Nearly half of young Jewish Europeans have been the victim of at least one anti-Semitic incident in the past year, newly published findings from an unprecedented survey reveal.
They are also considerably more likely to experience anti-Semitism than older Jews, the European Union report finds.
The research also suggests that young Jews in Europe are particularly likely to believe that they are accused or blamed by people in their countries for the actions of the Israeli government because they are Jewish. Eighty-five percent of the 16-34 year-olds surveyed said this happens to them at least occasionally; nearly one-quarter said it occurs “all the time.”
Researchers speculate that the results may reflect the growing problem of anti-Semitism on European campuses. More than half of the young people who participated in the survey were students.
Michael O’Flaherty, director of the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which published the report alongside the European Commission and the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), called the results “deeply troubling.”
“These findings make for grim reading,” O’Flaherty writes in a foreword to “Young Jewish Europeans: perceptions and experiences of anti-Semitism.” “We must fight anti-Semitism by tackling it at its roots, no matter how difficult that is.”
The research draws on an online survey of 16,000 Jews – the largest ever of its kind worldwide – carried out last year in 12 EU member states. Country-by-country findings were published last December. The new report breaks down the results by age for the first time, painting, it says, “an unprecedented portrait of young Jewish Europeans today.” The data is broken down into three age groups — those aged between 16 and 34 years old; 35-59 year-olds; and the over-60s — in order to trace both similarities and differences across a range of subjects.
Forty-five percent of young Jewish Europeans said they had experienced at least one anti-Semitic incident in the year prior to the survey taking place. One-third of Jews aged between 35 and 59 and one-fifth of those aged over 60 reported that they had also been the victims of an anti-Semitic experience. While the proportion of all Jews suffering anti-Semitism was “strikingly high,” suggests the report, “young people are clearly the most vulnerable group.”
Forty percent of young victims of anti-Semitic harassment said the most serious incident they had experienced in the past five years had occurred during a period of tension or conflict in Israel. By contrast, less than one-third of those aged 60-plus had experienced anti-Semitic harassment at such a time.
The vast majority of anti-Semitic incidents were cases of harassment. Examples included anti-Semitic emails or text messages, offensive or threatening anti-Semitic comments made in person, anti-Semitic gestures, and anti-Semitic comments about the victim posted on social media.
The extent of anti-Semitic violence and vandalism — again more likely to be experienced by young people — were also uncovered by the research.
Nearly one in every 25 young Jewish Europeans said they had been the victim of an anti-Semitic physical attack in the past year. This constituted a “noticeably higher proportion than either of the older age bands,” the report suggests. A similar pattern was found with regard to anti-Semitic vandalism.
Eighty percent of the young Jews who had experienced anti-Semitic harassment — and 51% of victims of anti-Semitic violence — did not report it to the authorities.
“It is particularly striking to see that young Jews are significantly more likely to experience anti-Semitic harassment than the two older age bands,” says Dr. Jonathan Boyd, executive director of JPR and author of the report.
“In some respects we would expect to find that — as a general rule, young adults in all ethnic and religious minorities are more likely to experience racist harassment than older people. But that doesn’t make the findings about young Jews any less concerning, particularly in a context where the discourse about anti-Semitism is heating up and where anxiety levels are rising,” he says.
Across all age groups, victims of anti-Semitic harassment most often described the perpetrator as “someone with a Muslim extremist view.” Nearly one-third of young people identified their assailant in this way, with 21% suggesting the person was “someone with a left-wing political view,” and 14% pointing to “someone with a right-wing political view.”
However, young people were much more likely than middle-aged or older Jews to report that the perpetrators of the anti-Semitic harassment they had experienced were “teenagers or a group of teenagers” or a “work, school or college colleague.” One-quarter of young Jewish Europeans who had suffered anti-Semitic harassment pointed to each of these two segments of the population.
Although the report cautions that it is “not possible to say for certain why this is,” it notes that over half of the young Jewish Europeans surveyed were students.
“Existing evidence shows that Jewish university students — especially those involved in some way in student politics — are known to be particularly susceptible to anti-Semitic harassment from their fellow students, often expressed in the form of anti-Israel discourse,” the report says.
“Such highly politicized university environments, often fueled by staunchly leftist political agenda, can feel acutely uncomfortable, and indeed anti-Semitic, for many of them,” it adds.
