Overwhelming Majority of European Jews Perceive Hatred of Israel as Antisemitic, New EU Report Reveals
That the overwhelming majority of European Jews considered anti-Zionism to be a form of antisemitism was among the key findings of a report issued on Monday by a leading European Union agency on the continuing surge of Jew-hatred on the continent.
The 86-page report published by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) — “Experiences and Perceptions of Antisemitism” — surveyed over 16,000 Jewish respondents in 12 of the EU’s 28 member states. Described by the FRA as “the biggest survey of Jewish people ever conducted worldwide,” the results showed that nearly 90 percent of European Jews believed antisemitism in their country was a growing threat; that 28 percent have personally experienced some form of antisemitic harassment over the past year; and that 38 percent have considered emigrating because of the persistence of antisemitism around them.
Nearly 50 percent of respondents who said that they had personally experienced antisemitism fell into the 16-29 age group.
In unveiling the report, the FRA did not seek to sugarcoat its conclusions, declaring that the survey underscored “that antisemitism remains pervasive across the EU — and has, in many ways, become disturbingly normalized.” Numerous quotations from individual respondents that were scattered throughout the report supported that claim, such as the one from a 40-year-old woman in Sweden who admitted: “None of my friends where I live or who I work with know that I’m a Jew…The best thing was when I got married, because now my last name is ‘Svensson.'”
Particularly salient were the report’s findings on the intersection between commonly-expressed anti-Zionist views and activities — boycotting Israeli goods and institutions, publicly opposing Israel’s right to exist, comparing Israel’s military actions to the Nazi extermination of six million Jews — and antisemitism as experienced by the vast majority of the survey’s respondents.
For example, more than 80 percent of respondents said they had heard statements comparing Israel with Nazi Germany during the past 12 months — half of them on more than one occasion — while more than 60 percent had heard the statement that “the world would be a better place without Israel.”
These beliefs about the Jewish state run in tandem with other, more traditionally antisemitic assertions about Jews as a community. Over 60 percent of Jewish respondents had been told in the last year that the Holocaust was a “myth or exaggerated,” more than 70 percent had been told that Jews have “too much power,” and 40 percent had been told that “Jews are not capable of integrating into [our] society.”
In the two countries with the largest Jewish populations that were surveyed — France and Britain — 34 percent and 32 percent respectively said they had heard the claim that Israel had no right to exist during the past year.
Although there is, again, a widespread conception in pro-Palestinian circles that describing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel as “antisemitic” is a smear — an argument often buttressed by Jewish pro-Palestinian activists in the US and Europe — the FRA survey showed that the vast majority of European Jews profoundly disagreed.
Across the 12 surveyed countries, an average of 82 percent of Jewish respondents stated that the boycotting Israel was antisemitic. In France and Belgium, two countries that have experienced murderous antisemitic violence over the past decade, 87 and 83 percent of respondents respectively agreed that boycotting Israel was an antisemitic act. But — contrary to another common myth — the majority of Jews, 62 percent, did not believe that to “criticize Israel” was antisemitic.
The report also underlined that personal confrontations with antisemites were increasingly a fact of life for European Jews. In six of the countries surveyed — Poland, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Hungary and Denmark — at least one in four respondents said they had witnessed other Jews being verbally or physically harassed. In five of the countries — Belgium, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands and France — at least one in five respondents reported that a family member had been the target of antisemitic intimidation.
During times of conflict in the Middle East, nearly 70 percent of respondents answered that they felt less safe in their own countries as a result. At the same time, government-level initiatives to combat the rise of antisemitism generally met with strong approval, with an average of 80 percent of respondents agreeing that their governments were responding to the problem.
Another striking revelation from the survey concerned the identity of those who perpetrate antisemitic violence or harassment. Two prevailing misconceptions — that antisemitic activity is either overwhelmingly the work of the far right or of Muslim immigrants with extremist views — were exposed in the process.
A significant number of respondents — 31 percent — said they were unable to describe the identity or motive of the attacker. “Teenagers” were identified as perpetrators by 15 percent of respondents, in another indication of growing antisemitism in the present generation.
In political terms, the report will make for discomforting reading on the political left in Europe — much of which insists the hostility toward Israel among disadvantaged Muslim immigrants cannot be described as antisemitism. Thirty percent of respondents said they had been attacked by someone with a “Muslim extremist view” (the figure for “Christian extremists” was just 5 percent), while 21 percent said they had been attacked by someone with a “left-wing political view.” By contrast, the figure for attacks from those with a “right-wing political view” was 13 percent.
Monday’s survey by the FRA comes nearly two weeks after global broadcaster CNN issued its own poll querying attitudes to Jews among more than 7,000 non-Jewish respondents in seven European countries — all of which were included in the FRA’s 12-country study.
Among the CNN poll’s findings were that one in 20 Europeans had never even heard of the Holocaust, and one in four respondents in France, Germany and Austria believed that Jews had “too much influence” over the world’s wars and conflicts.
But that poll also demonstrated that most Europeans retained a favorable attitude to Jews, a CNN analysis argued. “In every country polled except Hungary, significantly more people said they had a favorable opinion of Jews than an unfavorable one. (In Hungary, favorable topped unfavorable 21 percent to 19 percent, with the rest saying they had neither a favorable nor unfavorable view),” CNN’s report on the survey noted.
Jewish organizations on Monday expressed dismay at the FRA survey’s findings. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that the report “confirms what we’ve heard anecdotally in recent years: more than ever European Jews are fearing for their safety and questioning whether there is a future for them in their home countries.”
Greenblatt added that the ADL was calling on “all European governments to live up to and fully implement the commitments they made last week in the Council of the European Union’s unanimously adopted ‘Declaration on the Fight Against Antisemitism and the Development of a Common Security Approach to Better Protect Jewish Communities and Institutions in Europe.'”
Those commitments, Greenblatt said, “must translate into greater security for Jews across Europe, allowing them to live openly and freely as Jews.”
In its own analysis of the report, the American Jewish Committee observed, “Notably, those who say antisemitism is ‘a very big’ or ‘a fairly big’ problem rose significantly in the UK from 48 percent in 2012 to 75 percent in 2018, in Germany from 62 percent to 85 percent, and in Sweden from 60 percent to 82 percent.” 2012 was the last occasion that the FRA carried out a similar survey.
In their coverage of this year’s survey, many European news outlets highlighted the role of social media in spreading antisemitic beliefs. 20 Minutes — a website in France, whose government has pledged to act decisively against online antisemitism — quoted the report’s finding that “antisemitism is more problematic on the internet and social networks (89 per cent), followed by public spaces (73 percent), the media (71 percent) and politics (70 percent).”
In an interview with German broadcaster ZDF, one German government minister described the FRA report’s findings as “staggering.” Separately, a spokeswoman for the German government, Ulrike Demmer, responded to the report by saying, “The remembrance of the Holocaust urges the defense of the values of democracy.”
Added Demmer: “That means that Jews can live safely in our country.”