Analysis: British Jewry and a feeling of insecurity

The temperature of debate has risen significantly in Jewish circles in recent months, and the future of European Jewry is being discussed in a way that was not the case before the summer.

January 15, 2015 02:50
3 minute read.
jews london

A Jewish man and boys in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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There is little doubt that many Jews in the UK feel rattled by the murders at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris.

If anyone was in any doubt about the threat posed by Islamist extremism in Europe, its realities were laid bare by the attacks, and it is perhaps inevitable that Jews across Europe feel less secure in their aftermath.

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The fact that the attacks came just a few months after a huge spike in the number of anti-Semitic incidents was observed in the UK and across Europe during the summer war in Gaza only adds to that sense of insecurity.

Certainly, the temperature of debate has risen significantly in Jewish circles in recent months, and the future of European Jewry is being discussed in a way that was not the case before the summer.

The additional fact that a new British Jewish organization, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), has been established and been highly active in recent months, should be seen in this context.

Its very existence, and the passion with which it has undertaken its work, reflects British Jewish communal discourse. In its short life, the organization has successfully run rallies against anti-Semitism and gained access to the highest echelons of the British political establishment.

Jews want opportunities to voice their concerns, and the CAA is providing an outlet.


Its research and analysis, however, leave something to be desired.

The finding, for example, that “almost half of British adults believe at least one of the anti-Semitic statements shown to them to be true” is a deeply flawed read of the data. An accurate and honest read would rather highlight the fact that between 75 percent and 90% of people in Britain either do not hold anti-Semitic views or have no particular view of Jews either way, and only about 4% to 5% of people can be characterized as clearly anti-Semitic. This figure is similar to Pew data gathered in 2009 and 2014, which estimates the level at somewhere between 2% and 7%, and Anti-Defamation League data gathered in 2014 which, while also flawed, put it at 8%, and, more robustly, identified the UK as among the least anti-Semitic countries in the world.

The CAA’s findings concerning Jewish perceptions and attitudes about anti-Semitism – for example, that “well over half of British Jews believe Jews may have no long-term future in Europe” – are based on a survey with little, if any, methodological credibility.

Well over half of its survey respondents may indeed believe that, but neither this, nor any of the other findings, can be generalized to the UK Jewish population as a whole.

But, in many respects, dwelling on the methodological flaws of a new organization misses the point. The more important observation is that British Jews are actively organizing to combat a perceived rise of racism and intolerance in British society. They perceive a change in discourse about Israel in politics and the media that feels uncomfortable and threatening, and they see too many examples of murder by Islamist extremists. Right now, British Jews are not fleeing the country in any way; unlike in France, aliya levels have remained constant for several years and, if anything, more Jews are moving to Britain than leaving it. But the fact that the Jewish community, which is often held up as the example, par excellence, of integration into British society, is showing signs of apprehension should ring alarm bells across government circles – not just in Britain but throughout Europe. If Britain’s aspirations for multiculturalism are to succeed, Jews, like other minorities, have to feel safe.

The writer is the executive director of JPR, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based independent research center and think tank.

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