My questions over the CAA's hasty questionnaire

August 25, 2017 11:35

The Campaign Against Antisemitism’s first “Barometer” report in 2015, which included a survey of UK Jews, came under heavy criticism for the methodology used in its survey of Jewish perceptions of antisemitism.

The 2017 report, published last weekend, shows the CAA have learned from the criticism to a degree.

In their survey of UK Jews they claim to draw on the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s National Jewish Community Survey (NJCS), together with the 2011 census in order to assess its representativeness. The report’s findings need to be considered seriously.

Yet worrying questions remain. The survey was live for only a short time (a period that covered the school holidays in part) and there is little evidence to suggest they made a systematic effort to reach out to groups that might be suspicious of CAA.

The short period between the survey closing and the publication of the report gave little time for the arduous checks and analyses that good survey research requires. Not only did the NJCS figures take six months to analyse, there was extensive discussion about the limitations of the methodology.

The CAA report also lacks the kind of nuanced discussion of the context and the ambiguities that one should expect: what exactly does it mean that one third of Jews have considered leaving the country due to antisemitism? And how does that figure tally with the negligible increase in actual Jewish emigration from the UK?

The report also makes no mention of research carried out by other organisations. This includes JPR’s ground-breaking 2015 paper Could it happen here?, the 2013 multi-national survey it conducted for the Fundamental Rights Agency, and the Community Security Trust’s ongoing monitoring reports of antisemitic incidents.

This lack of reference to other research is consistent with the CAA’s general strategy of rarely commenting on activism against, or research on, antisemitism carried out by other individuals and organisations. For example, the CAA’s very active Facebook page made no comment on the latest CST incidents report published in July.

It is also worth noting that the CAA report was published just a few weeks before a new JPR survey which has been long-awaited by antisemitism researchers. Will the CAA make use of it when it comes out?

As someone who writes and researches on the British Jewish community and antisemitism, my own experience is telling. I don’t always agree with the CST and with other researchers but we talk about those differences. At conferences, in comment threads and in emails, other antisemitism researchers sometimes compliment me and sometimes criticise me — and vice versa. In contrast, when I and others raised criticisms of the CAA’s 2015 survey, there was little or no response from the organisation.

All this is very unfortunate. Research and activism on antisemitism or any other issue is strongest when there is co-operation among those interested in it. After all, no one “owns” antisemitism. The CAA’s approach does not seem to make space for this collegiality.


Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist. His latest book is ‘Uncivil War: The Israel Conflict in the Jewish Community’ (David Paul Books, 2014)

August 25, 2017 11:35

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