Two opinion polls with a difference have given anyone interested in antisemitism a lot to chew on this week.
Britain is a country at ease with Jews and where most people either do not dislike Jews or are not willing to admit to doing so
Two opinion polls with a difference have given anyone interested in antisemitism a lot to chew on this week. The US-based Jewish advocacy group, the Anti-Defamation League, polled over 53,000 people in over 100 countries to construct a global measure of antisemitic attitudes and feelings.
On the same day, Pew Global Research released polling figures of attitudes towards Jews, Muslims and Roma in seven EU countries, including the UK.
Both found that antisemitism in the UK is less widespread than in most of our West European neighbours, and significantly lower than in other parts of the world. However, the ADL poll in particular showed that some antisemitic ideas are more widely held in this country than is comfortable.
According to the ADL, 5 per cent of British people admit to having an unfavourable opinion of Jews, a figure that rises to 8 per cent in the Pew poll. This is a low percentage compared to other countries in the ADL poll, or to attitudes towards Muslims and Roma in the Pew poll, but it still translates into between two and four million adults in the UK.
Of course, this is just the number of people who are willing to tell a pollster that they dislike Jews; there is no measure for the honesty of the answers.
The ADL also constructed an ‘Antisemitism Index’, based on how many people believed 11 different antisemitic stereotypes, such as “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the UK”; “Jews have too much power in international financial markets”; or “Jews have too much control over global affairs”. Here, Britain’s score of 8 per cent was the sixth-lowest out of 102 countries and territories polled.
Compare this to France, where the Index score is 37 per cent, or Greece, where 34 per cent of people say they dislike Jews, and it would be easy to become complacent. These are countries where far-right parties enjoy far greater electoral success than in Britain, and where antisemitism is far more prominent in public debate.
Yet in Britain, over a quarter of people think Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the UK and 1 in 5 agree that “Jews have too much control over the United States government”. Think for a second about the wording of that question – it says Jews, not Zionists or pro-Israel lobbyists.
Then there is the Middle East. The ADL polled 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa: 16 Arab countries plus Turkey and Iran. In every country, over half the respondents said they have unfavourable opinions of Jews. In Algeria, Iraq and Jordan this figure was over 80 per cent.
Sure, we can rationalise this as a response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: but conflict-driven prejudice is still prejudice. Even if you believe that this antisemitism is a consequence of the conflict and not part of its cause, it nevertheless makes a solution harder to find and harder still to implement. It cannot simply be ignored, nor should it be assumed that, after decades of antisemitic propaganda and rhetoric in the media of many Arab countries, it will simply wither away if Israel and the Palestinians do make peace.
Nor should we forget that this kind of antisemitism fuels jihadist terrorism against Jews well beyond Israel and the Palestinian territories.
It would be complacent to think that the same dynamic can’t affect communal relations in the UK. About 20 per cent of British respondents said that Israel’s actions negatively affect their opinion of Jews. Meanwhile, the ADL also found that most people in Britain hardly ever interact with Jews, if at all.
CST’s antisemitic incident figures show that the number of hate crimes perpetrated against Jews in the UK rises sharply during periods of heightened conflict between Israel and its neighbours. Of course, not everybody who opposes Israel harbours antisemitic views. Nor does everybody who harbours antisemitic views act on them by attacking Jewish people or desecrating synagogues and cemeteries.
The ADL figures for the UK show that, generally speaking, Britain is a country at ease with Jews and where most people either do not dislike Jews or are not willing to admit to doing so. This is, of course, all very welcome; but as experience shows, at times of tension attitudes and behaviour can quickly change.
Dave Rich is deputy director of communications at the Community Security Trust (CST)Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.