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The elephants of antisemitism in the European room

The latest report by the EU’s agency on fundamental rights which finds antisemitism on the rise across Europe should be treated with some caution.

This is because it deals not with objective measures of the rate of attacks on Jews but with the views of Jews themselves about the extent of antisemitism. Such views are inevitably limited in accuracy and scope.

It is beyond any doubt, however, that the perception of increased antisemitism is widespread among the Jews of Britain and Europe. It is also beyond doubt that there is ample cause for such alarm.

In France, where the report found that 95 per cent of Jews perceived antisemitism to be generally a very big or fairly big problem, the community has been subjected to repeated murders and other attacks. Such is the general climate of anti-Jewish intimidation that thousands have left the country for Israel and elsewhere.

Jews in other countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, have similar experiences. Across Europe, antisemitic attitudes are becoming increasingly normalised. A poll for CNN last month found that one-fifth of Europeans believe Jewish people have too much influence in finance and politics, while no fewer than one third said they knew nothing at all or “just a little” about the Holocaust.

In Britain, however, a huge rise in acute Jewish community alarm about antisemitism is not matched by actual experience.

The report shows that 75 per cent of British Jews perceive antisemitism to be generally a very big or fairly big problem, up from 48 per cent since the previous survey in 2012, with 29 per cent having considered emigrating. Some 89 per cent say antisemitism has increased in the last six years, and  84 per cent find antisemitism specifically in political life to be a very or fairly big problem, compared with the European average of 70 per cent.

Yet at the same time the number of British Jews who have experienced antisemitic attacks is near the bottom of the scale, with the rate of anti-Jewish harassment less than the European average. Other countries display a similar discrepancy, although to a lesser extent.

The reports observes: “The survey results show that, among respondents, rates of concern about becoming a victim of antisemitic verbal insult or harassment and/or physical attack are higher than the rates of actually experiencing these incidents. On average, two per cent of respondents are aware of family members having become victims of antisemitic physical attacks in the 12 months before the survey. However, the rate of concern about the potential victimisation of family members is much higher, with nearly half of respondents being very or fairly worried about this.”

This does not mean, however, that such fears about the extent of antisemitism are exaggerated. The report adds:

“Aside from personal experiences, concern about victimisation may be fuelled by experiences of other acquaintances or friends, incidents reported in the media or even developments in international politics.”

And these concerns may be all too well-founded. The striking rise in alarm among British Jews can be explained in just two words: Jeremy Corbyn. Given his track record of extreme hostility to the State of Israel, personally endorsing gross antisemites and antisemitic tropes while failing to deal with and thus effectively facilitating brazen antisemitism in the Labour Party he leads, many British Jews are deeply anxious about the impact on Jewish life in Britain should Labour come to power.

And despite the widespread reporting of Labour’s antisemitism problem, British Jews are uncomfortably aware that, since most such incidents don’t come to light, the actual incidence of anti-Jewish feeling in Britain is likely to be even greater.

The report also exposes a pair of elephants in the European room. For it reveals that “Muslim extremists” form the largest group identified as perpetrating antisemitic attacks, followed closely by left-wing Jew-baiting. According to respondents who experienced some form of antisemitic harassment in the past five years, 30 percent of the perpetrators were “Muslim extremists”, 21 percent were people from the left and only 13 percent represented a right-wing viewpoint. (Quite what Muslim “extremists” means in this context, or how these victims knew their views were “extreme”, is far from clear; it may be that the report’s authors assume that if Muslims express antisemitism that automatically makes them “extreme”, which would tell us less about Muslims than about the political mindset of the report’s authors).

Yet in public and political discourse, antisemitism is generally deemed to be an overwhelmingly right-wing problem, and Muslim antisemitism (which is widespread) is never discussed. Even now in Britain, left-wing antisemitism is ascribed only to the ultra-left Corbynistas. In fact, though, anti-Jewish prejudice – often camouflaged by obsessive hostility to Israel – has been endemic for years in far wider progressive circles.

These progressives overwhelmingly link antisemitism to attitudes they consider to be “right-wing”, anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant. Accordingly, their chief European bogeyman is Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban. He is widely deemed to be antisemitic, largely because of his campaign against the Hungarian Jewish financier and proponent of open borders, George Soros, and Islamophobic because of his policy of keeping Muslims out of Hungary.

Yet the countries where the survey’s respondents said antisemitism had increased “a little” or “a lot” were the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Sweden (increases of 24, 21, 14 and 11 percentage points respectively over the past six years). By contrast, in Hungary the share of respondents actually decreased (by 21 percentage points).

In Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the share of respondents who said they had considered leaving the country due to antisemitism increased by 19, 17 and 11 percentage points respectively. In Hungary, the share went down by eight percentage points.

More than 70 per cent of respondents in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands considered expressions of hostility to Jews in the street and other public spaces a “very big” or “fairly big” problem; but fewer than half of Jews in Poland, Hungary and Denmark expressed such concern.

These three countries have all taken harsh measures to restrict Muslim immigration and activity. Coincidence?

The resurgence of antisemitism in the west is a symptom that it is in existential trouble. The evidence of just how much trouble it is in is that so many in the west fail correctly to diagnose it.

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