Jews report rise in anti-Semitism in last half-decade

Survey finds perception of anti-Jewishness in social media, public, media and politics

Nine out of ten European Jews feel anti-Semitism has increased over the last five years, while 85 per cent consider it the biggest social or political problem in their home country, a major new EU poll has found.

The poll comes just days after EU justice ministers endorsed unanimously a working definition of anti-Semitism that Palestinian groups fear may delegitimise certain forms of criticism of the state of Israel. The definition, from the International Holocaust Alliance, is seen as uncontentious but rider examples proposed by the IHA have been interpreted as defining some anti-Israeli boycott campaigners as anti-Semitic.

However, speaking at the poll launch, European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, who strongly deplored anti-Semitism, was adamant the adoption of the definition would not mute criticism of Israel.

Criticism of Israel

“There is a new form of anti-Semitism that hides behind anti-Zionism,” he said. “But at the same time I do not accept that wherever you criticise the actions of the Israeli government and they can say of it, ‘that’s anti-Semitic’ . . . that’s nonsense . Everyone has a full right to criticise the actions of the Israeli government we deem incompatible with the values we stand for . . .


“I will never be stopped in my criticism of the actions of the government of Israel by people who say whatever criticism you have is inspired by anti-Semitism.”

The survey of 16,000-plus self-identified Jews, Experiences and Perceptions of anti-Semitism, was conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in May and June in 12 EU member states, not including Ireland, but including the UK and France, which have the largest Jewish populations. It is the biggest survey of Jewish people ever conducted worldwide

The survey report says that “anti-Semitism pervades the public sphere, reproducing and ingraining negative stereotypes about Jews. Simply being Jewish increases people’s likelihood of being faced with a sustained stream of abuse expressed in different forms, wherever they go, whatever they read and with whomever they engage.”

Common statements

Respondents assess anti-Semitism as being most problematic on the internet and on social media (89 per cent), followed by public spaces (73 per cent), media (71 per cent) and in political life (70 per cent). The most common anti-Semitic statements they come across – and on a regular basis – included that “Israelis behave like Nazis toward Palestinians” (51 per cent), that “Jews have too much power” (43 per cent) and that “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (35 per cent).

“It’s not just synagogues that require protection – at countless Jewish community centres and schools, too, special security measures are in place. Jewish people also encounter vicious commentary online, in the media and in politics; endure hostile stares and gestures in their neighbourhoods; come across graffiti and other forms of vandalism; and face discrimination in social settings, at school and at work,” the report says.

Twenty eight per cent of respondents said they been harassed at least once in the previous year; while 47 per cent feared verbal insult or harassment in the next month; and 40 per cent feared physical attack in the same period. One in three say they occasionally forgo visiting Jewish sites out of safety concerns.

Thirty eight per cent had considered emigrating because they did not feel safe as Jews in Europe.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times