Pew’s findings came only two months after the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry released its report finding a 40 percent surge in attacks against Jews worldwide.
Despite the sharp rise in violent attacks against Jews in recent years, there has been no significant increase in anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe, a Pew Research Center report asserted.
Large majorities of the more than 6,000 people polled in April and May held favorable views of Jews, including 92 percent of Frenchmen, 86% of Britons, 80% of Germans, 75% of Spaniards and 71% of Italians.
Only 59% of Poles were reported to agree with such sentiments, with a further 28% holding distinctly negative views.
“The economic downturn in Europe that followed the euro crisis raised concerns that economic stress would turn Europeans against each other, as many severe economic downturns have done throughout history, sparking xenophobia and anti-Semitism. And Europe has seen a number of hostile actions against Muslims, Jews, Roma and other minorities in recent years. But the activities of a few are not necessarily reflected in the views of the general public,” the report, which was released on Tuesday, stated.
Pew’s findings came only two months after the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry released its annual anti-Semitism report recording a nearly 40% percent surge in violent incidents against Jews worldwide.
“While we would be delighted with these type of results, they fly in the face of the results of every other similar poll and survey released in recent years, including that undertaken by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, which demonstrated the severity of anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress and patron of the Kantor Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, also took issue with Pew’s findings, saying he found that reality on the ground can diverge significantly from the way it is portrayed in polls and surveys.
“Where would you prefer to walk with a kippa today, Paris or Warsaw?” he asked rhetorically.
Some, like Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have queried why there has not been more popular support for Jews following terrorist attacks, if the level of philo-Semitism is so high in Europe.
“If the numbers are accurate, they would be reflected in public mass movements after attacks on Jews. It’s not there and its not happening,” he said.
European Jews have indicated that they feel increasingly threatened, especially in the face of a number of high-profile terrorist attacks targeting their institutions in cities such as Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen.
According to a poll conducted by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2013, a third of Jews on the continent have refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear.
The Pew report is also seemingly at odds with a 2014 poll conducted by the Anti-Defamation League that found 24% and 34% of respondents agreeing with negative stereotypes of Jews in Western and Eastern Europe, respectively.
In a report released last month, the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research noted that the higher levels of anti-Semitism indicated by ADL polling over other research may be explained by the fact that the organization’s poll addressed specific beliefs and attitudes believed to be anti-Semitic rather than asking a less nuanced question regarding respondents’ overall perception of Jews, although JPR declined to make any final assessment regarding the relative merits of the two approaches.
“The category of offender most likely to perpetrate anti-Semitic physical violence was ‘Someone with a Muslim extremist view.’ British Muslims represent just 5% of the UK population, so the number of Muslim respondents in general polls of the UK population is typically far too low to undertake any detailed analysis of them,” according to JPR.
“Furthermore, any significant differences between the attitudes of British Muslims and the attitudes of the British population as a whole will typically fail to be picked up in general polls of British adults, because Muslims do not comprise a large enough proportion of the whole to affect the counts.”
This assessment, that the rise in anti-Semitic activity – much of which correlates with anger over developments in the Middle East – is committed by Islamic extremists and does not indicate an overall level in hate toward Jews, is shared by a number of Jewish leaders and thinkers both on the continent and here in Israel. “Even if anti-Semitic hate crime rises, only a very small percentage of people are committing the crimes, so the overall survey is unchanged.
Furthermore, a rise in the seriousness of anti-Semitism may cause more people to express stronger support for Jews than before. Similarly, anti-Israel activity is not widespread, so it would not impact the survey; and most anti-Israel activists would anyway state a rejection of anti-Semitism, especially after Paris,” said Mark Gardner of England’s Community Security Trust, an anti-Semitism watchdog.
Board of Deputies of British Jews president Jonathan Arkush agreed, telling the Post that he believes the Pew numbers confirm “our view that the overwhelming majority of British people have a favorable attitude towards the Jewish community,” although he added that this is no cause for complacency.
“The numbers are not surprising for us at JPPI, as we found anti-Semitic prejudice mainly on the fringe Right, fringe Left and in the Muslim community. Our work shows clearly that the delegitimization of Israel effort is conducted as a campaign, especially by Palestinians and Islamic fundamentalists, and is not related to the general European population’s favorable view of Jews but to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The explanation behind terrorist attacks and anti-Semitic incidents is in line with the sentiments of those marginal groups,” agreed Avinoam Bar-Yosef of the Jewish People Policy Institute.
And while some have indicated that they believe that the new numbers may represent – as Joel Rubinfeld of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism put it – “a sense of empathy among the general Western European population towards their fellow Jewish citizens,” the prevalence of anti-Israel attitudes may mean that “those figures reflect more an immediate feeling of solidarity than an expression of a longterm, thoughtful and well-reasoned analysis of the situation.”
Many Jewish leaders have warned of what they see as increasing antipathy toward the Jewish state in Europe which many interpret as an updated, 21st century form of anti-Semitism. A 2014 poll by the BBC showed that “large majorities also have negative views [of the Jewish state] in Europe.”
While the Pew report is certainly positive, commented Eli Ringer of the Belgian Forum of Jewish Organizations, “the great danger is that…making all the time an amalgam between the Jews [and Israel] and at the same time demonizing Israel systematically [can risk] increasing anti-Semitism.”
Stephan J. Kramer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s European Office on Anti-Semitism, found the Pew report encouraging. “There is a lot of anti-Semitism in the world, including in the democracies of the world. We know this. We also know that not enough is done – including by the democracies – to put up a real, effective fight against it.
“This, however does not mean that all is black. Unfortunately, some of us have the tendency to see the black color only. This does not serve Jewish interests. What we need is to see the real picture which has many shades, including the brighter side. Therefore, we should be encouraged to see positive results of opinion polls, just like this one,” said Kramer.