Earlier this month I wrote about the new Pew Research Center study that detailed the demographic challenges facing an American Jewish community that is losing touch with religion and key elements of Jewish identity. I have a lot more to say about it and the way America’s embrace of Jewry has led to trends that threaten the future of non-Orthodox and especially secular Jews that will be published in the November issue of COMMENTARY’s print edition. But the positive news coming out of their survey focused on the pride felt by most American Jews, even if they were indifferent to core Jewish values and not raising or educating their children to carry on Jewish tradition and faith. At the heart of the comfort felt by American Jews is the fact that few had experienced even the mildest forms of anti-Semitism in the form of a social snub let alone violence.
But that is not the case with European Jewry.
As a survey of European Jews conducted by the European Union reveals, a large percentage of them are not only conscious of anti-Semitism but live their lives in such a way as to try to avoid being the victims of anti-Semitic violence. Across the continent, one in four Jews say they are afraid to wear a kippah or any symbol of Jewish identity in public, figures that rise far higher in countries such as Sweden, France and Belgium. This shows just how dangerous Europe is becoming for Jews and how deadly the revival of Jew hatred around the globe — undoubtedly the worst since the Holocaust — has become.
The poll conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights was taken online over the course of the last year in Sweden, France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Latvia. It will be published next month but the Jewish Telegraphic Agency obtained the results. Though the fact that it is Internet-based diminishes its credibility and once the raw numbers are released it will have to be given a thorough analysis. But the figures are still startling in that they show just how many Jews are worried about being the victims of anti-Semitic violence.
Among the most disturbing responses is the fact that 49 percent of the 800 respondents (by no means a small sample size) say they “avoid visiting places and wearing symbols that identify them as Jews for fear of anti-Semitism. Forty percent of French Jews and 36 percent of those in Belgium feel the same way.
Also alarming is the fact that, in contrast to the American experience, a majority of Jews in some countries are convinced that anti-Semitism is on the rise.
In Hungary, 91 percent of more than 500 respondents said anti-Semitism has increased in the past five years. The figure was 80 percent or above in France, Belgium and Sweden. In Germany, Italy and Britain, some 60 percent of respondents identified a growth in anti-Semitism, compared to 39 percent in Latvia.
Figures for people who said they had experienced an anti-Semitic incident in the 12 previous months were 30 percent for Hungary, 21 percent for France and 16 percent in Germany.
Just as interesting is the fact that those who have experienced such incidents are almost equally split on the identity of the anti-Semites:
Twenty-seven percent of respondents said the perpetrators were Muslims; 22 percent blamed people with “left-wing views”; and 19 percent said the people responsible had “right-wing views.”
But an even better indicator of the tone of European society is revealed in the question about reporting such incidents:
More than 75 percent of respondents said they do not report anti-Semitic harassment to police and 64 percent said they do not report physical assaults, with 67 percent saying that reporting incidents was either “not worth the effort” or otherwise ineffectual.
If Jews don’t think it is worth it to report even physical assaults, it can only mean one thing: that they believe such behavior is no longer considered beyond the pale or even frowned upon by mainstream European opinion. Given the drumbeat of incitement against Israel, which serves as a thinly veiled excuse for traditional anti-Jewish attitudes, throughout Europe, it is little surprise to see that this is being reflected in such incidents.
After a period during which Jewish life revived there in the aftermath of the Holocaust, it is obvious that much of the continent is in the process of reverting to its pre-World War Two attitudes. At the very least, surveys like this call into question the future of Jews in Europe. At worst, it portends worse to come. But either way, the lack of security for Jews in supposedly enlightened Europe makes the defense of Israel all the more important.