past few years, data gathered by YouGov suggest that the population of Great Britain “is considerably more likely to sympathise with the Palestinians than with the Israelis in the ongoing conflict. On average, between 2019 and 2023, about one in four of all British adults (24 per cent) have said their sympathies lie more with the Palestinians, compared to about one in ten (10 per cent) who have said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis”.

Most people, however, (65 per cent) either didn’t know with whom they sympathised, or reported ‘neither.’ “

But in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks there was a marked shift. YouGov surveys showed that from October 7 onwards, “sympathies appear to have shifted quite significantly, at least among the adult population of Great Britain. Sympathy for the Israeli side climbed to around the 20 per cent mark (i.e. about twice as high as it was when measured over the previous few years), whereas sympathy for the Palestinian side fell by a few percentage points to around 15-21 per cent”.

Dr Boyd said that it was too early to say whether this was a fundamental shift — “but this does constitute some early evidence that Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7 may have backfired somewhat in the court of British public opinion, at least in the short-term.”

At the same time, he says, “It is worth noting that the data also suggest that there is a hard core of support for the Palestinians within British society that retained its fundamental sympathies, even in the immediate light of the extraordinary brutality of the October 7 massacre, at a level of about one in six or seven of all British adults.

“In addition, and very importantly, further analysis of these data by age band demonstrates significant distinctions in this regard. The younger people are, the more likely they are to sympathise with the Palestinian side, and vice versa”

Despite this small shift in sympathy in favour of Israelis since October 7, “there remains considerable scepticism about Israel’s military practices”.

The JPR paper notes that “anecdotally, there is a great deal of anxiety across the UK Jewish community at present. The fears are driven in large part by several factors: the scale and barbarity of the October 7 attacks; the close social and familial ties most UK Jews have with Israelis; the dramatic spike in antisemitic incidents that have occurred in the UK in the aftermath; the pro-Palestinian demonstrations that appear to tolerate antisemitic and hate speech; and some of the media reporting about the war which feels insensitive or blind to Jewish concerns and even, on occasion, serves to whip up hatred against Jews elsewhere, whether intentionally or not”.

Dr Boyd added: “With all the anxiety that exists across Jewish communities at present, the evidence in this report provides an empirical assessment of how the public feels about the current war in Israel and Gaza, and how the government and other authorities are responding to it. It raises several issues that should be of value and concern to Jewish community leaders and policymakers. It calls for closer monitoring of public opinion in the future to inform policy on how best to protect Jewish communal life.”

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