With the general election now over, I’m not anticipating any further opportunities to cast my vote on whether the UK should or should not leave the European Union, or the terms of any agreement reached. That ship has sailed. Whatever happens next, we will be loosening our ties with our European neighbours.
I don’t know whether or not Brexit will be a success. However, over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of some of the areas where we, as British Jews, could begin to lose out. They haven’t featured in any of the public debate about the UK’s relationship with the EU — probably because they are not sufficiently high-profile to do so — but they demonstrate some of the genuine strengths of European co-operation from which we may well cease to benefit in the coming years.
In 2012, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) invested half-a-million Euros in a multi-national study of European Jews’ perceptions and experiences of antisemitism, an exercise which remains the largest survey of Jews ever conducted in Europe. The FRA has conducted numerous surveys of different minority groups over the years, building up a unique and extraordinary body of data on hate crime and discrimination that has been used directly to shape policy at the highest government levels across Europe.
The survey of Jews was no exception. I have followed its impact closely, not least because JPR spent a full year conducting it for the FRA, working with our partners at Ipsos MORI. And, based on the survey findings, the European Commission established a Co-ordinator for Combating Antisemitism across the EU, and significantly enhanced the training of law enforcement officers to recognise, understand and record antisemitism when they see it. Equally importantly, the survey provided data for European Jewish community leaders, including those in the UK, to take to government to discuss their security concerns. Many people have been involved in gaining significant amounts of government funding for security at Jewish sites across the UK — the CST, in particular, has played a key role — but underpinning all those conversations in some way were the FRA data.
The data featured again last week, when the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) launched a publication at the European Parliament, entitled: Understanding Antisemitic Hate Crimes and Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities: A Practical Guide. I was invited to present the research that the OSCE commissioned JPR to include in the publication but, as I observed the proceedings, I was struck mainly by the nature of the discussion. There was no debate about whether antisemitism is real, no question about the threat of Islamist extremism, and no doubts about whether Jews really need to be protected. On the contrary, these were all givens. The main topic of discussion was rather a very practical one: what must governments, law enforcement agencies, teachers, activists and Jewish community leaders do to ensure that European Jews are protected?
The FRA recently announced that it will invest a similar sum to repeat its survey of Jews in 2018. It will cover 13 countries this time — up from nine in 2012 — and again the UK will be included. The timing just about works: the UK remains an EU Member State until 2019. But when the survey comes around again a few years later, the UK, the country with the second largest Jewish population in Europe, will surely be excluded. Why should an EU agency invest in researching the perceptions and experiences of antisemitism among Jews living outside of the European Union?
The absence of data from the UK will not prevent the FRA from continuing its incredibly important work. But here in the UK, we won’t be part of it. There won’t be any new data about what British Jews think or feel.
We won’t have these figures to take to government unless we find the money for the research ourselves. And we are less likely to be included in the many deliberations with European officials and Jewish community leaders facilitated by the FRA to the general benefit of everyone. Personally, I think they will miss having a UK presence in their deliberations — collectively, we have rather a lot to offer. But I think we’ll miss their input more — we have so much to lose.
Jonathan Boyd is Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR)