Andrew Baker

A recent study into rising antisemitism in Europe ignores the role of Muslim migrants

The Pears Institute-EVZ Foundation report is a case of burying one's head in the sand, the AJC's Andrew Baker says

May 24, 2018 15:16

Reports of rising antisemitism in Europe—ranging from the horrific murder of an elderly Holocaust survivor in her Paris apartment to a kippah-wearing young man being assaulted on the streets of Berlin to innumerable lesser indignities recounted on social media—are distressing.

In many cases the perpetrators appear to be Muslim. But do we know this for a fact, and if so what should be done about it? Does the recent surge in immigration from Muslim countries further endanger European Jews?

A recent study by the Pears Institute at the University of London and the EVZ Foundation in Germany purports to offer guidance. This five-nation analysis, entitled “Antisemitism and Immigration in Western Europe Today: Is there a connection?” focuses on immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa now living in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, rather than analyse existing data, define the extent of the problem, and offer targeted recommendations on how to deal with it, Professor David Feldman and a team of researchers ignore the data, dismiss the problem, and blame the victims.

There is substantial anecdotal evidence that many antisemitic incidents in recent years, including physical threats and violence, can be traced to certain sectors of the Muslim community, although until recently most governments have been reluctant to acknowledge this.

In the ground-breaking 2013 EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) survey of Jews in eight EU countries, respondents said that about 40 per cent of the most serious incidents of physical violence or threats that they witnessed or experienced came from “someone with a Muslim extremist view”.

By contrast, “someone with a left-wing political view” accounted for 14 per cent of incidents, and “someone with a right-wing political view” accounted for only 10 per cent. A number of monitoring organizations established by Jewish communities in those countries provided a similar picture.

But the Pears study dismissed these direct experiences of European Jews themselves as mere perceptions. For good measure, the researchers remind us of popular fears of Islamist terrorist attacks and cite the anti-Muslim rhetoric of extremist political parties. They conclude that those Jewish perceptions have little relationship with any “objective threat carried by immigrants.”

However, the available data is quite clear: all the recent surveys measuring this phenomenon find that Muslims exhibit higher levels of anti-Jewish sentiment than the general population.

If government data does not always corroborate the FRA report findings that a high percentage of antisemitic incidents are carried out by Muslims, it does not refute them. Some countries do not record information on perpetrators or do not include religion or ethnicity as a category. And in some places, giving a Nazi salute or shouting Nazi slogans will be recorded as antisemitism from the far-right, even if Muslims are the actual perpetrators. 

But, remarkably, instead of confronting these results, the Pears researchers take pains to discount them. Thus they assert that Muslims are still a small minority in Europe; that antisemitic attitudes do not automatically translate into antisemitic actions; and that a “good deal of antisemitic behavior is antisocial and opportunistic in nature without any clear ideological or religious motive.”

But if so much antisemitic prejudice is just “antisocial” and “opportunistic,” why bother studying it at all?

In striking contrast, they consider the discrimination that Muslims experience in Europe today a very serious matter and maintain that it accounts for the very prejudices against others that this minority may harbour.

By the Pears logic, Muslims are the victims of a “thwarted integration” that in turn has become “a driver of anti-Semitism among some Muslims.” In other words, because European societies have not welcomed Muslims, Muslims have come to hate Jews. 

Rationalising this questionable observation, the Pears study observes: “It should be possible for us to acknowledge the significance of discrimination and grievance in giving meaning to anti-Semitism among some Muslims without at the same time legitimizing anti-Semitism and without denying the significance of the ethical and political choices made by individuals.”

With this single sentence, these researchers of antisemitism have upended everything we know about fighting antisemitism as well as other forms of prejudice: namely, one must not justify antisemitism, and individuals must be held responsible for their actions.

According to the Pears researchers, far-left, far-right, racists, bigots, xenophobes – all can and must be held accountable. But Muslims? Since they’re victims of prejudice, they should be excused.

As for recommendations, if Muslims cannot be blamed for their antisemitism, then the work must be done by someone else. General prejudice-reduction programs are good, the authors say, provided Muslims are not singled out as a target nor antisemitism as a problem.

There should be more positive Jewish-Muslim projects as a “counterweight to the negative stereotypes,” and so Jewish leaders will need to step forward. And then there is one final—and truly outlandish—proposal: “to examine the attitudes of Jews to Muslims.” 

Would anyone suggest that to combat racism or homophobia we must poll their victims about the prejudices they may harbour toward others?

Why then is it “appropriate” and what would we learn by measuring the attitudes of Jews toward Muslims if we are trying to understand the source of antisemitism? This only makes sense to those who blame Jews for antisemitism. One might expect as much from antisemites.

But who could have imagined hearing this warped assessment from respected researchers of antisemitism?

Fortunately, there has been slow but steady progress in getting European authorities to recognize that an inordinate number of antisemitic incidents and heightened anti-Jewish attitudes can be traced to Muslim communities.

Some of the first studies of recently-arrived Muslim immigrants conducted in Germany, including one commissioned by the Interior Ministry, show them to hold antisemitic views.

Governments are scrambling to determine what might work with this special segment of the population. In the interim they will be well-advised to ignore this Pears study.

Burying your head in the sand is rarely good advice, even if it comes in a fifty-page package with footnotes.

Rabbi Andrew Baker is the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs

May 24, 2018 15:16

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