Anti-Semitism Must be Overcome

An alarming survey of the perception by 5,847 self-identified Jews in 8 European countries of the extent and nature of anti-Semitism they have experienced in their lives was issued on November 8, 2013 by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union. This, the first survey to collect comparable data on the experience of Jewish people, was carried out in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The data collected the perceptions and experiences of insults, threats, attacks, vandalism, hate crimes, hate speech, and forms of discrimination motivated by anti-Semitism. It also outlines the fear of the Jews who responded to the survey for their security and well-being, and concern about the disregard of their fundamental rights.

The survey findings provide data on hatred and discrimination that is useful in itself. But more important, and with hopeful optimism, is that its publication may have an impact on opinion and behavior in two ways. The general non-Jewish public might take account of and attempt to overcome the continuing obsessions of anti-Semites in the world. The data illustrates the need for policymakers in the eight countries, and elsewhere in the world, to develop measures and actions that safeguard the fundamental rights of Jews.

Those actions can take a variety of forms. Measures to counter anti-Semitism can be integrated into plans to address issues such as general discrimination and hate crimes, prevention of violence, and human rights. Denial of or trivializing the Holocaust or crimes against humanity should be punishable. Those in official political or social positions should not make statements that are directly or implicitly anti-Semitic, and should criticize those who do make them in public.

Policymakers should take account of the findings of the survey. They show that 66 per cent of the Jewish respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a problem in their eight countries. Some 76 per cent also believe that the problem has become worse and has increased over the last five years. Almost half (46 per cent) are concerned about being verbally assaulted or harassed in a public place because they are Jewish. One-third worry about being physically attacked, and two-thirds worry their school-aged children could be insulted or harassed while at school or en route. Over half (57 per cent) say that in the last year they heard or saw someone claim that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the Jews said they felt discrimination during the last year. This occurred in the workplace, when they were looking for work, or when working in the educational sector. What is very surprising is that 82 per cent of those who felt discriminated did not report the most serious incident to the police or any authority.

A very interesting revelation is that social networking has become important on the issue of anti-Semitism. Three-quarters consider anti-Semitism online to be a problem, while 73 per cent believe it that it has increased online over the last five years. Taking official action on this issue is of course a troubling problem because of possible intrusion on free speech, and also because online action crosses borders and is therefore a multinational concern. Nevertheless, democratic countries should begin to discuss and formulate measures about this growing problem of dissemination of anti-Semitism in cyberspace.

The survey conveys information on Jewish experience of harassment. A third experienced some form of harassment during the last five years, and a quarter during the last year. About a quarter (26 per cent) during the last year were troubled by offensive acts such as written anti-Semitic messages, phone calls, and comments on the internet. A smaller number, 4 per cent, experienced physical violence or threats of violence.

Those surveyed were asked about seven forms of anti-Semitism against the Jewish community as a whole. The manifestations were anti-Semitic graffiti, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, vandalism of Jewish buildings or institutions, expression of hostility towards Jews in public places, and anti-Semitism in the media, in political life, and on the internet. All of the seven were considered a very big or a fairly big problem. The most serious problem was the internet; in the eight countries the average assessment was 75 per cent. The smallest average was on the issue of anti-Semitism in public life.

One surprising finding was the description of the people making negative statements about Jewish people, a conclusion which appears to contradict general opinion. Taking the eight-country average, the most anti-Semitic (53 per cent) were those with a left-wing point of view. Others were someone with a Muslim extremist view (51 per cent), a right-wing point of view (39 per cent), and a Christian extremist view (19 per cent).

Why are all these people anti-Semitic? The Jewish respondents gave differing answers on certain opinions or actions by non-Jews they thought were anti-Semitic. The largest number (average 89 per cent) thought it was that non-Jews did not consider Jews living in their country to be nationals of that country: in Belgium this was 93 per cent. In descending order, other considerations were those supporting boycott of Israeli goods or products (72 per cent), Jews have recognizable features (67 per cent), would not marry a Jew (62 per cent), criticized Israel (34 per cent). Those who thought that Middle East events triggered anti-Israeli sentiment which then increased anti-Semitic sentiments targeting Jews as a whole averaged 40 per cent: the number was highest in France (73 per cent), and in Belgium (69 per cent).

Of the eight countries the one felt to be most anti-Semitic is Hungary. On most issues it is rated highest. They include beliefs that Jews are responsible for the current economic crisis, that Jews have exploited the Holocaust for their own purposes, and that Jews have too much power.

Hungary, like the other eight countries of the survey and indeed the international community as a whole, ought to take account of both the details and the general pattern of discrimination, not only in employment and education but in all fields, against Jews. More generally, more attention should be focused on the relatively new and growing problem of anti-Semitism on the internet, with due concern for the tension between protecting against discrimination and preserving freedom of expression. Finally, the Jewish community should be concerned with a particular issue mentioned in the report. Its members should not hesitate to report incidents of discrimination. And it should report them not only to Jewish community organizations but also to the appropriate local and national authorities.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.

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