Majority of French Jews have been the victims of antisemitic acts - survey

Jews in France take to being less visibly Jewish to avoid antisemitism. *Jews and the general public closely agree on primary sources of antisemitism.

PROTESTORS GATHER outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sunday to demand justice for Sarah Halimi, who was murdered by an antisemitic assailant in her apartment in Paris in 2017. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
PROTESTORS GATHER outside the French Embassy in Tel Aviv on Sunday to demand justice for Sarah Halimi, who was murdered by an antisemitic assailant in her apartment in Paris in 2017.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

A wide majority of France's Jewish population agrees that antisemitism is widespread in France and on the rise, with most Jews and the general public agreeing that antisemitism is a major concern in French society, according to a new study by the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

In total, 85% of French Jews said antisemitism is a widespread issue in France, with 73% saying it has increased in France today. Further, nearly three-quarters (74%) of French Jews say that they had been the victims of an antisemitic act during their lives.

Many Jews in France have also taken measures to appear less visibly Jewish as well. According to the study, which was composed of three surveys conducted by leading polling firm IFOP and French think tank Fondapol. 

This includes over half (55%) of parents asking their children not to wear kippot or Stars of David, and nearly half (45%) telling their children to hide their Jewish identity completely.

This is in line with other statistics, which show 41% of Jews not having religious symbols like mezuzot visible, 35% avoiding any style of dress that could be recognized as Jewish and 37% saying they have been feeling threatened just for being Jewish.

Protesters gather in Jerusalem against the French ruling in the Sarah Halimi murder case, April 25, 2021.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Protesters gather in Jerusalem against the French ruling in the Sarah Halimi murder case, April 25, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Statistics also show how parents feel about the safety of their children in schools, with nearly a third (32%) saying their children have been the victims of antisemitic slurs while others (18%) say their children were physically assaulted. 

“Fearing for one’s own safety and for children’s security has tragically become the new normal for most French Jews, leading many of them to choose to hide their Jewish identity and to tell their children to do so as well. This is simply unacceptable in any democracy that is supposed to protect all of its citizens,” AJC Europe director Simone Rodan-Benzaquen said in a statement.

Despite these efforts, in schools at the very least, being visibly Jewish seems to not be a significant factor in being the victim of antisemitic incidents. According to the study, 59% of students who were the victims of antisemitism wore distinctive items or dress identifyign them as Jewish, while 57% of victims did not.

In public, the situation is very different, with a vast majority of victims (68% on the street, 57% on public transport) being visibly Jewish in some way.

Overall, this has left most Jews in France to have very little confidence in the authorities being able to bring antisemitic offenders to justice. A wide majority (80%) of French Jews who were the victims of antisemitism never bothered filing a complaint with French law enforcement. Over three quarters (76%) also never tried reporting it to a Jewish community association.

In the French general population, a majority (73%) seem to agree with most of the Jewish population (77%) that antisemitism is a problem for all of France, not just for Jews. Most have even seen at least one act of antisemtiism, 48% saying it was on social media, 38% seeing it on the streeets and 36% seeing in their work place.

Around half (51%) of the general population, however, thinks the current discussion of antisemitism in society is enough, while about a third (34%) say it hasn't been talked about enough.

Why is there antisemitism in France?

The Jews and the general population seem to be in close agreement about this topic.

The majority (62% of Jews, 53% of the general populace) agree that the primary cause of antisemtisim in France is due to a hatred or outright rejection of the State of Israel. 

Close to half (45% of jews, 48% of the general populace), however, point to a different cause: Islamist ideology.

Around a third point to conspiracy theoriees (35% of Jews, 37% of the general populace) or right-wing extremist views (28% of Jews, 36% of the general population) while a smaller number (21% of Jews, 13% of the general populace) point to far-left ideology.

Indeed, the study also indicates that many in France hold ingrained antisemitic views related to classic tropes. This includes believing Jews are richer (30%), that they use their "status as victims" of the Holocaust to their advantage (30%) and that Jews wield a disproportionate amount of power and influence in finance (26%) or the media (24%).

French Muslims

But when studying just France's Muslim population, the statistics paint a different picture.

Over a third (36%) of French Muslims think antisemitism receives too much attention in public discourse, and 15% admit to feeling antipathy for Jews. Nearly half also point to the far Right (49%) or conspiracy theories (46%) as the main source of antisemitism.

Indeed, French Muslims also seem to be more likely to believe in classic antisemitic tropes.

When asked the same questions, over half thought Jews were wealthier than the average French person (53%) and that they have too much power in finance (51%) and the media (54%). A significant number (40%) also think Jews use their "Holocaust victim status" to their advantage.

But the numbers further change when looking at the age demographics among French Muslims, as far fewer younger French Muslims seem to believe the classic antisemitic tropes as their elders.

France has had a number of recent high-profile antisemitic incidents in recent years. Among the most infamous was the murder of Sarah Halimi in 2017. The killer was fully acquitted by France's highest court due to having been under the influence of marijuana, which, the court argued, meant he could not be held responsible and that the killing could not be attributed to antisemitism.

The report also comes following a survey from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which found that France was considered by Israelis to be the most antisemitic country in Europe.

According to Gisela Dachs, the principal author of the survey and professor at the Hebrew University’s European Forum, the perception of France as topping the list of antisemitic European nations “did not surprise me. For a long time, it’s been an open secret that France is rife with antisemitism, and not just among the far-right politicians and populations. Since Israel’s Second Intifada in 2000, French Jews have started to feel there may be no future for the younger generation in France, and quite a few have emigrated to Israel to maintain their Jewish identity.”