Poll: European Jewish leaders won't emigrate despite rising antisemitism

In a historic reversal, security concerns for European Jews are higher in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe.

Infographic on European Jewish antisemitism. (photo credit: AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE)
Infographic on European Jewish antisemitism.
Despite increasing concern about rising antisemitism, the large majority of Jewish leaders and decision makers in Europe are not considering emigrating from the continent, a new poll has shown.
The study, conducted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s International Center for Community Development (JDC-ICCD), demonstrated that despite anxiety about antisemitism and terrorism, the large majority of European Jewish leaders believe that the countries they live in are safe, and that internal communal issues such as engagement in Jewish life and demographic concerns are more serious threats to Jewish life than security concerns.
This is the fourth such poll conducted by the JDC-ICCD and was conducted in April and May of this year, with the others done in 2008, 2011 and 2015.
The JDC-ICCD poll was taken on 893 respondents from 29 countries in 10 languages with a margin of error of under 5%.
The study was conducted on Jewish leaders from across Europe, including heads of Jewish organizations, rabbis, principals of Jewish schools, Jewish education professionals, young activists, community media, intellectuals, academics and significant donors to these communities.
Infographic on European Jewish antisemitism.Infographic on European Jewish antisemitism.
Of those polled, 83% said they felt safe or rather safe and 17% said somewhat or not at all safe. Although still high, these figures represent a decline from the first poll in 2008 when 92% of those polled said they felt safe.
This general sense of security was borne out in the perceived threats to Jewish life on the continent, with respondents placing alienation from Jewish life, demographic decline, lack of engagement of community members, weakness of Jewish organizations and declining knowledge of Judaism all above terrorism and violence against Jews and antisemitism.
Despite this, the Jewish leaders polled said that while strengthening Jewish education remains their first priority, as it has been since 2008, combating antisemitism was third in their priorities for the first time.
By comparison, concern regarding intermarriage has steeply declined from 2008 when 64% of respondents said it was a serious problem compared to just 40% in 2018.
And although the threat of antisemitism was only the sixth highest on their list of threats to Jewish life, the number of respondents rating it as a serious threat jumped from just 40% in 2015 to 56% in the current poll.
There was, however, a significant regional split in the perception of security and safety concerns between Jewish leaders in Western and Eastern Europe, with 63% of those in the West ranking antisemitism as a serious threat compared to 38% in the East, and 47% of Westerners ranking terrorism and violence against Jews as a serious threat compared to just 22% of Easterners.
Indeed, whereas 96% of those in the East felt safe in their city, only 76% of those in the West did, while almost one in four from Western Europe (24%) felt unsafe in their city in contrast to only 4% of those in the East.
“One hundred years ago, Western Europe was considered a safe haven, and now it’s the opposite,” noted project director Marcelo Dimenstein, tying these concerns to “a change in the demographics of Western Europe and the rise of radical Islam” there.
Eastern European countries have tiny Muslim populations, and those in the EU have refused to accept any of the large numbers of Muslims who have flocked to the continent since 2014.
Despite these concerns, three out of four respondents thought their government did respond to security needs while only a quarter thought otherwise.
This is perhaps borne out in the results regarding possible emigration: The vast majority (76%) of Jewish leaders who participated in the survey said they have not considered emigrating, with just 3% making active preparations to leave their countries and 19% having considered doing so.
Of those considering emigration, two thirds (67%) said they would move to Israel, 15% to another European country and 15% said they would move to North America.
Dimenstein said that despite the rising concern with antisemitism in Europe, especially Western Europe, it is not state-sponsored and governments have publicly committed to fighting the phenomenon.
“People believe they can live a full Jewish life in Europe, so they see no reason to emigrate,” he said.
The study demonstrated widespread support for Israel, with 83% of respondents agreeing that: “All Jews have a responsibility to support Israel" - the highest figure since the first poll in 2008 - and 84% also said that Israel is critical in sustaining Jewish life in Europe.
Some 69% of respondents even agreed with the statement that “I support Israel fully, regardless of how its government behaves, with 30% disagreeing with this position.