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What limited data tells us about antisemitism

May 29th, 2015 by Mark Gardner

A new report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) usefully compares various surveys and data on antisemitism.

Ultimately, however, it also shows why much of this work is inadequate: due to its increasingly important purpose of informing the debate about whether or not European and British Jews have a normative future.  

The report, Could it happen here? What existing data tell us about contemporary antisemitism in the UK, (see pdf) emphasises the need for better surveys, better data and a better appreciation of the limitations of existing data. It includes a sobering explanation of why surveying Muslim attitudes towards Jews is especially necessary.     

JPR’s report is timely and welcome, especially for CST, where we are constantly asked the question “how bad is it?”. This question is very hard to objectively answer. How “bad” is “it” compared to what and when? Who defines “it”?

This is why CST’s answer to “how bad is it?” is generally limited to what our reported incident rates show, or what our community is telling us about its feelings, or what the current levels of anti-Jewish terrorist rhetoric and targeting appear to be.

JPR’s report now gives another reference point for “how bad is it?”, with scholarly cross-referencing of opinion surveys of Jews, of non-Jews, of levels of negativity and antisemitism, and of Jewish perceptions.

Overall, it seems English speaking nations, including Britain, have the lowest levels of negative opinion about Jews, at under 10%. France and Germany are next, at around 10%-25%. Spain, Poland and Russia sit between 25%-45%. Jordan and Egypt are almost 100%. Turkey was 50%, but is now over 70%, nearly level with Pakistan’s 70%-80%.

JPR show how sizeable Muslim minorities in Britain and France have very limited impact on national surveys about attitudes to Jews. The disparity in Britain is especially large, 47% negativity from Muslims, compared to 7% for the overall population. JPR ask what the polling in Arab and Muslim states suggests about the attitudes of Muslim minorities in European countries,

JPR assess CST’s antisemitic incident statistics as “a vital source of information... a critical contribution to understanding...one of the very few available sources...that have been monitored in a consistent fashion over many years”. The strikingly consistent impact of “trigger events” is shown. From 2004 to 2014, Israel’s wars keep showing a near trebling of “the number of antisemitic incidents taking place” (ie reported to CST). Similarly, the impact of annual Jewish High Holydays is also remarkably consistent, at a rise of one-third above the monthly average.    

JPR rightly note, as CST has said, that strictly speaking the annual or monthly statistics only tell you what is reported. They do not show the actual rate of reporting, nor how it alters over time, therefore influencing the absolute totals. (This is why, whenever possible, CST speaks of “reported antisemitic incidents” having increased or decreased.)

Nevertheless, JPR do suggest that the overall level of antisemitic incidents is increasing over time, even when the obvious trigger event months (occasional Middle East wars and annual Rosh Hashanah / Yom Kippur) are removed: rising from an average 35 incidents per month in 2004, to 51 per month in 2014.

The report concludes with a sincere appeal for the highest possible levels of “professionalism, objectivity and expertise in survey-taking and data analysis, supported by long-term financial investment”. CST entirely agrees with this position and the final sentence summarises precisely why:

“The alternative is deeply problematic: further wastage of resources, continuing inflow of superfluous data, and persistent uncertainty as to ‘what this all means’, all at the expense of greater clarity and, we believe, greater safety for Jews”.


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Senior Rabbi, Reform Judaism