Western European attitudes to Jews: Report on a major study

Against the background of diminishing religious identity, it is interesting to analyze what remains of Christian hostility toward Jews in Western Europe - and that of the general population.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld , | updated: 15:45

Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

"Christian identity in Western Europe is associated with higher levels of negative sentiment toward immigrants and religious minorities. On balance, self-identified Christians – whether they attend church or not – are more likely than religiously unaffiliated people to express negative views of immigrants, as well as of Muslims and Jews."

This is a key conclusion of a major new study by a leading US-based research organization, the Pew Research Center. The study, titled Being Christian in Western Europe, covers 15 countries, which represent almost all of Western Europe. Besides Christian positions, the report also contains information about attitudes of the general population.

From this important report, it can be seen that participation levels in Christianity have greatly decreased in the past decades. Ninety one percent of the Western European population have been baptized and 81% were raised Christian; however only 71% self-define as Christians while only 22% attend at least one service monthly.

There are now far more religiously unaffiliated people than church-attending Christians in Western Europe.  In one country, the Netherlands, the 48% religiously unaffiliated even exceeds the combined number of church-attending and non-practicing Christians, 41%.  

Christianity has been the moving force behind what can be called the Thousand-Year Empire of European anti-Semitism. It has laid a huge long-lasting theological infrastructure of hatemongering toward Jews. On this basis, Germany was able to promote its Nazi ideology and carry out the Holocaust.

Against this background, it is interesting to analyze what remains of Christian hostility toward Jews in Western Europe and what other facts can be gleaned regarding Christian attitudes toward Jews from the study.  

The study found that "Christians at all levels of religious observance are more likely than religiously unaffiliated adults to be unwilling to accept Jews in their family." They are also "somewhat more likely to agree with anti-Semitic statements about Jews, such as: 'Jews always pursue their own interests and not the interests of the country they live in'."

Another important finding is that there is a partial overlap between those Christians who express negative attitudes toward Muslims and those who have such attitudes toward Jews.


In all countries surveyed, the percentages of those who personally know a Muslim are substantially higher than those who know a Jew.
The Pew study also mentions the attitudes of the general population in Western Europe toward Jews. This issue was previously investigated in the major ADL GLOBAL 100 study. Its research was updated in 2015 covering eight of the countries included in the new Pew study.

From the latter study among the 15 countries surveyed, only in two, France and the UK, did more than half of the general population – both 55% -- say they personally know someone who is Jewish. These are the two Western European countries where the number of Jewish citizens is highest. In Switzerland, 50% of the population say that they personally know someone who is Jewish. In all countries surveyed, the percentages of those who personally know a Muslim are substantially higher than those who know a Jew. This is not surprising as the Muslim population is far greater than the Jewish population in all countries surveyed. With the exception of Norwaym a significant majority of the population in all other countries say that they know “not too much or nothing at all about Judaism.”

There are still substantial numbers of Western Europeans who are unwilling to accept Jews as members of their family. A rough estimate is that this is the case with more than 50 million adults in the countries surveyed. The highest percentage figures are found in Italy with 25%, the UK with 23% and Austria with 21%. On the other hand, in the Netherlands and Norway the percentage is 3%. Among Church-going Christians in Western Europe the figure is 14%, among non-Church- going Christians it is 19% and among the non-religiously affiliated it is 7%

The general population was also polled as to whether they would be willing to accept Jews as a neighbor. Surprisingly, the figures are highest in some countries where Jews are less than 1/10th of one percent of the population. Starting with Italy where 12% of the general population is not willing to have a Jew as a neighbor, followed by Portugal and Ireland at 10%.  

Anti-Semitic prejudices are still widespread in Western Europe. One question asked by pollsters was whether people agree with the statement "Jews always pursue their own interests and not the interests of the country they live in." Approximately 50 million Western Europeans agree with this claim. In Portugal the prejudice is highest, There 36% of the population agree. This was equal to the number of those who disagree. In all other countries, the percentage of those who disagree with this statement is higher than the percentage that agrees. Yet in Spain this is barely so, 32% agree and 34% disagree. There is no country in Western Europe where less than 13% of the population agrees with this anti-Semitic prejudice.

In addition, the prejudice that Jews "always overstate how much they have suffered" is held by tens of millions of Western Europeans. In each of the countries investigated the percentage of those disagreeing with the statement is substantially higher than those agreeing. Yet in Italy 36% hold this prejudice, 33% in Portugal, while in Spain the figure is 30%.

Additional insights in yet another anti-Semitic attitude comes from an earlier ADL research. A 2005 poll asked citizens of some West-European countries whether Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Nineteen percent of Belgians, 21% of Danes, and 19% of Swiss polled answered affirmatively.

A 2012 ADL poll asked the same question in various other countries. It found that among those polled, 18% of Austrians, 14% of Germans, 38% of Hungarians, 15% of Italians, 16% of Dutch, 19% of Norwegians, 46% of Poles, 21% of Spaniards, and 18% of the citizens of the United Kingdom believed this fallacy.

Agreeing with this statement is a stereotypical example of anti-Semitism. The figures are the more shocking as one would assume that the significant percentages of non- religiously affiliated do not hold this belief.

The European Union claims that it is fighting anti-Semitism. If it were serious about this issue it would order a major study on the extent of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in its 28 member states. It would also investigate how the resulting figures break down between Christians, Muslims and religiously non-affiliated.

To tackle the anti-Semitism issue seriously, one would also have to obtain insights into the attitudes of supporters of the extreme right and the extreme left.








top