Anti-Semitic violence doubled in 2009

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
April 12, 2010 01:29

European Jews seek multi-nation legislation against bigotry and violence




Anti-Semitic violence doubled in 2009

anti-Semitism 298.88. (photo credit:AP [file])

A major annual study of worldwide anti-Semitic incidents points to a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism in 2009, with particularly steep jumps in Western Europe and Canada.

After two years of decline in anti-Jewish attacks in many parts of the world, the past year saw “coordinated and preplanned attacks on Jews” alongside “violent incidents and a [violent] atmosphere that feed on each other,” according to Prof. Dina Porat, editor of the “Anti-Semitism Worldwide 2009” report.

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The annual study is conducted by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University.

“The year in the wake of Operation Cast Lead was the worst since monitoring of anti-Semitic manifestations began, in terms of both major anti-Semitic violence and the hostile atmosphere generated worldwide by the mass demonstrations and verbal and visual expressions against Israel and the Jews,” the report said.

The report, considered an important bellwether of anti-Jewish sentiment worldwide, was released ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress (EJC).

Among its most dramatic findings was a 102 percent increase in anti-Jewish violence worldwide, from 559 incidents in 2008 to 1,129 in 2009.

In addition, there were “many more hundreds of threats, insults, graffiti signs and slogans and demonstrations featuring virulently anti-Semitic content… sometimes resulting in violence,” according to the report.

A significant part of this increase took place in the UK, where violence jumped from 112 incidents in 2008 to 374 last year; in France, where the jump was from 50 to 195, and in Canada, where incidents soared from 13 to 138.

The US, which ordinarily enjoys a very low rate of anti-Jewish violence compared to the size of its Jewish community, nonetheless saw a modest rise, from 98 to 116 incidents.

In some countries, these figures are only the latest spike in a continuing trend. The British Jewish community’s monitoring system counted a three-fold increase in anti-Semitic occurrences since 1999, while Canada counted a five-fold increase since 2000.

Most violent attacks in Western Europe came from people of Arab or Muslim heritage, the report found. Yet while the major jump in 2009 was thought to be connected to Operation Cast Lead in January, the baseline of attacks by extreme Left and extreme Right activists has been rising since the early 1990s.

This trend of a growing baseline of “white” perpetrators alongside occasional spikes by attackers stemming from the Muslim community is borne out most clearly in the UK.
In 2008, “when there was no trigger event in the Middle East,” the Jewish community’s Community Security Trust counted 63% of perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence being described by victims and witnesses as “white,” while descriptions of “Asian” or “Arab” – suggesting members of the Muslim community – counted for just 31%.

In 2009, however, “white” attacks dropped to 48% and “Asian” or “Arab” attacks jumped to 43%.

During the month of January 2009, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, “Asian” and “Arab” attackers accounted for fully 54% of incidents, although the Muslim community numbers just 4% of the general population.

Germany, Russia and the Ukraine do not seem to have been affected by the trend in the West, and may even have seen a decrease in incidents for 2009, the report found. It is unclear if the difference is real, or due to difficulties in discovering and reporting incidents.

Some countries that had no violent anti-Semitic incidents at all in 2008 saw a sudden surge in 2009. Thus, Brazil went from 0 to 15 last year, and Austria from 0 to 22.

In response to these figures, the European Jewish Congress vowed “go on the offensive,” in the words of EJC president Moshe Kantor .

The growth of anti-Jewish violence must be challenged in “a very professional and very serious way, and we are in a position today to be offensive,” Kantor said Sunday.

The central plank of this effort will include turning to the European Council of Tolerance and Reconciliation to accelerate the council’s efforts to forge unified European anti-racism legislation that will offer states more tools – and create greater political pressure – to deal effectively with racist expressions.

Such legislation has been discussed in the ECTR since its formation in 2008, but a draft bill has yet to be written.

The council, a grouping of former European heads of state charged with working to combat bigotry and racism in Europe, has gone only as far as preliminary studies of various tolerance laws at the national level.

But for the EJC, a Europe-wide law will set a Europe-wide standard in combating intolerance.

“Synagogues are burned, and in response people at the top levels of European government say to us that this is a ‘natural response’ to these pressures, to what is happening in the Middle East,” said Arie Zuckerman, an Israeli attorney who serves as the secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund and an adviser to the EJC.

“It is unthinkable that there are no boundaries to the kinds of reactions Europe is willing to tolerate inside the continent,” he said.

“Every time the conflict flares up in Israel, we have to accept someone setting a synagogue on fire? If mosques were being attacked, would anyone say this was to be expected because there are conflicts in the Muslim world?” asked Zuckerman.

According to the researchers involved in the new TAU study, obtaining accurate statistics for anti-Semitic violence is difficult, since many factors could skew the results.

According to Dr. Roni Stauber, the coeditor of the study together with Porat, the countries with the highest number of violent incidents, France and Britain, also have the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, and the most powerful far-Left movements on the continent.

At the same time, explains statistician Dr. Haim Fireberg, who worked on the study, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has found that the United Kingdom, for example, has a higher rate of racist expression generally than other European countries, which may account for the high number of attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions.

Furthermore, say the researchers, Western democracies like the US, Canada and the West Europeans may be over-represented in the statistics because they have better monitoring and record-keeping compared to East European and other states, and not necessarily because of higher rates of violence toward Jews.

“It is in the democratic liberal countries that you have better monitoring and a higher willingness of the citizen to report incidents,” while other countries face reporting problems ranging from fearful victims to disorganized or uninterested law enforcement agencies, said Porat.

And finally, the anti-Semitic incidents have not been compared to the level of violence in these countries’ general populations, since in many countries crime statistics for 2009 are not yet available, according to the researchers.

However, say the study’s authors, even after factoring for these problems, the statistics still point to a huge escalation in anti-Jewish violence and abuse.

First, the report imposes a strict criteria for incidents classified as “anti-Semitic.”
“We only counted incidents that are demonstrably targeting Jews,” said one researcher. “So we didn’t count a swastika painted in the street, but we did count it if it was painted on a Jewish site.”

In some cases, the report uses figures that are even lower than that of the local government. For example, in the case of France, the report cites the French Jewish community’s figure of 832 anti-Semitic incidents (including nonviolent ones) for 2009, rather than the much higher 974 counted by the French Interior Ministry.

Timing, too, points to anti-Semitic intention. Most of the attacks on Jews took place on Jewish holidays or Shabbat, when the victims were more likely to be dressed in traditional Jewish garb.

The report also notes that attacks often spike alongside increases in “bloodthirsty imagery” of Jews and Israel in the Arab and Muslim press and on the political margins of Europe and the West.

Finally, in countries where figures for the general population are available, the rate of violence against Jews is dramatically higher than for the general population.

Thus in Germany, in a statement issued December 17, 2009, German Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt) President Joerg Ziercke “reported that almost three acts of racial violence were committed in Germany daily and some three anti-Semitically motivated assaults took place per month,” the report notes.

That translates roughly into 1,080 violent racist acts each year, with some 36 of them directed at Jews – or almost 3% of all attacks.

That’s an extremely high figure when compared to the size of the Jewish community – roughly 120,000 out of 82 million Germans, or just over one-tenth of 1%.

According to these figures, though racist attacks as a whole are rare in Germany, Jews are 21 times more likely to face one than the average German.

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