Time to consign the oldest hatred to the history books

Time to consign the oldest hatred to the history books

With Dr Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director, Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

Dr Jonathan Boyd

There is no getting away from it. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report on discrimination and hate crime against Jews in Europe makes grim reading.

The study, which was undertaken by my team at JPR in partnership with Ipsos MORI, found that two-thirds of respondents across the eight countries reported believe anti-Semitism to be a problem in their countries, and three-quarters believe the situation to have deteriorated over the past five years.

Almost half worry about becoming a victim of anti-Semitic harassment or verbal abuse, and a third worry about the possibility of a violent attack. A quarter say they have experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment in the past year, and one in 25 say they have experienced a physical attack. Respondents are most concerned about anti- Semitism online. Three-quarters believe it to be a problem, and say it has become worse in the past five years.

Six in ten are concerned about anti-Semitism in the media, and many believe it has also increased. The overarching impression is that there is a growing atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Europe making many Jews feel anxious.

The ongoing Middle East conflict has a significant bearing on anxiety levels among Jews, particularly in Western Europe. Two-thirds say the Israeli-Arab conflict has a bearing on how safe they feel as Jews, and almost half feel they are blamed for anything done by the Israeli government, at least occasionally.

The picture becomes clearer with the finding that half of those who had heard negative comments about Jews in the previous year identified the person involved as someone with either a “left-wing” or “Muslim extremist” view.
What are we to make of these results? First, the study appears to very accurately convey the nature of the problem, as it is understood by many Jews. Many feel anti-Semitism to be a growing issue in Europe; one that it is becoming more culturally acceptable. Many find it frequently in how Israel is discussed and portrayed, particularly in left-wing and Muslim circles. And many are concerned, so much so that some hide their Jewish identity in public, and some have contemplated emigration.

At the same time, we should be very cautious about quoting the study’s reported specific percentages. While likely to be representative of the communally-engaged Jewish population, they may not be so of the entire Jewish population in each country surveyed or of European Jewry as a whole. It’s important they be treated as indicative of, rather than a fully accurate quantitative calculation, Jewish perceptions and experiences.

Most respondents feel a strong sense of belonging to the countries in which they live and feel perfectly able to integrate the Jewish and wider national parts of their identity. In reporting the findings, the FRA has done an extraordinary job, but as with all quantitative survey reports, many findings don’t make their way into the final version. This was one of the casualties, and in leaving it out, they may have missed something important. The fact that very few respondents feel socially marginalised, and three-quarters feel positively towards the larger society in which they live, should add a degree of nuance and complexity to the results.

It’s also important to put some of the findings in context. While two-thirds of respondents consider anti-Semitism a problem, similar or higher proportions say the same about crime levels, racism in general, the state of the economy and unemployment.

Thus Jews are not saying anti-Semitism is their primary or sole concern, but they are saying – loudly and clearly – it should be on the agenda.

Looking at the UK-specific data, it is clear that, relatively-speaking, British Jews feel less vulnerable and anxious than Jews in many other parts of the continent. That should not let the UK policy makers off the hook – showing better results than Hungary hardly constitutes a badge of honour – but understanding why this is so may be important to tackle anti-Semitism here and elsewhere. However, it is difficult to dismiss the findings in any of the countries.

The FRA is to be applauded for its work, and for investing €500,000 in a study that serves to confirm concerns long expressed by Jewish leaders. It is also to be commended for many of its recommendations, calling for greater sanctions against anti-Semitism, more and improved monitoring of it, more legislation aimed at protecting minority rights, and robust action aimed particularly at countering anti-Semitic hate online.

Yet, the FRA only has power to recommend, not legislate. Thus, the findings are in the hands of policymakers at all levels – European, national, local and communal. And to them, the message should be absolutely clear. Anti-Semitism has existed for far too long. No one should have to live with the sense of anxiety and fear felt by many Jews in Europe today. Enough is enough. Tough and un- compromising action is needed now, once and for all, to confine this hatred to the dustbin of history.

• Dr Jonathan Boyd headed the JPR academic team that conducted the survey with Ipsos MORI for the FRA

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