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Massive European study finds large gap in East, West acceptance of Jews

Pew surveys of 56,000 adults in 34 nations find Western Europeans more willing to have Jewish family members, neighbors than in East; divide in acceptance of Muslims even greater

Illustrative photo of Jewish people praying in a synagogue in Warsaw, Poland, on February 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Illustrative photo of Jewish people praying in a synagogue in Warsaw, Poland, on February 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Eastern Europeans are far less willing to have Jews in their families or as their neighbors than their Western European counterparts, a gap that is even more pronounced when it comes to attitudes toward Muslims.

According to an analysis of a series of surveys by the Pew Research Center carried out from 2015 to 2017 among some 56,000 adults in 34 European countries, the gap between Europe’s two halves is significant.

The figures are also largely unchanged among young adults, aged 18-34, suggesting that current attitudes are likely to remain constant for the foreseeable future.

Only 40 percent of Russians said they “would be willing to accept Jews as members of their family,” and just 35% of Greeks, 43% of Ukrainians, 51% of Czechs and 57% of Poles.

A broken window is seen at the New Synagogue in Gdansk, Poland, after a stone was thrown at it during Yom Kippur prayers on September 20, 2018. (GWŻ Gdańsk via World Jewish Congress)

Among Western European nations, meanwhile, the figure was 69% in the United Kingdom and Germany, 76% in France, 79% in Spain, 89% in Belgium — and was at its highest in the Scandinavian countries: 92% in Sweden, 92% in Denmark and 95% in Norway.

Only 5% or less in Scandinavian and northern European countries said they would reject Jews as their neighbors, with the highest figure in Western Europe being 12%, in Italy.

The corresponding figures given for Eastern Europe were divided by religious affiliation within each country. Rejection of Jews as neighbors was as high as 33% among Armenia’s Christian Orthodox and 30% among that population in Romania. In Lithuania and Ukraine, 24% and 21% of Catholics, respectively, said they wouldn’t accept Jews in their neighborhood.

The East-West gap is even more pronounced when it comes to Muslims, who are less liked than Jews in every European country except Muslim-majority Bosnia.

Illustrative: A participant wears a kippah during a ‘wear a kippah’ gathering to protest against anti-Semitism in front of the Jewish Community House on April 25, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images via JTA)

In the East, just 34% of Russians said they would accept a Muslim in the family, 31% of Greeks, 25% of Ukrainians, 12% of Czechs and 33% of Poles. Among Orthodox Christians, 77% in Armenia, 48% in Latvia and 40% in Belarus said they would reject Muslims as neighbors. Some 66% of Catholics in the Czech Republic and 56% of that population in Lithuania also said so.

In the West, the figure for those who accept Muslims as family members was 53% in the UK, 55% in Germany, 66% in France, 74% in Spain, 77% in Belgium, and among the Scandinavians 80%, 81% and 82% in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, respectively.

The figure for those who accept Muslims as neighbors was 78% in the UK, 77% in Germany, 85% in France, 86% in Spain, 91% in Belgium and among the Scandinavians 90%, 91% and 92% in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, respectively.

Acceptance of Jews and Muslims tends to correspond to the extent to which citizens of a particular country view their religious identity as fundamental to their national identity. In Greece, for example, where few want either Muslims or Jews in their families, 76% agreed with the statement that “to truly share their national identity” one needs to be Greek Orthodox. In Russia and Ukraine, 57% and 51% believe belonging to the national Christian church is fundamental to belonging to the nation.

A Greek Orthodox priest shouts slogans during a rally in Pella, northern Greece, on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Thousands of protesters gather near the birthplace of Alexander the Great in northern Greece to demand that the Greek government takes a tough stance with Macedonia over the latter country’s name. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

In the UK, Germany, France and Denmark, meanwhile, just 34%, 34%, 32% and 19%, respectively, view religious conformity as basic to partaking in national identity — and acceptance of Jews and Muslims is correspondingly higher.

These gaps have shown resilience despite the growth of the European Union over a decade ago to include the nations of Eastern Europe, Pew notes.

The analysis of the surveys also found that Central and Eastern Europeans are less accepting than their western counterparts of same-sex marriage and legal abortion.

The surveys were conducted across Central and Eastern Europe in 2015 and 2016 and in Western Europe in 2017, Pew said. A separate analysis of the 24 member states of the European Union included in the studies can be found at the Pew Research Center’s website.

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