Exclusive: Fewer than half of British adults know what 'antisemitism' means, poll reveals

Forty per cent said they did not know what the term meant, rising to more than half among under-25s


Highlighted English word "anti semitism" and its definition in the dictionary.

Fewer than half of British adults understand the meaning of the word antisemitism, according to an exclusive JC poll.

The survey, undertaken by Deltapoll in March, shows that only 47 per cent of more than 2,000 adults understand what the word refers to.

The poll asked: “In your own words, what do you understand by the term antisemitism?”. Forty per cent said that they did not know what the term meant.

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said “education” was the key to combatting such lack of understanding of racism against Jews. She added: “This poll is a sign that despite our efforts to reach out to the wider community about Jewish life, culture and history, there is still a great deal of ignorance.”

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said the results were “deeply concerning” — especially at a time when reported antisemitic incidents are increasing.

More than half of adults aged 18 to 24 replied “don’t know” when asked to identify antisemitism.

Just 32 per cent of those aged between 22 and 37 years old identified it as “discrimination against Jewish people,” while 49 per cent said they did not know what antisemitism meant.

Ms Marks-Woldman said: “To hear that so many young people do not understand the term antisemitism makes the job of challenging it even harder.

“The Holocaust was the result of antisemitism spread deliberately, and normalised.”

Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust, said that one explanation for the poll reslult is that “antisemitism is a stupid and difficult word. When we use it with the media and general public, we also have to explain what it actually means.”

He said the figures confirmed the current experience of CST and other organisations working in the field.

According to the poll, those aged 65 and over are much more familiar with the concept of antisemitism, with 71 per cent saying they understood it, compared to just 23 per cent who did not.

The result also revealed a difference between voters. Only 43 per cent of Labour voters in the 2017 general election said they understood antisemitism, with the same number saying they did not know what it was. Sixty three per cent of Conservative understood it, and 51 per cent of Lib Dems.

Ms Marks-Woldman said the figures were especially concerning in the context of HMD’s own research, which found that 64 per cent of people either did not know how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust or grossly underestimated the number.

“That this new research shows the ignorance made apparent in our research reaches even further,” she said.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “It is our responsibility to show that antisemitism is anti-Jewish racism. From this, it looks like we clearly have a lot of work to do.”

Ms Pollock added: “We know that this country is made up of decent people who abhor racism but it is up to us to plainly spell out what this particular racism is, its bleak history and why it is so pervasive.”

Abigail Morris, chief executive of the Jewish Museum in Camden, which currently has an exhibition on the myths surrounding Jews and money, said that similar research conducted for the museum showed that many people do not recognise or understand antisemitic tropes.

“Most people didn’t know that Shylock is Jewish,” she said. “There is a lot of ignorance about, so these results don’t surprise me.”

She suggested one reason is that “if you are not Jewish and you don’t know anyone Jewish, maybe you’re less inclined to learn.”

The poll also revealed that just 49 per cent of leave voters said they understood what antisemitism is, compared to 56 per cent of remain voters.

Deltapoll interviewed 2,001 British adults online between 8-11 March 2019. The data was weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole

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