UK Jewry experts cast doubt on rise in anti-Semitism

While calling for more research into the levels of anti-Semitism, its causes and effects, respected demographers have made clear that the situation in the UK is not as bad as the reports suggest.

May 17, 2015 00:16
2 minute read.

A man putting on a kippa as part of a solidarity campaign with European Jews. (photo credit: screenshot)

Despite several claims of a marked increase in the level of anti-Semitism in the UK in recent years, a new academic study points to a much less alarmist position when excluding last year’s record peak due to the Gaza conflict.

Dr. Jonathan Boyd, Jewish Policy Research’s executive director – whose specialty is the study of contemporary Jewry – has co-authored “Could it happen here? What existing data tell us about contemporary antisemitism in the UK” with JPR’s senior researcher Dr. Daniel Staetsky. While calling for more research into the levels of anti-Semitism, its causes and effects, the respected demographers have made clear that the situation in the UK is not as bad as some of the reports earlier this year suggested.

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Antagonism against Jews, they concluded, is comparatively low and stable despite 2014 being recorded as seeing the highest levels yet. Acknowledging the “spike in anti-Semitic incidents during the Gaza war in summer 2014, and the Islamist attacks on Jews in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen,” the writers said that existing data presented a “complex and multifaceted picture of reality.”

Referring to a Sunday Times poll in January 2015 which found that 7 percent of British adults were either very or fairly negative toward Jews, the JPR concluded that six months after the Gaza conflict, “we observe no discernible change overall in British people’s attitudes towards Jews in the UK as to the medium to long-term result of that conflict.”

The Annual Anti-Semitism Barometer report carried out by the recently established Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which commissioned pollsters YouGov to survey 3,411 adults in the UK, led to media headlines suggesting that Britain was at a tipping point in its anti-Semitism levels. CAA’s chairman Gideon Falter said at the time that its survey was a “shocking wake-up call” and unless anti-Semitism was met with zero tolerance, it would grow with British Jews “increasingly questioning their place in their own country.”

The JPR researchers said they were “some way from being able to empirically and unequivocally determine the nature of the problem, its scale or its direction of travel in ways that cut through all of the hyperbole bias and conjecture that litter public discourse.”

In a clear rebuke to the CAA, they added that monitoring anti-Semitism “requires more than ‘being concerned’ or having good intentions.” Work needed to be done on the research side and the Jewish community needed to “steer away from knee-jerk reactions and ad hoc research enterprises,” they added.

The JPR researchers made clear this criticism did not apply to the Community Security Trust – which specializes in tackling anti-Semitism on behalf of the community and whose annual figures are regarded by government, its agencies and the Jewish community as the most reliable of sources.

They went on to warn that if communal leaders want to better understand the trends in anti-Semitism so as to deal with analysis and policy development issues, greater professionalism and more long-term investment was needed. “The alternative is deeply problematic with further wastage of resources, a continuing inflow of superfluous data and persistent uncertainty as to ‘what it all means,’” they said.

All this, they concluded, would be “at the expense of greater clarity and we believe [of] greater safety for Jews, professionalism, objectivity and expertise.”

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