Report reveals the complex nature of antisemitism in the UK

A study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research finds that while only 2.4 per cent of the British public are hard-core Jew-haters, 30 per cent have antisemitic attitudes of 'different intensities'


An unprecedented study of antisemitism has found that views which could be described as hard-core Jew-hate are held by no more than 2.4 per cent of the British public.

This country remains one of the best places in the world for Jews to live, with hatred aimed at the community among the lowest recorded internationally.

Around 70 per cent of the British public have a favourable opinion of Jews and “do not entertain any antisemitic ideas or view at all”, the report published this week by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) found.

But around three per cent of people hold multiple antisemitic attitudes but are not confident about expressing them, and the report suggests that a “much larger number of people” believe negative stereotypes and ideas about Jews although they do not realise that doing so could be seen as antisemitic.

Collectively, around 30 per cent of the adult British population showed “antisemitic attitudes at different intensities”.

The authors of Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain said it provided “a meticulously-researched and detailed assessment of the population’s opinions about Jews and Israel, and addresses the question of the relationship between antisemitism and anti-Israelism using statistical techniques for the first time”.

Jonathan Boyd, JPR’s executive director, said antisemitism was “a highly emotive topic, and in the midst of all the anxiety that exists about it within parts of the Jewish community, we need serious assessments of what is going on”.

Dr Boyd said the report established “multiple benchmarks against which to measure antisemitism going forward, in order to help demonstrate whether antisemitism is becoming a more serious problem over time or not, and to help policy makers to make sound judgements based on robust evidence”.

Researchers said they wanted to introduce a different way of thinking about the level of antisemitism in British society. What they call the “elastic view” shows that while some people may hold strongly antisemitic views, and others do not, a third group hold attitudes which may make Jews feel offended or uncomfortable.

The report states: “Determining what is, and what is not an antisemitic attitude is not always clear. In keeping with the elastic view, we draw a critical distinction between counting antisemites – people who are clearly antisemitic – and measuring antisemitism – ideas that are commonly perceived by Jews to be antisemitic.

“The prevalence of the former is marginal in Britain; the prevalence of the latter is rather more common.”

More than 4,000 members of the public contributed to the study in late 2016 and early this year.

They were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a variety of questions about Jews, including whether Jews “exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes”, whether Jews “think they are better than other people and “get rich at the expense of others”, and whether the community makes a positive contribution to society.

Questions on Israel related to boycotts of goods and products, whether respondents believed Israel was “committing mass murder in Palestine” and on the democratic values of the country.

JPR said while the community and its institutions focus heavily on combatting antisemitism, British Jews were seen “overwhelmingly positively by an absolute majority of the population”.

The 70 per cent favourable figure puts the community in a similar position to other religious minorities, particularly the view of British Hindus.

The report sought to answer three questions: why levels of anxiety among British Jews about the scale of antisemitism appeared to be out of sync with low levels of Jew-hate observed among the general public; whether anti-Israel or anti-Zionist views were actually antisemitism in disguise; and whether Jew-hate was more or less prevalent among political and religious groups including the far-right and far-left, and the Muslim community.

Daniel Staetsky, the JPR senior research fellow who wrote the report, said: “The strength of analysis owes a great deal to the size of the dataset and the detail that it provides, but also, importantly, to our determination to let realistic and very specific concerns about antisemitism, held by Jews and non-Jews, inform the line of inquiry.

“Such concerns stand at the heart of Jewish communal and national political debates about antisemitism, and the quality of these debates and any emerging policy ideas should be substantially enhanced by our harnessing of a dataset containing over 5,000 cases.”

JPR’s work was backed by the Community Security Trust, which collates figures on the number of antisemitic incidents in Britain every year.

David Delew, CST chief executive, said the charity wanted to be involved with Britain’s “largest and most detailed survey of antisemitism” in order “to better understand, discuss and tackle antisemitism in society as a whole, and more specifically within the key political and religious groupings that are analysed in the survey.

“We believe the new findings, data and nuance in this study will help us to work even more effectively with partners inside and outside the Jewish community to tackle this problem.”

While the chance of encountering “strong antisemitism” is slim for British Jews, there is a one in three chance of experiencing someone expressing a “potentially offensive, or at the very least, uncomfortable” view of Jews.

Just one per cent of people said it would be acceptable to be violent towards Jews because of their religious beliefs, making the Jewish community the least threatened group among minorities. Against Muslims, the response reached around 7.5 per cent, and against immigrants it was around seven per cent – the same level of potential violence threatened against banks or big businesses.

The research process featured what the researchers called an “entire battery” of questions on Israel and revealed that around 12 per cent hold “hard-core” negative views of the country. More than half the respondents – 56 per cent – hold at least one negative view of Israel.

Levels of Jew-hatred were higher than average among the far-right and among Muslims.  While the far-right remain small in number, this group displayed the highest prevalence of Jew-hate on the political spectrum.

Anti-Israel sentiment was shown more strongly on the left-wing of politics as well as within the Muslim community.

Muslims were likely to be two to four times more likely to hold anti-Israel views than the general population, although the report found that 60 per cent of Muslims agreed that “a British Jew is just as British as any other person”. Most people within that community disagreed with, or were neutral on, a series of antisemitic statements read to them.

JPR’s work was the largest population survey conducted on this topic in Britain. The Antisemitism Policy Trust and polling company Ipsos MORI assisted JPR and CST.

More than 4,000 respondents answered questions face-to-face and online between October last year and February 2017 with a random sample of the British public aged 16 and over.

Responding to the publication of the report, Danny Stone, Antisemitism Policy Trust director, said: "Authoritative and considered data like this is exactly what we need to better understand and to tackle antisemitism in the UK.

"Much of the research is reassuring and will help us to develop methods to properly challenge antisemitic ideas when they take hold." 

Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: "This report highlights the disturbing prevalence of anti-Israel attitudes among sections of the British public.

"It should act as a wake-up call for politicians and the media to avoid at all times language and actions which breed those attitudes and give comfort to those who seek to demonise and delegitimise the state of Israel."

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive, said: “Nobody should be treated differently because of their race or religion.

"The JPR’s findings on antisemitism and underlying negative stereotypes are extremely concerning and these attitudes must be monitored and swiftly tackled before they escalate.

"There is no place for racism or hatred of any sort in a modern Britain and we must ensure we move forward in addressing these behaviours, not backwards.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, said: “This rigorous research confirms that despite totally unacceptable attacks, antisemitism in Britain is at very low levels and this country is overwhelmingly a fantastic place to be Jewish.

"Nonetheless, we must continue to tackle the most difficult issues that divide communities, and not shy away from having challenging conversations.”

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