Differences between the three age groups in their perceptions of what constitutes anti-Semitism are “fairly small,” the report argues. It finds a “considerable degree of consensus both within each age band and across them” with over 90% agreeing that Holocaust denial or trivialization, or statements suggesting that Jews exploit the Shoah for their own purposes, are “definitely” or “probably” anti-Semitic. Similar numbers label ideas such as Jews having “too much power” in their country or being foreigners or disloyal as anti-Semitic.
However, two-thirds of young Jewish Europeans do not believe that criticism of Israeli government made by non-Jews is “definitely” or “probably” anti-Semitic. This figure is somewhat higher than the 59% of Jews in the older two age bands who hold this view.
The attitude of young people nonetheless shifts when criticism is expressed in a “particularly hostile manner,” the report states. It reveals that 70% regard boycotts of Israel or Israelis as anti-Semitic (80% of those aged over 35 hold the same view), while arguments that “Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians” are regarded as “definitely” or “probably” anti-Semitic by 80% of young Jews and similar numbers of those aged over 35.
Only one in 10 young European Jews say that the Arab-Israel conflict does not have any impact on how safe they feel living as a Jew in their country, with 37% saying that it affects them “a great deal” and the remainder at least a little. These feelings are broadly shared across the age groups. However, younger Jews are especially likely to report that they feel that people accuse them or blame them for anything done by the Israeli government because they are Jewish.
Only 8% of Jews aged over 60 and 15% of those between the ages of 35-59 feel this “all the time,” as opposed to 24% of 16-34 year-olds. Nonetheless, more than 60% of Jews in each age group suggested that they “frequently” or “occasionally” felt they were being held responsible for the Israeli government’s actions. Thus, says the report, “this is a phenomenon affecting Jews of all ages, but again, younger Jews are found to be most likely to experience it.”
The report finds a strong relationship between young European Jews and Israel. Ten percent hold Israeli citizenship and one in 14 of those who are married have an Israeli spouse. Nine in 10 have visited the Jewish state, three-quarters have family there, and nearly one in five were either born in Israel or have lived there for at least a year. Although the figures are higher among those aged over 35, three-quarters of young Jewish Europeans regard “supporting Israel” as an important part of their Jewish identity. “Israel features prominently in the lives and identities of young Jewish Europeans,” concludes the report.
Overall, 81% of young Jews say that anti-Semitism is a problem in their country, a figure in line with that reported by the two older aged bands. Eighty-three percent of young European Jews believe the problem has increased over the past five years, slightly less than the number reported among older people. This variance may be accounted for by the fact that “those in the older age bands have longer memories,” suggests the report.
All three ages groups overwhelmingly point to the internet and social media as the area in which anti-Semitism is most problematic. Young European Jews, though, are more likely than those aged 60-plus to view anti-Semitism as a problem in almost every context measured by the survey. These included hostility to Jews in the street and public places, anti-Semitism in the media and political life, and vandalism of Jewish buildings or institutions.
The report also tests some measures of anxiety among European Jews. Although the majority report that they “never” avoid certain places or locations in their local neighborhood because they do not feel safe there as Jews, “significant minorities” do so at least occasionally. Once again, young people are the most likely to do so, and, while the proportions are small, they are also more likely to have moved because they did not feel safe where they were living as Jews.
“One in every seven or eight young Jewish Europeans feels sufficiently unsafe to have either moved out of the neighborhood in which they lived, or to have made active plans to do so, or to have contemplated it,” the report notes.
Four in 10 young Jews also claim to have contemplated emigrating from the country in which they currently live out of fear for their safety as Jews — a similar proportion to those aged 35-59 years-old but considerably more than the 25% of the 60-plus group who say the same. One-third of the youngest Jewish group who have considered leaving their home countries say they have made plans to do so, with two-thirds of these citing Israel as their preferred destination.
The report’s findings, its author believes, underline the need for urgent action.
“The Jewish population of Europe has been in a state of decline for a century and a half now, and leaders working at the European, national and local levels have a fundamental responsibility to construct a social and political context in which Jews, and indeed all minorities, feel safe,” says Boyd. “For all the efforts many good people are making on all of these levels, these data suggest that much more still needs to be done.”