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January 22, 2019 2:34 pm

New EU Poll Highlights Significant ‘Perception Gap’ Between European Jews and Wider Public Over Threat Posed by Antisemitism

avatar by Ben Cohen

A member of Berlin’s Jewish community speaking to journalists at the trial of a Syrian immigrant who assaulted a man wearing a kippah. Photo: Reuters / Hannibal Hanschke.

A new EU survey released on Tuesday showed that two-thirds of Europeans do not believe there has been a significant increase in antisemitism in their countries over the last five years, exposing a significant “perception gap” when compared with how European Jews see the same problem.

“The Eurobarometer results published today shows that there is clear perception gap of the problem of antisemitism,” a European Commission statement accompanying the survey remarked. “Only around a third of Europeans (36 percent) believe that antisemitism has increased in their country over the past five years.”

The statement added that this was ‘the majority view in six EU member states.”

“All other respondents are of the opinion that antisemitism has remained the same (39 percent), decreased (10 percent) or have no opinion (15 percent.) These respondents form a majority in 22 countries,” the statement said.

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The statement contrasted those findings with a separate survey of Jewish communities conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in December. That poll revealed nine in 10 Jews believed “that antisemitism has increased in their country, with more than eight in 10 (85 percent) considering it to be a serious problem.”

The new survey — involving more than 27,000 citizens in all of the EU’s 28 member states — showed that opinion was similarly divided over whether antisemitism was even a problem in the first place.

The survey noted that “more than four in ten” respondents “believe antisemitism is not a problem in their country (43 percent, with 16 percent thinking it is ‘not a problem at all.’)”

Importantly, the survey pointed out that a majority of Europeans believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impacted how their Jewish fellow citizens were regarded in their societies.

“Over half of Europeans (54 percent) believe that the conflicts in the Middle East have an influence on the way Jewish people are perceived in their country,” the survey stated. “A majority share this opinion in 13 member states, mainly in Northern and Western Europe.”

The survey also highlighted “significant differences” in the way that antisemitism was perceived between the various EU member states. “People saying that antisemitism is a problem is highest in countries with significant Jewish communities, and where physical attacks against the Jewish community have taken place, including Sweden, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, UK, and Belgium,” the survey said. “Swedish (81 percent) and French (72 percent) respondents are the most likely to say that antisemitism is a problem in their country.” Both France and Sweden “stand out with heightened perception throughout the survey,” it underlined.

Approximately 25 percent of the survey’s respondents recognized that antisemitic violence, Holocaust denial and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries were “very important” problems. But when asked for their views on more recent concerns emanating from the Jewish community about antisemitism in schools and universities, in national politics, and in the media, close to 60 percent of respondents either said there were no problems in these areas or didn’t know enough to form an opinion.

However, in those EU states with larger Jewish populations, there was greater awareness of how websites and social media fuel hatred of Jews — a challenge that continues to grow year on year. “In nine EU member states, a majority of respondents consider that ‘antisemitism on the Internet, including online social networks’ is a problem in their country: Sweden (78 percent), France (74 percent), Germany (67 percent), the Netherlands (66 percent), Belgium (61 percent), Italy (59 percent), the United Kingdom (53 percent), Austria (51 percent) and Hungary (46 percent vs 43 percent ‘not a problem,”) the survey reported. “At least a third of respondents think that this is ‘a very important problem’ in Sweden (50 percent), France (46 percent) and Germany (33 percent).”

But in Spain and Ireland — two countries where the BDS movement targeting Israel is very active and where between 20 and 30 percent of the population holds antisemitic attitudes, according to polling by the Anti-Defamation League — 71 percent and 69 percent of respondents respectively did not believe that antisemitism was much of a problem to begin with.

A socio-demographic analysis of the EU’s data showed that those citizens who recognized antisemitism as a significant social problem tended to be better educated and over the age of 40. Sensitivity to the problem was greater among women (52 percent) than men (48 percent), and among those with friends in the Jewish community or other minority communities. It also revealed “that 68 percent of Europeans feel that people in their country are not well informed about the history, customs and practices of national Jewish people in their country. This is the majority view in all 28 EU member states.”

Academics involved in the ongoing study of antisemitism welcomed the survey’s publication, at the same time as expressing worries about some of its findings.

“Antisemitism is pervasive enough in Europe that Jews who live there really feel it; they are not imagining it,”  Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld — director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University — told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

Rosenfeld said that he thought “the gap between Jewish perceptions of antisemitism and those of others is a serious matter.” He added that by “calling prominent attention to this problem, this survey will make a positive contribution.”

Prof. Lesley Klaff — a law lecturer at Sheffield-Hallam University in the UK and the editor of the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism — similarly praised the scope of the EU’s latest research in an email exchange with The Algemeiner.

“I am not surprised, however, by the survey’s finding that there is a huge discrepancy between the Jewish perception of antisemitism in society and that of the general public,” Klaff commented. “Antisemitism, unlike other forms of racism, is hard to identify, especially for those who have never experienced it and are ignorant of antisemitism’s long history.”

Klaff said she was convinced “the only remedy for this is education and, where appropriate, suitable training.”

The same emphasis on education was accented by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in its response to the survey.

“The World Jewish Congress is calling for an increased focus on education about the Jewish contribution to Europe and the history of the Holocaust, following the publication of a special Eurobarometer report which found that 1 in 4 Europeans do not see antisemitism as a problem,” a WJC statement said.

The EU’s report on antisemitism was published earlier on Tuesday by the European commissioner for justice, Věra Jourová, at the Jewish Museum in Brussels —  the site of a deadly Islamist terrorist attack in May 2014 that left four people dead.

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