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Heightened public awareness of antisemitism can cause a change in attitudes

July 2, 2015 - Board of Deputies - Share: Twitter Facebook

By Alex Brummer

The triple terrorist atrocities in Tunisia, Kuwait and Southern France have provided a sharp remainder of the dangers posed to all civilised society by those indoctrinated with Islamic extremism.

It also brought back bitter memories of recent European antisemitic attacks on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, the Hyper Cacher in Paris and the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen. The combination of economic dislocation in Europe, exemplified  by the Greece crisis, together with the rise of ISIS related terror on the Continent makes the case for ever more vigilance.

The loss of lives as a result of assaults on Jewish communities is clearly terrifying. But new detailed polling by the Anti-Defamation League of the Washington-based B’nai Brith suggests that from evil can come good. It has found that in those countries which faced antisemitic attacks in 2014 and 2015 there has been a notable drop in antisemitisc attitudes because of heightened public awareness of the issues.

In France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish community, attitudes have changed dramatically since the kosher supermarket attack. In 2014 the Anti-Defamation League found that an alarming 37 per cent of the population harboured antisemitic views. In the latest polling the number had dropped to 17 per cent.

Similarly, in Belgium – scene of the Jewish museum attack and a hostile media towards Israel – antisemitic views have dropped from 27 per cent to 21 per cent. In Germany which saw an assault on Brit Milah in Cologne, an attack on a synagogue last summer and protests against the Gaza war antisemitic views have declined from 27 per cent to 16 per cent.

One of the great differences between antisemitism now as opposed to the 1930s is that governments have been on the side of the Jewish community rather than acting as partners or instigators of hate.

After each of the atrocities against European Jewish communities there were strong condemnations by governments in Paris, Berlin and Brussels. The Board of Deputies scored a significant first when both the then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and the Home Secretary Teresa May came at short notice to a regular Sunday Board meeting to condemn the Paris attacks and offer reassurances that security would be enhanced and Britain without its Jews would not be the same.

The veteran director of the anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: ‘Government response to anti-Semitic manifestations, violence, death do have a positive effect on anti-Semitic attitudes.’

The latest data comes from a follow-up poll to the landmark survey on global attitudes to antisemitism that was conducted in May 2014. The initial survey looked at attitudes in 101 countries and the Palestinian territories. Respondents were asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed with 11 negative statements about Jews. Among the statements they were asked to comment on was do ‘Jews have too much power in the business world’. The follow-up poll was more limited in scope and confined to 19 countries. Its most notable finding was the change in attitudes in nations which had experienced antisemitic incidents.

Media attention was a big factor in producing the improved findings. In France, for instance, it was found that 80 per cent of people had followed the detail of the attacks on news bulletins. As a result 55 per cent of respondents had discussed the source and meaning of the attacks with family and friends in a social setting.

The poll shows that in some countries ancient antisemitic prejudice persists. Greece, which is in the midst of huge economic and social turmoil, remains the most virulently antisemitic nation in Western Europe with 67 per cent of people still holding hostile attitudes towards Jews, only marginally down on the 69 per cent recorded in 2014.

The polling shows that antisemitic attitudes are highest among the Muslim populations of Europe. Citizens in countries experiencing most economic turmoil are likely to be more hostile to Jews.

Alex Brummer is a former vice-president of the Board and City Editor of the Daily Mail