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November 22, 2018 11:03 am

Survey of European Jewish Leaders Shows Rising Concern About Antisemitism, Growing Support for Israel, With Jewish Education as Top Priority

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Interview

A Torah service at the JDC’s annual summer camp in Szarvas, Hungary. Photo: JDC.

Concern about antisemitism is growing, support for Israel is increasing, and the vast majority of Jews intend to stay where they are — these are among the main conclusions of the Fourth Survey of European Jewish Community Leaders and Professionals carried out by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) released this week.

Conducted every three years, the JDC survey has established itself as a trusty barometer of how Jewish communal professionals in Europe view the key issues facing their communities. In all, the 2018 survey combined responses from 893 respondents in 29 countries – running the gamut from organizational directors and educators to rabbis, opinion-formers and donors.

“We do this survey partly as a service to the rest of the Jewish world, because we think it’s crucial that all of us know as much as we can about the communities around Europe,” David Schizer – the Chief Executive Officer of JDC, a leading US Jewish humanitarian organization with a global footprint – told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “And then at JDC in particular, we work very hard to shape our programmatic priorities based on the expressed needs and concerns of communal leaders in Europe.”

Among the key findings of this latest survey are that 66 percent of European Jewish leaders expect a further rise in antisemitism over the next decade (a figure consistent with the 2015 survey) and that 68 percent “fully support Israel, regardless of its government’s behavior” (a leap of 13 points compared with 2015). At the same time, 76 percent of the respondents had no plans to personally emigrate from Europe, and just under half of them believed that there would be no significant Jewish exodus from Europe in the coming period.

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Arguably the most fascinating trend in the survey was the negative shift from eastern to western Europe on issues from personal safety to media bias against Israel. Eastern European respondents reported higher feelings of safety — 96 percent — than their  Jewish neighbors — 76 percent — in the western half of the continent. Asked if the media in their countries demonstrated regular bias against Israel, a full 88 percent of western European respondents responded in the affirmative, compared to just 36 percent in eastern Europe.

Schizer said that these findings did not come as a complete surprise to JDC’s research team. “We’ve been very mindful of the security concerns in Europe, and we know that it’s the western European communities that have been particularly concerned,” he said.

Since the last JDC survey in 2015, Jewish institutions in France, Belgium and Denmark have experienced terrorist attacks by armed Islamists. “They are particularly worried in the west about Islamic terror, which is not nearly the same sort of issue in eastern Europe,” Schizer said. “In eastern Europe, you worry a bit more about the old-style, proto-nationalist hostility towards Jews.”

Yet antisemitism is not the primary concern of Europe’s Jewish professionals, despite its continuing prevalence. “Alienation from community life,” “demographic decline,” “lack of engagement,” “weakness of organizations” and “ignorance about Judaism” all trumped “antisemitism” as topics that keep the continent’s Jewish leadership awake at night. In terms of policy priorities, investing in Jewish education and maintaining welfare services to needy Jews were both seen as more important than combating antisemitism.

For Schizer, JDC has a significant role to play in nurturing the young Jewish leadership that will inherit these challenges, and will themselves provide the responses in future surveys by the organization. He pointed to the annual Jewish summer camp organized by JDC at Szarvas in Hungary as an incubator for future leaders. The majority of the young Jewish professionals now involved in a JDC-backed social entrepreneurs network in Hungary “are graduates of the Szarvas camp, which we started nearly thirty years ago — for the vast majority of them, it was the first Jewish experience they’d had,” he said. In 2018, 29 of the senior professionals at Jewish community centers around Europe had spent a summer at Szarvas, Schizer emphasized.

Asked what trends JDC would be monitoring ahead of its 2021 survey – a period that will (or won’t) include the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” from the EU, as well as local and national elections in nearly every European country – Schizer responded that “the Jewish people who live in these countries are closely to connected to the fates of these countries.”

Schizer continued: “We have to hope for good economic times and open political environments, where freedoms are guaranteed. I think there are many reasons to hope that will improve in many places, but there will inevitably be some countries that move in the other direction. Antisemitism can rise in difficult times, people blame their Jewish neighbors for all sorts of unreasonable things, and so we stand behind the Jewish community across Europe, in good times and bad.”

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