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Might political tensions in Israel transform the Jewish population of the UK?

More and more Israelis say they are considering relocation due to the country’s turmoil. Previous data suggest thousands of them will arrive in the UK soon enough.

Dr Jonathan Boyd

According to the Israel Democracy Institute, 58% of all Israelis now think Israel is in a state of emergency, “on the verge of economic, social and political collapse.” Among those who voted for opposition parties in the 2022 election, that proportion is 87%.

Moreover, just 11% of opposition party voters are optimistic about the future of democratic rule in Israel, and only 2% think that the ‘reasonableness law’ – which will restrict the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to place limits on government appointments and plans – is good for Israeli democracy.

Perhaps even more significantly, 59% of opposition party voters think that the judicial reforms will cause significant damage to their own financial circumstances, and only 4% of them think it will cause no harm at all.

Pro-Democracy protestors in Israel

Three reasons why we should expect more Israelis in the UK

Before jumping to any conclusions, we should note that these data are based on people’s perceptions, not on an objective assessment of reality. And there are often vast differences between perception and reality – just because people think something, doesn’t necessarily make it true. So the recent Israeli Channel 13 poll, which found that 28% of Israelis are considering leaving the country, should be taken with a pinch of salt – ‘considering leaving’ is very different from actually leaving.

Yet despite this, we should still expect to see more Israelis arriving in the UK over the coming years. There are at least three reasons why.

First, the population of Israel is growing. It has climbed from 3.3 million in 1973 to approaching 9.8 million today. By the simple law of averages, a larger population is likely to generate a larger number of émigrés, and we should expect a proportion of them to come to the UK.

Why the UK? The second reason is that the number of Israelis living here has more than doubled over the past twenty years. The 2001 Census found 6,903 people here who recorded Israel as their country of birth; in 2021, it found 15,239. The trend is clear: the UK has attracted Israelis in increasing numbers in recent decades, and despite the UK’s various political and economic challenges today, there is little reason to think this will change in the near future.

Finally, while hard data aren’t yet available (it can take up to two years before departing Israelis are formally registered as having left), there is increasing ‘noise’ about emigration. New initiatives are being set up to encourage Israelis to migrate; relocation companies are reporting increases in demand for services; accounts of secular Israelis – and they are almost all secular – are actually leaving in response to their concerns about growing illiberalism in Israel.

An opportunity to enhance Jewish life in the UK

With all of that said, the main force driving emigration is almost always economic. And even though Moody’s recently downgraded Israel’s credit outlook, Israel still has one of lowest unemployment rates in the world at around 3.7%, and a Human Development Index score of 0.919, the 22nd highest in the world, better than all but eight EU Member States and on a par with the United States. Given this, nowhere near 28% of all Israelis – the equivalent of over 2.7 million people – will leave Israel in the coming years; the numbers migrating will be a tiny fraction of that.

Even a tiny fraction of that number arriving in the UK could soon leave a mark on community life here

But even a tiny fraction of that number arriving in the UK could soon leave a mark on community life here. And they will arrive, if not in their millions, certainly in their thousands, not least because any economic challenges that occur will confirm the fears we see captured in the data above. So we should be ready to welcome them, into our schools, youth movements, community centres and synagogues. If we prepare well, they could be a genuine boon for our community. If we don’t, we’ll not only run into difficulties with service demands but also miss an all-too-valuable opportunity to enhance Jewish life here.

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Dr Jonathan Boyd

Executive Director

Dr Jonathan Boyd

Executive Director

Jonathan has been Executive Director of JPR since 2010, having previously held research and policy positions at the JDC International Centre for Community Development in...

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