Only half of Europeans think anti-Semitism is an important problem
Only half of Europeans think anti-Semitism is an important problem

In recent months substantial attention has been given to how European Jews perceive anti-Semitism in their countries. The main reason for this was the December 2018 publication, Experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. There were also more limited reports on the same subject in the past months in The Netherlands and Bavaria.

A new study in the Eurobarometer series of the European Commission complements the understanding of the anti-Semitism in the European Union. Eurobarometer publication 484, published in January 2019, based on field work in the prior month is titled Perceptions of anti-Semitism. It studies perceptions of anti-Semitism in the EU population.

Fifty percent of the respondents in the 28 EU countries think that anti-Semitism is a problem in their country. These include fifteen percent who consider it a very important problem. Yet forty three percent believe anti-Semitism is not a problem in their country of which sixteen percent think it is not a problem at all.

For a better analysis of the perception of anti-Semitism one has to focus on the figures of countries individually.

Sweden is where the largest part of the general population – 80% – think that anti-Semitism is a problem. Of these, 37% consider that it is a very important problem. Indeed extreme antisemitic realities exist in Sweden. The Jewish community in Umea was dissolved because of threats by neo-Nazis, a unique event in the EU. In Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö, hundreds of complaints about anti-Semitism have not led to any condemnations by courts. Yet, many people in the Western world wrongly consider ultraliberal Sweden to be as close as possible to a model country.

France is next in line. There, 72% of citizens think that anti-Semitism is an important problem, of which 27% consider it a very important problem. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe agreed. He said in February: “anti-Semitism is very deeply rooted in French society. That is a fact even if one would like to think the opposite.”

Germany has 66% of citizens who think that anti-Semitism is an important problem of which only 23% think that it a very important problem. In view of the many incidents there, the publicity these receive and the statements about anti-Semitism of leading politicians, these figures are low. Next in line, is the Netherlands where 65% of people think that anti-Semitism is an important problem, of which 14% think it is a very important problem.

The UK follows, with 62% who think that it is an important problem. Though If one ranks these countries by the percentage of people who consider anti-Semitism a very important problem, the UK with 24% would come before the Netherlands and even before Germany. This is probably the result of the large publicity given to the tenacious anti-Semitism within the Labour party and the unwillingness of its leader Jeremy Corbyn, -- himself at least a part-time antisemite -- to act decisively against it.

Italy is the only other country above the EU average  where 58% of respondents think that anti-Semitism is an important problem. Of these, 16% think it is a very important problem.

Poland should be given special attention, among other EU countries.. From the findings of the study it becomes clear that a large part of its population is in denial. Forty one percent of Poles think that anti-Semitism in their country is a problem. Only 5% think that it is a very important problem.

The number of problematic aspects concerning both Jews and Israel in contemporary Poland is huge. A study by the University of Bielefeld published in 2011 found that 63% of Poles agree with the antisemitic assertion that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. These figures were also high in the six other EU countries where the study took place. Yet in no other country was the percentage higher than 50%.

Thirty six percent of Europeans consider that anti-Semitism has increased in their country over the past five years. That is less than the 39% who think that anti-Semitism has remained unchanged. Once again, Sweden leads the list. There 73% believe that anti-Semitism has increased. It is followed by Germany with 61%. Thereafter come the Netherlands with 55% and France with 51%. In the U.K. despite the evidence of the antisemitic scandals in Labour and the publicity given to them, 44% think that it has increased and 33% think that it has remained the same.

Do respondents have friends or acquaintances who are Jewish.?

This was another question in the survey and the answers were surprising.

Sweden: One would have expected a low answer among the Swedish population where Jews represent at most 0.2% of the population. Yet forty five percent of the overall population claimed that they knew Jews.  

France: In France, where almost 1% of the population is Jewish, 36% said that they knew Jews.

UK: Jews make up 0.4% of the population, and 32% of the general population said that they knew Jews.

Netherlands: Jews are 0.2% of the population and 31% of the population said they knew Jews.  

In order to obtain an understanding of the manifestations of anti-Semitism which the respondents recognized, there were questions about nine acts of anti-Semitism as to whether they were a problem in their country. A majority of the respondents identified six such situations. Most interesting are the three manifestations which most people do not think are not a problem in their country. These are; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, anti-Semitism in political life and anti-Semitism in media.  

Only a limited number of the many findings of the study have been brought here, but there are several others. 

The EU Commission by now has a substantial infrastructure of information if it genuinely wants to fight anti-Semitism. That seems extremely doubtful. Concerning the leaders of the EU all one can be sure of is that there will from time to time be verbal condemnations of antisemitic acts.