The report published Wednesday by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) group is a very worrying document. It claims that nearly half of British citizens hold at least one anti-Semitic view, but more than what it tells us about the British perspective on Jews, it indicates a deep, perhaps inflated, feeling of insecurity among a section of British Jewry.
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The report is based on two surveys . In the first, carried out by the respectable polling company YouGov, a sample of 3,411 British adults were asked to respond to seven statements regarding Jews by stating to what degree they believed or disbelieved the statements. The CAA deems each statement to be anti-Semitic — and this is the weakest point in the survey. Some of the statements are downright Judeophobic such as “in business, Jews are not as honest as most people.”
But take for example the statement that “Jews think they are better than other people.” Of course it’s not the thing that one should normally be caught saying in public - but is it anti-Semitic? For a start, many Jews do subscribe to the Jewish notion of “the chosen people,” and for that matter it’s not only Jews; members of many if not most nations, religions and ethnicities believe they are better than the others. That’s natural and normal national pride. Even if this view runs counter to liberal orthodoxy, believing that Jews think of themselves that way can certainly be a fair and honest assessment.
The same can be said of another of the survey’s statements: “Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to get sympathy.” That’s a rather nasty accusation but the fact is too many Jews, both political leaders in public appearances and ordinary Jews on social media, are often too quick to bring up the Holocaust in order to make a point. The sad truth is that many Jews have cheapened the memory of the Holocaust by using it in an inappropriate fashion. Holding that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you an anti-Semite.
There are other statements there which are wrong or offensive, but agreeing with them isn’t necessarily evidence of anti-Semitism. In their eagerness to prove a point, the CAA has created its own definition of anti-Semitism, which is more a reflection of what is impolite to say in public than what is actual bias against Jews. Another group with a different definition could conduct a similar survey and come up with radically different results.
The CAA is a very young organization set up this summer following accusations from part of British Jewry that the veteran establishment was slow and weak in its response to the wave of anti-Israel protests during the Gaza conflict and the related rise in anti-Semitic offenses. While there certainly has to be vigilance against forms of Jew-hatred, the CAA seems to be over-diagnosing the illness.
This eagerness to see the anti-Semitism in Britain, which inarguably exists, as much more widespread than it really is, comes across in the second survey in the report, conducted directly by the organization among 2,230 British Jews. The survey was done over social media and though the CAA tried to widen its reach through the email lists of a number of large Jewish organizations, you don’t have to be a statistician to realize how such a sample is far from representative.
Putting methodology aside, the headline findings that 45 percent of British Jews feel that “Jews may not have a long-term future in Britain” and that they and their families are “threatened by Islamic extremism in Britain” should cause concern. But then, those are subjective feelings: What relation do they have to the actual situation on the ground?
The last finding in the survey is that 56 percent agree that “the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Britain has some echoes of the 1930s.” If the majority of British Jews and the authors of the CAA report actually believe that, then it’s hard to take anything they say about contemporary anti-Semitism in their home country seriously. If they honestly think that the situation in Britain today echoes the 1930s when Jews were still banned from a wide variety of clubs and associations, when a popular fascist party, supported by members of the nobility and popular newspapers, were marching in support of Hitler, when large parts of the British establishment were appeasing Nazi Germany and the government was resolutely opposed to allowing Jewish refugees of Nazism in to Britain, finally relenting in 1938 to allow 10,000 children to arrive — but not their parents who were to die in the Holocaust (that shameful aspect of the Kindertransport that is seldom mentioned) — and when the situation of Jews in other European countries at the time was so much worse, then not only are they woefully ignorant of recent Jewish history but have little concept of what real anti-Semitism is beyond the type they see online.
Jews are represented in Britain in numbers that are many times their proportion of the population in both Houses of Parliament, on the Sunday Times Rich List, in media, academia, professions and just about every walk of public life. To compare today’s Britain, for all its faults, with the Jews’ situation in 1930s exhibits a disconnect from reality which borders on hysteria. Since the methodology of the second survey is so unclear, we can but hope that this isn’t the majority view among British Jews, but even if it reflects the feelings of a significant minority, it proves that the real crisis is one of a lack of self-confidence among Jews. Anti-Semitism in Britain is a problem that must not be belittled and has to be treated with a serious and open-eyed attitude. This report is not a step in that direction.