Surveys find high European anti-Semitism

A Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg, France, desecrated in April. (Mony Assayag)

A Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg, France, desecrated in April. (Mony Assayag)

NEW YORK, Oct. 29 (JTA) — More than one-third of the people in Belgium, Germany, France and Spain hold strongly anti-Semitic views, according to two surveys conducted for the Anti-Defamation League. The figures show that “all of Europe is infected” with anti-Semitism, said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director. Some 39 percent of Belgians and 37 percent of Germans harbor strongly anti-Semitic views, according to the ADL’s index of anti-Semitism. In France, 35 percent were strongly anti-Semitic, and in Spain 34 percent. The figure fell to 23 percent in Italy, 22 percent in Switzerland, 21 percent in Denmark, 19 percent in Austria, 18 percent in the United Kingdom and 7 percent in the Netherlands. The results of the surveys will be discussed later this week at an ADL conference on global anti-Semitism in New York. Anti-Semitic attitudes in France, Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Belgium were surveyed in June 2002. Attitudes in Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands were measured in September and are being released this week. The ADL calculates attitudes based on an “anti-Semitism index” that monitors responses to 11 statements deemed by University of California researchers in 1964 to indicate ani-Semitism. Respondents who agree with six or more of the statements are considered “most anti-Semitic.” Statements included the canards that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home countries, use shady practices to get what they want, care only about other Jews and prattle too much about the Holocaust. Five hundred interviews were conducted in each country. The survey released this week found that, overall, 40 percent of respondents think Jews have too much power in international financial markets. That number was highest in Spain, with 71 percent, and lowest in the Netherlands, where 18 percent believed it. A majority — 56 percent — of respondents in the five countries recently surveyed see Jews as more loyal to Israel than to their home countries. That number skyrockets to 72 percent in Spain. Foxman attributed the results in Spain to the historical anti-Semitism and power of the Catholic Church. Across Europe, the generally high levels of anti-Semitism are due to anti-Israel sentiment born of recent Israeli-Palestinian violence, he said. But Deborah Dwork, founding director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, questions whether the index captures the nuances of anti-Semitism. The question of how Jews can maintain their loyalty to the countries in which they live and to the Jewish people has been salient at least since the Enlightenment. “It’s a problem for Christians, and if you attend any Jewish function or read Jewish newspapers, it’s a problem for Jews,” said Dwork, co-author of the recent book “Holocaust: A History.” In addition, European attitudes toward Jews and Israel traditionally have fluctuated, rising and falling according to internal European instability. “I don’t think that Israel is the issue,” she said. “Anti-Semitism is an opportunistic infection. It sets in when the body politic is weakened” — as it has been since the Sept. 11 attacks — and when national leaders do not take strong stands against it. Foxman said Spanish authorities’ reticence to speak out has allowed the problem to “fester and grow.” In contrast, French authorities “in the last several months have been doing what we’ve been asking, and have responded” to acts of violence, he said. According to Foxman, a drive to prosecute those who commit racially motivated violence has led to a recent drop in anti-Semitic incidents in France. Across the five countries just surveyed, the ADL survey found that 61 percent of respondents were “very concerned” or “fairly concerned” about violence directed at European Jews. A majority believes their governments are doing enough to combat the violence. This survey, like many before it, found that the greatest predictors of anti-Semitism are age and education. Respondents over age 65 and those with a high school education or less are more likely to hold anti-Semitic views, according to the results. Another contributing factor may be a lack of exposure to Jews. “Many Europeans have never met a Jew, never interacted with a Jew,” Foxman said. In Spain, for example, Jews number just 18,000 out of a population of 40 million. Both Foxman and Dwork agree that it is necessary to speak out against the upsurge in anti-Semitism. “To speak out publically, here in the U.S. and in Europe,” is the best way to combat anti-Semitism, Dwork said. Embarrassment about anti-Semitism “leads to silence. We need to transmute the embarrassment to outrage.”

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