Most European Jewish Leaders Expect to Face More anti-Semitism, New Survey Finds

Two-thirds of respondents anticipate that anti-Semitism will increase 'significantly' or 'somewhat' over next five to 10 years, but most rule out emigration

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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A swastika spray-painted on a wall in Poland.
A swastika spray-painted on a wall in Poland.Credit: Iris Nesher
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Despite growing concerns about anti-Semitism and security, European Jews are not expected to emigrate in significant numbers, according to a new survey published Tuesday.

The survey – conducted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s International Centre for Community Developments (JDC-ICCD) – found that most European Jewish leaders and professionals see a link between rising anti-Semitism in their respective countries and events in Israel. They also believe that Jews should be encouraged to share their reservations about Israel and its policies.

The latest findings show that Jewish community leaders in Europe continue to view anti-Semitism as a major threat to the future of Jewish life on the Continent.

Two-thirds of respondents said they anticipated anti-Semitism would increase “significantly” or “somewhat” over the next five to 10 years – compared with 54 percent a decade ago.

Asked how safe they felt living as Jews in their cities of residence, only 20 percent said “very safe” – down from 36 percent 10 years ago. By contrast, 13 percent said they felt “rather unsafe,” compared with 6 percent a decade ago. Those living in Eastern European countries were more likely to feel safe than their counterparts in Western Europe.

Still, a large majority – 73 percent of respondents – said they felt their governments were adequately addressing the security needs of the Jewish community.

The online survey, which took place in April and May, polled 893 Jewish community leaders and professionals in 29 European countries (not including the former Soviet Union). First launched 10 years ago, the European Jewish Community Leaders' Survey is conducted every three to four years.

The respondents were asked to rank the most serious threats they perceived to the future of Jewish life in Europe. Although anti-Semitism was not viewed as the top threat, it nonetheless registered the biggest jump in the ranking.

Among the respondents, 56 percent said they perceived anti-Semitism as a serious threat, compared with only 23 percent in the 2008 survey.

Yet when asked whether they had personally considered emigrating from their respective countries in the last five years, the vast majority of respondents – 76 percent – said they had not. The rate was even higher among younger respondents.

Among those who said they were considering emigrating, two-thirds said their destination of choice was Israel, while the remainder were split between other European countries and North America. Older respondents were more likely to choose Israel as their destination of choice.

Asked whether they expected an increase in emigration within their respective Jewish communities, almost half – 48 percent – said they did not. Another 43 percent said they expected a “limited” increase, while only 9 percent said they expected a “significant” increase. Anti-Semitism was cited as the primary factor behind the desire to emigrate.

The report indicates that support for Israel among Jewish leaders in Europe is not only high, but in fact growing. Among respondents, 68 percent said they supported Israel fully “regardless of how its government behaves.” That compares with 55 percent in 2015 and 61 percent a decade ago.

Some 43 percent said, however, that they were “sometimes ashamed” of the actions of the Israeli government, which was similar to previous surveys. The vast majority of respondents, 84 percent, said they believed Israel was critical to sustaining Jewish life. At the same time, 78 percent said it was just as easy to be a good Jew in Europe as it was in Israel.

A consensus emerged among respondents (with 85 percent agreeing) that Jewish communities should provide opportunities for their members to share “different opinions and points of view” about Israel and its policies. A similar percentage said that events in Israel “sometimes lead to an increase in anti-Semitism in my country.”

Topping the survey's list of serious threats to the future of Jewish life in Europe were alienation from Jewish communal life; demographic decline; lack of engagement of community members; and weakness of Jewish organizations. Anti-Semitism was placed fifth, tied with declining knowledge about Judaism.

The increased rate of intermarriage is perceived as much less of a threat than it used to be, falling from first place 10 years ago to 11th place in the current survey.

The respondents were split over the question of whether they believed the future of Jewish life in Europe is “vibrant and positive.”

When asked about communal causes that need to be prioritized in the next five years, they listed strengthening Jewish education, supporting Jews in need and combating anti-Semitism as their top three. It was the first time anti-Semitism appeared that high on the list.

The JDC-ICCD is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s European research and evaluation unit. Founded in 2005, it provides in-depth perspectives on the European Jewish community, identity and social welfare. Among the respondents, 33 percent identified as Orthodox, 26 percent as traditional and 41 percent as nonreligious “cultural” Jews.

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