by Ariel Kahana
Support for Israel in EU nations has grown from 38% to 43%, while anti-Israel feeling has fallen from 30% to 29%, Foreign Ministry finds
Surveys conducted by the Foreign Ministry in major European countries show a clear rise in support for Israel, Israel Hayom learned Thursday.
The polls found a rising trend of support for Israel in Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, which for many years were hubs of hostility toward Israel.
The surveys were conducted in 2017 and the Foreign Ministry has spent recent months analyzing them.
It said the positive trend that emerged from the polls is consistent with the findings of other, more recent polls.
For the surveys, samples of 1,000 individuals in most European countries were questioned in two stages, at the beginning of 2017 and again at the end of the year. The ministry said the surveys were conducted by specialist polling institutes in each country and respondents were not told the polls were for the Israeli government.
The surveys avoided political issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Iranian threat, asking: "Would you define your attitude toward the State of Israel as sympathetic or unsympathetic?"
In Germany, currently the strongest country in the European Union, sympathy for Israel rose by 2% through the year to reach 41%. At the same time, antipathy to Israel fell from 35% to 31%.
The U.K. showed a dramatic change through the year: While at the beginning of the year, 32% of Britons were sympathetic to Israel and 39% were unsympathetic, later in the year, support for Israel rose to 40%, while lack of support fell to 33%.
In Spain, 40% supported Israel compared to 32% who did not. In Portugal, 48% were sympathetic to Israel and 30% were not.
In Romania, support for Israel grew from 49% to 56% through the year, while the number those who were not sympathetic remained steady at 17%.
Overall, the European Union as a whole marked a 5% increase in sympathy for Israel and a 1% drop in antipathy to Israel through the year, with the number of Europeans sympathetic to Israel rising from 38% to 43% and the number of Europeans unsympathetic to Israel falling from 30% to 29%.
A Foreign Ministry official said the turnaround in European attitudes to Israel was the result of a combination of factors that are preoccupying the EU and sidelining foreign affairs including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the refugee crisis in Europe, tensions with the Trump administration in the United States, and concerns over Brexit, the U.K.'s pending exit from the 28-member bloc.
"In the past, the EU associated 'the Middle East' with Israel automatically. Today, when you say 'the Middle East,' the average European thinks about Syria and the refugees," the official said.
Another factor is the decline of mainstream media and the rise of social media, where Israel can present unfiltered facts that cannot be ignored or distorted by politically biased media outlets.
A third reason is that the EU "has come to realize that Israel is an asset," the official said.
"We're seeing the same thing all over the continent: The European public has come to see Israel as synonymous with its strengths, such as cutting-edge technology, smart agriculture, the cyber industry and intelligence prowess.
"Israel greatly benefited from several global changes. For over a decade, we at the Foreign Ministry have been making a systematic effort to showcase Israel's advantages, which is also part of the prime minister's policy of opening up to other arenas: Africa, Asia and Latin America.
"Now, after many years, we can see this effort bearing fruit not only in terms of public opinion but also in the economic and political ties that we are developing," he said.
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