European Leaders Follow U.S. Lead on Gaza Despite Greater Public Sympathy for the Palestinians

Internal divisions and external geopolitics make it likely Europe will continue to take a back seat on the Israel-Hamas conflict
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
June 26, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • When it comes to sympathy for Palestinians vs. Israelis, the trend in Western Europe mirrors that in the United States: Sympathy is shifting towards the Palestinians as the conflict grinds on.

  • But levels of sympathy for Israel are higher in the United States than in the five largest Western European countries.

  • The differences within Europe are large and have deep historical roots. The divergence has prevented the European Union from presenting a united diplomatic front.

  • This, combined with geopolitical concerns around Ukraine and U.S. elections, makes it likely that Europe will continue to take a back seat on dealing with the crisis.

If the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a unifying and clarifying moment in the world of trans-Atlantic relations and security politics, Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza was a clear splintering of the consensus. Not only do adults in major European allied countries not align with the U.S. voters in their sympathies for Israelis versus Palistinians, but they disagree significantly among themselves. 

Europeans disagree on where their sympathies lie, but the trends are consistent

Pluralities of adults in four out of five of the largest Western European countries say they sympathize equally with Palestinians and Israelis in the current conflict. Sympathy for the Israelis was higher back in November, shortly after Hamas’ October terrorist attacks that killed some 1,200 Israelis and took around 250 hostages. Since then, however, shares saying they sympathize more with the Palestinians have steadily risen as media coverage reveals the ongoing humanitarian crisis accompanying the Israeli ground offensive. Spain, where our data shows sympathies for Palestinians running highest, joined Ireland and Norway to recognize Palestinian statehood in May. 

Most of the increase in sympathy for the Palestinians has come from shares of Europeans who previously said they were equally sympathetic towards both sides. The exception is in Germany, where sympathy for Israel was the highest, but has also dropped the most. 

Europeans Vary Widely in Their Sympathies Amid Gaza Conflict

Shares of adults in each country who said they are more sympathetic toward each side in the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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Quarterly surveys conducted among representative samples of roughly 1,000 adults in each country, with unweighted margins of error of +/-3 percentage points.

The European Union’s top diplomat, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, acknowledged the roots of much of this internal divergence, attributing it to “historical context, in particular the aftermath of the Shoah, the darkest chapter in European history.” He said the differences had weakened Europe’s united stance internationally. Still, the European Union is the largest funder of the Palestinian Authority and the biggest supplier of aid to the Palestinians amid the conflict. And in general, European public opinion is much more sympathetic to Palestinians than U.S. views. 

U.S. voters are more sympathetic to Israel relative to European allies

While the overall trends are mirrored in the United States (and elsewhere) in recent months, with Israelis losing sympathy relative to the Palestinians, 28% of U.S. voters still said they were more sympathetic to Israel as of the last reading in May. Not surprisingly, there are major differences by party. Still, sympathy for Israel is 12 percentage points higher than in Europe, where the average across the five European countries in our survey is 16%. 

U.S. Voters Are More Likely Than Western Europeans to Be Sympathetic to Israel

Shares of U.S. voters and European adults who said they are more sympathetic toward each side in the latest Israel-Palestinian conflict
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Survey conducted June 1-2 among representative samples of at least 1,790 registered U.S. voters in the United States and May 20-24 among representative samples of roughly 1,000 adults in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points and +/-3 percentage points, respectively.

Despite these differences in trans-Atlantic views, we haven’t seen as much public divergence in political statements as one might expect. One reason is precisely the lack of consensus on the issue in the European Union that would allow the bloc to speak with one voice. U.N. resolutions on calls for a cease-fire divided E.U. countries. 

Biden their time

Western powers are trying to project unity in a moment of polycrisis. The recent meeting of the G-7, which includes the United States and four of the five European countries in our survey,  was illustrative: As contentious as closed door meetings must have been, the public communique from the leaders was supportive of U.S. efforts to bring Hamas to the negotiating table and reiterated Israel’s right to self defense in accordance with international law. 

Some European leaders may hesitate to undercut President Joe Biden in an election year as they fret over what a second Trump administration would mean for the trans-Atlantic relationship, especially as relates to NATO and security. And with U.S. aid to Ukraine both indispensable and on shaky political footing, European allies for whom that particular conflict is existential may toe the line vis-à-vis Gaza. 

Borrell lamented that the European Union has “relied too heavily on the United States in the search for a solution to this conflict that directly affects us”. Given both the internal European dynamics and the linked external geopolitical concerns, Europe will probably continue to take a back seat. 

A headshot photograph of Sonnet Frisbie
Sonnet Frisbie
Deputy Head of Political Intelligence

Sonnet Frisbie is the deputy head of political intelligence and leads Morning Consult’s geopolitical risk offering for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Sonnet spent over a decade at the U.S. State Department specializing in issues at the intersection of economics, commerce and political risk in Iraq, Central Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. She holds an MPP from the University of Chicago.

Follow her on Twitter @sonnetfrisbie. Interested in connecting with Sonnet to discuss her analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].

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