Study says European anti-Semitism not as high as it seems, but is that true?

Despite the recent shooting at the Hyper Cacher super market in Paris, in which four people were killed, anti-Semitism might not be so high in France. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A recently released study by the Pew Research Center contradicts previous studies indicating a significant rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, and shows that the rise in anti-Semitic harassment on that continent in recent years might not accurately reflect the overall public and media sentiment on the issue. But do the study's results reflect reality?

The new study, which surveyed people in six European countries, shows that only 7 percent of respondents in the United Kingdom and France expressed negative views about Jews. A higher number of respondents in Poland (28 percent) Italy (21 percent), and Spain (17 percent) reported unfavorable views of Jews.

These findings contrast with a February Pew study showing that 77 out of 198 countries surveyed saw a rise in harassment of Jews in 2013. Jews were harassed in 34 of Europe's 45 countries, according to the study. Other polls have also shown an increased sense of being threatened among Jewish communities in many European countries.

Given these various findings, what can account for the discrepancy between the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in countries such as France and the lower number of people who actually view Jews negatively there?

One possible explanation is the uncertain reliability of such surveys, given that people may not want to volunteer negative views about Jews when questioned due to a social stigma still attached to anti-Semitism, particularly given the history of the Holocaust. Therefore, the real figures representing the number of people who actually hold anti-Semitic views in Europe could be higher.

“It is possible to think that anti-Semitism is a serious problem, and to feel threatened by it, even if only a relatively small percentage of a country’s population expresses negative views about Jews. It is certainly possible that some among the minority of people who express negative views could pose a threat. And people may feel especially threatened if there have recently been anti-Semitic acts of violence in a country,” the director of global attitudes research at Pew, Richard Wike, told Haaretz in an attempt to explain this discrepancy.

In Paris, four Jewish shoppers were killed in January during an Islamist terrorist's attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. In 2012, four Jews, including three children, were murdered at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, also by a Muslim terrorist.

“The main source of anti-Jewish threats in France today... comes from the marginalized Muslim immigrant community. These threats are real, but they radiate out from the Middle East, rather than being a reflection of longstanding social conflict within Europe,” said Justin Smith, a philosophy professor at Paris Diderot University.

“In Western Europe, anti-Semitism is significant, but only in particular milieus; it is not mainstream and it is not rife in popular culture. It is found most commonly amongst well educated people who consider themselves to be politically radical and it is overrepresented amongst Muslim people,” added David Hirsch, a sociologist at Goldsmiths, University of London.


Posted on June 19, 2015 .