European countries with most antisemitic attitudes have fewest attacks – poll

Respondents from Poland, Hungary and Greece most hostile to Jews, but violent assaults rare in those locations; places where Jews are accepted have most incidents

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Hungarian Jews celebrate the opening of a new synagogue in Budapest on Aug. 27, 2021. (Cnaan Liphshiz via JTA)
Hungarian Jews celebrate the opening of a new synagogue in Budapest on Aug. 27, 2021. (Cnaan Liphshiz via JTA)

BRUSSELS (JTA) — In an opinion poll on antisemitism in 16 European Union countries, respondents from Poland, Hungary and Greece displayed the highest prevalence of hostile attitudes toward Jews.

But despite a high level of antisemitic attitudes, those countries rarely see violent attacks on Jews while countries that experience more frequent attacks on Jews are often those showing the lowest rates of antisemitic sentiments.

The survey, published Tuesday by Ipsos, a polling company, together with the Europe Action and Protection League, a watchdog group based in Hungary, found little correlation between antisemitic attitudes and violent attacks on Jews in the 16 European countries surveyed.

The assertion that it “would be best if Jews left this country” received affirmation from 24%, 23% and 21% of participants in Poland, Greece and Hungary, respectively. It was rejected by 15%, 26% and 33% in those countries, where only a few dozen antisemitic incidents are recorded annually. A high prevalence of antisemitic sentiments was also observed in other countries with low levels of antisemitic incidents, including Latvia, Croatia and Romania.

In countries where more antisemitic incidents were recorded, the assertion about Jews being unwanted was overwhelmingly rejected and received little support.

In Germany, where a record-high number of 2,351 incidents were recorded last year, 62% of respondents rejected that assertion, and only 7% agreed. Similar trends were observed in France, where 687 incidents of antisemitic attacks were recorded in 2019. In the United Kingdom, where 1,668 incidents were documented last year, 9.2% agreed and 72% disagreed.

Other countries with a low prevalence of antisemitic sentiment but a relatively high number of recorded attacks included the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.

Some of the countries with a low number of antisemitic assaults have a relatively small number of Jews, as is the case in Latvia and Greece. But others — including Hungary, where about 100,000 Jews live — have Jewish communities comparable to those in countries with a high number of assaults.

Shlomó Köves, executive rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH). (Courtesy)

Authors of the study, titled “Antisemitic Prejudices in Europe,” said the data challenged the idea that countering antisemitic sentiment, long a goal of Jewish communal leaders and politicians in Europe, would solve the problem of antisemitic violence. “The number of violent acts and the degree of anti-Jewish sentiment are essentially unrelated,” the study states.

Slomo Koves, a Hungarian rabbi and a founder of the Action and Protection League, said the results suggest that focusing on just one aspect of the efforts to combat antisemitism, such as educating young people to reject antisemitic stereotypes, is not the way forward. “It’s a complicated report, that requires a nuanced attitude,” he said, arguing for a holistic approach.

“Education and legislative measures as well as law enforcement practices are definitely a key to our fight for survival,” Koves said.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating that mission, according to Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman of the European Jewish Association.

“Whilst Europe was rightly focusing on eradicating the Covid pandemic, another virus was continuing to multiply. Antisemitism is deeply ingrained in Europe, and hard to treat,” Margolin said.

European Jewish Association Chairman Menachem Margolin addresses his group’s annual conference in Paris on February 25, 2020. (Yoni Rykner)

Other findings from the survey include:

Nearly one third of respondents in Austria, Hungary and Poland said Jews will never be able to fully integrate into society.

In Spain, 35% said Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians; 29% said the same in the Netherlands; and 26% agreed with the statement in Sweden.

A quarter of all those surveyed agreed with the statement that Israel’s policies make them understand why some people hate Jews.

The survey, which was filled out by a weighted sample of 1,000 adults in each country sampled, corresponds with results from previous large surveys on antisemitism in Europe, including the ADL Index surveys. However, those surveys did not address the absence of a correlation between views and attacks.

Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire, a major French-Jewish communal organization, which helped publish the report, said that “while the European institutions and politicians devote significant resources and spare no effort in the fight against anti-Semitism, the situation in Europe is not improving. Worse, it is deteriorating.”

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