90 Percent of European Jews Say anti-Semitism Getting Worse, EU Report Finds

More than one in three considering emigration – Israel destination of choice

Finnish neo-Nazis start their Independence Day march with swastika flags in Helsinki, Finland on the Independence Day of Finland, on December 6, 2018.
Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva / AFP

Almost nine in 10 European Jews feel that anti-Semitism has worsened in their respective countries over the past five years, and more than one in three are considering emigration, according to a comprehensive EU report published on Monday.

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The report, which measured perceptions of anti-Semitism among European Jews, was prepared by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). It was based on an online poll carried out in 12 member states in April and May that included more than 16,000 respondents aged 16 and over. Almost 30 percent of the respondents said they had experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment in the past year.

Two percent of the respondents said they had been physically attacked, and two percent said that their property had been deliberately vandalized in the past year because they were Jewish. One in three respondents said they avoided participating in Jewish events or visiting Jewish sites out of concern for their safety.

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The 12 member states included in the survey were Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. According to the report, 96 percent of European Jews live in these countries.

A large majority of those who had experienced anti-Semitic harassment (79 percent) said they did not report it, indicating that such incidents are becoming normalized in Europe. Harassment was defined as offensive or threatening emails, calls or comments in person or online, offensive gestures and loitering.

“The survey findings suggest that people face so much anti-Semitic abuse that some of the incidents they experience appear trivial to them,” the report noted.

Just over half (51 percent) of the respondents said they never wear, carry or display items that could identify them as Jewish, such as skullcaps or mezuzahs.

This is the second such survey undertaken by the FRA, which advises EU institutions and member states. The first was carried out in 2012 and included only seven member states.  

“Decades after the Holocaust, shocking and mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU,” said FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty in response to the findings. “Member states must take note and step up their efforts to prevent and combat anti-Semitism. Jewish people have a right to live freely without hate and without fear for their safety.”

The survey found that European Jews primarily experience anti-Semitism on the internet and social media. But many also said they encountered anti-Semitism in the street, in mainstream media and in political life.

The most common anti-Semitic statements they come across, respondents reported, were the following, in descending order: “Israelis behave like Nazis toward Palestinians”; “Jews have too much power”; and “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes.”

The perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts were more often than not described by respondents as “someone with an extremist Muslim view” or “someone with a left-wing political view.”

About 10 percent of the respondents said that in the past year, they had experienced discrimination at work, at school and at health and housing facilities because they were Jewish.

A large majority of the respondents (85 percent) said they considered anti-Semitism to be a “very big” or “fairly big” problem in their country. The feeling was most pronounced in France and least in Denmark. Among Jews living in the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, a far greater percentage described anti-Semitism as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem in their country in this survey than in the 2012 survey.

Nearly half of all the respondents (47 percent) said they feared becoming the victim of anti-Semitic insults or harassment over the coming year, while 40 percent said they feared being physically attacked. Among the 38 percent who said they had considered emigrating in the past five years, two-thirds said their destination of choice was Israel (one in 10 chose the United States and one in 10 chose another EU member state).

Most of the respondents (70 percent) said they did not believe their governments were combating anti-Semitism effectively. These disapproval ratings were particularly high in Poland. At the same time, though, a small majority of the respondents (54 percent) agreed that their governments were addressing the security needs of the Jewish community adequately.  

Jewish world leaders responded to the findings with deep concern and dismay. “The results of this unprecedented survey are shocking, but sadly unsurprising,” said Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. “How can one be surprised by these results, when in Chemnitz, Germany, anti-Semites practicing the Nazi salute were allowed to march while the police stood idly by; when in France, Marine Le Pen, whose father was a virulent anti-Semite was almost elected president; when in Austria and Hungary, the FPO and Jobbik, both of which were originally founded by neo-Nazis, are now the second largest parties and members of the governing coalition; and when in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party.”

The findings, he added, “highlight the need for every student around the globe to learn about the Holocaust and the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews across Europe. Fewer and fewer students know about the Holocaust, and this is a trend, which must stop now. Governments in Europe must also work on developing long-term solutions to combat the rise of anti-Semitism across the continent.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said the EU report “reveals how much Jews feel-and are-unsafe in the EU.” He urged European leaders, opinion makers and teachers “to join forces with us to fight this epidemic.”

Describing the findings as “deeply troubling,” David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said: “Each European country surveyed by the FRA, indeed all EU members states, have a moral responsibility to study the report’s unique, valuable data — and step up efforts to confront the anti-Semitism cancer that threatens not only Jews, but, no less, the democratic fabric of European societies.”

The report, said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, demonstrates “an increasingly intolerable level of pressure and abuse that Jews feel in Europe today.”

European leaders must see the report, he added, “as a final warning that words are not enough, and now is a time for action.”