EU survey shows high anxiety but threat level remains hidden

By Simon Rocker, November 14, 2013
Demonstrators at far-right rally in Erfurt, Germany, in May this year

Demonstrators at far-right rally in Erfurt, Germany, in May this year

The gloomy headlines must have had some Israelis wondering why the planes are not already on their way to airlift the Jews of Europe out of danger.

A new survey of Jews in eight countries, commissioned by the European Union and published on the eve of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht at the end of last week, has recorded a significant level of anxiety about antisemitism.

It prompted Israeli MK Shimon Ohayon, who chairs a Knesset committee on antisemitism, to remark “there are now places on the continent where Jews can no longer live”.

On the face of it, the figures, based on an online poll of more than 5,800 Jews carried out by the London-based Institute for the Jewish Policy Research (JPR) for the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) — probably the largest ever survey of European Jewry — make uncomfortable reading.

The FRA was said to be particularly shocked by the nearly half of Jews in Hungary and France — the two countries with consistently the highest proportion of concern about antisemitism — who had considered emigrating for reasons of security.

That as many as 60 per cent of Jews always or often avoid publicly wearing symbols that identify them as Jews in a country with supposedly liberal credentials such as Sweden is chastening.

Even in the country with the lowest level of anxiety about antisemitism, the UK, one in five of those sampled reported experiencing antisemitic harassment in the 12 months before the poll. (Latvia is lower, but JPR questions the reliability of the findings in that country.)

It is hardly a consolation that, in general, Jews consider racism a greater evil than antisemitism — that is simply indicative of a greater vulnerability felt by minorities in an uncertain economic climate.

The findings shatter the notion that prejudice is largely the preserve of the political right. Most Jews in Europe feel the bigger threat to their well-being comes from the left or Islamist extremism (with the exception of Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party has strong parliamentary representation).

But the survey should not be taken as the last word on the subject, only a starting-point. JPR director Jonathan Boyd has asked pertinent questions, not least: what ranks as a “high” level of antisemitism, and what can therefore be said to be a “tolerable” level?

Those like MK Ohayon who talk of a post-war peak tend to overlook the dismal continuity of antisemitism in Communist East Europe — such as the exodus of Polish Jews in the notorious “anti-Zionist” purges of the late ’60s.

Rising concern about online hate also raises the question of whether it reflects a greater prevalence of antisemitism or simply an easier outlet for antisemites to vent their views.

What some people perceive as antisemitism may not always be the case. The most common “negative” remark about Jews reported by the survey sample was hearing that Israel behaves “like Nazis” towards the Palestinians. Nearly three-quarters viewed boycotting Israel as antisemitic. But neither standpoint might be automatically classified as antisemitism by agencies that monitor it.

More importantly, the survey findings have to be taken in conjunction with other information for a fuller picture of European Jewry.

Dr Boyd has highlighted one piece of data that emerged from the poll, although it did not appear in the FRA report. At least two-thirds — and often more — of Jews sampled felt a strong sense of belonging to the country in which they live.

At the same time as recognising their worries, he said: “We have to acknowledge the fact that people feel quite comfortable where they are — and that’s an important counterbalance to a lot of the narrative that’s likely to come out about this.”

Last updated: 2:36pm, November 14 2013