Fewer than half of British adults understand what the word “anti-Semitism” means, a poll conducted on behalf of Britan’s Jewish Chronicle has found.
In a survey carried out by Deltapoll, 2,000 adults were asked: “In your own words, what do you understand by the term anti-Semitism?”
According to the newspaper, 47% said they understood the word, but 40% said they did not know its meaning. It was not clear how the remaining 13% answered the question.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, told the newspaper that given that reports of anti-Semitic incidents are increasing, the poll findings were “deeply concerning.”
In a breakdown of the ages of the participants in the poll, over half of those questioned aged 18-24 replied “don’t know” when asked to identify anti-Semitism. Only 32% of those aged 22-37 correctly identified it as “discrimination against Jewish people,” while 49% replied that they did not know what the word meant.
In contrast, 71% of those aged 65 and over understood what anti-Semitism is, compared to 23% who did not.
In a breakdown of the results on the basis of voting preferences, only 43% of those who voted for Labour in the 2017 election said they understood what anti-Semitism is, 63% of Conservative voters and 51% of those who voted for the Liberal Democrats.
In January, a poll released to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day found that 1 in 20 British adults does not believe the Holocaust happened and 12% think the scale of the genocide has been exaggerated.
Nearly half of those questioned said they did not know how many Jews were murdered by the Nazis, The Guardian reported, and one in five people thought fewer than two million Jews were killed.
Some six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Marks-Woldman, whose Holocaust Memorial Day Trust commissioned the Holocaust poll, responded to the findings, telling the BBC: “Such widespread ignorance and even denial is shocking.
“Without a basic understanding of this recent history, we are in danger of failing to learn where a lack of respect for difference and hostility to others can ultimately lead.”
In a statement to The Guardian, Marks-Woldman clarified that, “I must stress that I don’t think [the poll respondents] are active Holocaust deniers — people who deliberately propagate and disseminate vile distortions. But their ignorance means they are susceptible to myths and distortions.”
Karen Pollack, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said in a statement that the survey showed the need to increase education about the genocide.
“One person questioning the truth of the Holocaust is one too many, and so it is up to us to redouble our efforts to ensure future generations know that it did happen and become witnesses to one of the darkest episodes in our history,” she said.
The survey questioned 2,000 people and was conducted by the Opinion Matters polling company on behalf of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
The findings appear to echo two major polls last year which found that European Jews are feeling an increase in anti-Semitism and that there is widespread ignorance regarding the Holocaust on the continent.
A major poll for CNN last year found that one-fifth of Europeans believe Jewish people have too much influence in finance and politics, and one-third said they knew nothing at all or “just a little” about the Holocaust.
Last December a major European report found nearly 90% of European Jews feel that anti-Semitism has increased in their home countries over the past five years, and almost 30% say they have been harassed at least once in the past year.
The most common anti-Semitic statements Jews come across regularly, according to the survey, are comparisons between Israelis and the Nazis with regard to the Palestinians. Suggestions that Jews have too much power and “exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” also ranked highly. Such abuse was most commonly experienced online, in the media and at political events.
British Jews expressed the highest level of concern about anti-Semitism in political life — at 84% — with one expert saying it was “highly probable that a Corbyn factor can be found in the UK results,” referring to the continuing firestorm over accusations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and from the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn himself.
The UK also saw the highest increase in the number of Jews who had considered emigrating in the past five years due to safety concerns.