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Israelis constitute the largest foreign-born group of Jews living in the UK, and, as such, they garner considerable interest both in Britain and in Israel. In Britain, the presence of Israeli Jews constitutes a potential boon to the Jewish community, although any increase in their numbers can also place a potential strain on existing resources. In Israel, the decision to move abroad is rarely seen as a completely neutral choice, so understanding more about who migrates and in what numbers, makes an important contribution to contemporary Israeli discourse.
This report, entitled “Britain’s Israeli Diaspora,” uses UK Census data to paint a portrait of the diverse Israeli population in Britain. Whilst it includes a fair number of stereotypical, born-and-bred, accented Israelis who are recent migrants to the UK, it also contains a considerable proportion of people who hold dual Israeli-British citizenship, have been living in Britain for many years and appear to be well-integrated into British society.
There is clear evidence to show that the Israeli population of the UK has grown over time, increasing by an estimated 350% between 1971 and 2011, and whilst it is still small, it now stands at its highest ever recorded level. Moreover, in the decade between 2001 and 2011, a greater number of Israelis moved to Britain than British Jews moved to Israel, at a ratio of three to two.
Many of the Israelis who have moved to the UK recently are in their mid-20s to mid-40s, and are highly educated, and whilst most are secular and relatively few choose to engage in Jewish communal religious life, approximately half of those with children choose to send their children to Jewish schools. At the same time, it is important to note that the Israeli population in the UK includes a sizeable proportion of strictly Orthodox Jews (about 16%), and a not insignificant proportion of non-Jews (9%).
Based on these data, it is difficult to determine the forces that may be driving Israeli migration. Whilst one might be tempted to argue that political or economic considerations are key, the most compelling evidence points to rather more prosaic factors – most notably, partnering with, or marrying, someone from Britain.