Israel attacks ‘hide antisemitism’

The majority of people believe criticism of Israel is often used as a cover for antisemitism, a survey looking at attitudes towards the Holocaust has revealed.

Commissioned by the Holocaust Centre to coincide with Yom Ha’Shoah on Tuesday, the questionnaire investigated how Shoah education influences public perceptions of Jews compared to the effect of media coverage of Israel.

It found that 54 per cent of British residents think that although criticising Israeli government actions is sometimes legitimate, such criticisms are often based in antisemitic beliefs.

One-third of those questioned said criticism of Israel is always legitimate.

Stephen Smith, director of the Nottinghamshire-based centre, said the findings proved effective education is much-needed. He added: “It is reassuring that the public are able to maintain a sense of historical perspective of the Jewish people in the face of relentless and often one-sided media coverage of Israel.”

Nearly half of respondents feel there is too little emphasis on the Holocaust in history teaching, compared to 13 per cent who believe it to be too great, a finding Dr Smith called “disturbing”.

Interviewees were also asked: “Generally speaking, do you think that throughout history Jews have mostly been victims of aggression or mostly perpetrators of aggression?”

Fifty-one per cent saw Jews as victims, with only two per cent saying the opposite. But 30 per cent answered “roughly equal”.

Dr Smith, who is also chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, added: “In the 1930s in Germany the media was deliberately used to demonise and dehumanise the Jewish people. We need to be vigilant against media stereotyping today which, history teaches us, is a precondition of genocide.

“The best protection is effective education, and while these findings suggest that there is an encouraging commitment to Holocaust education in this country, they also suggest that perhaps we could and should be doing more.”

Mark Gardner, of the Community Security Trust, said: "It seems odd that only 51 per cent of respondents believe Jews to have been mostly victims over the course of history; but this may simply indicate lazy thinking about the enormity of the Holocaust, or basic ignorance about the long history of antisemitism."

The survey will be repeated annually to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

More than 1,105 adults over the age of 18 were interviewed online by research company Populus between April 3 and 6.

    Last updated: 2:21pm, April 22 2009