CNN poll: Over 20% of Europeans say Jews have ‘too much influence’ worldwide

Survey across 7 countries finds over a third know little or nothing about Holocaust, while 32% say Jews use genocide’s memory to advance their interests

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A man wearing a kipah looks on, as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014, in front of a Lyon synagogue. (AFP/Romain LaFabregue/File)
A man wearing a kipah looks on, as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014, in front of a Lyon synagogue. (AFP/Romain LaFabregue/File)

A survey of European people’s attitudes towards Jews, anti-Semitism, and memory of the Holocaust has found that over one-fifth of them believe that Jewish people have too much influence in finance and politics, while over a third admitted that they knew nothing at all or “just a little” about the Nazi regime’s murder of six million Jews during World War II.

The survey, published Tuesday, drew alarm from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, which said it was troubled “that many entrenched hateful anti-Semitic tropes persist in European civilization.” The leader of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, said anti-Semitism was a “disease” that “must be fought before it spreads, and becomes a pandemic” and called for increased Holocaust studies in European schools.

The CNN poll sampled 7,000 people in Europe, more than 1,000 each from Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, and Sweden.

More than a quarter (28%) of those who took part in the online survey said they believed Jews have “too much influence” in business and finance, while 20% felt Jews had the same excessive influence in media and politics.

Nearly one in four said Jews had too much influence in conflict and wars around the world, the survey found.

Concerning the Holocaust, 34% said they knew nothing or “just a little” about the mass murder of European Jews which happened 75 years ago, within living memory. Even in Poland, one of the epicenters of the Holocaust, the reported knowledge of 32% of respondents was just as limited.

In France, one in five between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust, while in Austria, 40% of adults said they knew “just a little” about the genocide.

Yet 32% of Europeans said Jews use the Holocaust to “advance their position or achieve certain goals,” a notion that 50% of Poles also believe.

Hungarian Jews were marched down Wesselenyi Street in the heart of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, on their way to be deported to Auschwitz. (Bundesarchiv Bild)

Overall, across Europe, half of the respondents said they knew “a fair amount” about the Holocaust, and only one in five said “they know a great deal.”

Two-thirds of Europeans said it was important to keep Holocaust memory alive to prevent the same happening again. In Poland, 80% agreed with the sentiment. Half of those polled believe commemorating the Holocaust helps in the fight against anti-Semitism.

But 31% said Holocaust commemoration distracts from other atrocities around the world and the figure was higher among Germans, Austrians, Poles and Hungarians.

Regarding Israel, 54% of Europeans said Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, and the figure jumped to two-thirds in Poland.

Around a third of respondents said that criticism of Israel tends to be motivated by anti-Semtisim, while 21.5% said it is not.

Over a third, 35%, said that Israel uses the Holocaust to justify it actions, and half of those in Poland agreed. One in five disagreed.

More than a quarter, 28%, said anti-Semitism in their countries was a response to the actions of Israel and 18% said anti-Semitism was a response to behavior by Jewish people. One in 10 said they had “unfavorable attitude” to Jews. In Poland, the figure was 15%, and nearly a fifth, 19%, in Hungary. (Meanwhile 16% said they had negative views of LGBT people, 36% of immigrants, 37% of Muslims, and 39% of Romani people).

Respondents from minority groups tended to blame Israel and Jews for anti-Semitism.

The majority of Europeans, 56%, said they were not aware of ever having socialized with a Jewish person, including half of respondents in Britain, France, Hungary and Austria and two-thirds of those in Germany, Austria and Poland.

According to the survey results, over half of Europeans, 55%, said they felt anti-Semitism was a growing problem in their countries, with 40% saying Jews were at risk of racist violence in their countries, and half believing their governments should do more to fight anti-Semitism.

The survey was carried out for CNN by pollster ComRes from September 7 to 20. It was completed before the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, when 11 worshipers were shot dead in a synagogue on October 27, 2018.

Estimations of Jewish populations were far off the mark, the CNN survey found. Two-thirds of respondents overestimated the percentage of the world that is Jewish, and the same for the fraction of the population in their own countries.

A quarter of Hungarians guessed 20% of the world is Jewish, and one-fifth of British and Polish put the figure just as high. Overall, 16% of Europeans think that Jews make up more than 20% of the world’s population. In fact 0.2% of the world is Jewish according to Pew Research Center’s Global Religious Landscape study. Israel is the only country in the world that has a more than 2% Jewish population.

CNN noted that a survey carried out in the US earlier in the year found that 10% of adult Americans were not sure they had heard of the Holocaust, while one in five of respondents in their 20s and 30s said the same. Some 45% of adult Americans failed to name a single concentration camp, the report said.

Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog speaking at the Jewish Federation’s annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, on October 23, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said in statement responding to the survey that anti-Semitism is a “disease” that must be dealt with before it spreads.

“Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest diseases – racism being another such disease – for which there is no vaccine,” Herzog said. “This disease must be fought before it spreads, and becomes a pandemic. History teaches that if anti-Semitism isn’t dealt with at an early stage, it will threaten people’s lives, as we saw in Pittsburgh.”

“The teaching of the most horrific mass murder in history — the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe during the Second World War — must be taught as part of any curriculum in schools throughout Europe. Especially its lessons and conclusions.”

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center, said in statement it was “troubled by the lack of Holocaust awareness and the state of anti-Semitism in Europe” revealed in the CNN survey.

“The survey highlights the troubling fact that many entrenched hateful anti-Semitic tropes persist in European civilization, 75 years after the end of the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem said in a statement. “While anti-Semitism does not necessarily lead to genocide, anti-Semitism was central to the Nazis’ worldview and the basis for their ‘Final Solution’ to eradicate all Jews and their culture from the face of the earth.”

Yad Vashem said the survey shows the need to “intensify broad-based efforts in the area of Holocaust education and awareness, which is essential to any effort to contend with anti-Semitism.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also minister for Diaspora Affairs, said: “We have always known that for many, being anti-Israel is a natural extension of their anti-Semitic beliefs. This has an impact both on their attitudes to history and to the present.”

Visitors seen at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on January 27, 2015 (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told CNN that “there will always be people who have anti-Semitic feelings and I don’t know if the number has grown, but this new situation today is they feel that it’s more acceptable socially that they can express these opinions out loud.

“The feeling beforehand was, ‘This is what I believe but don’t tell anyone,'” he added. “It was not perfect but at least there was a social taboo against anti-Semitism.”

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