There is much debate over who poses the greatest threat to Jews in the 21st century. Some point to the far Right, others to the Islamists, and some to the far Left. Often, it is ideological or political considerations that determine where the pointing is directed towards, rather than looking objectively at the statistics.
While the main sources of antisemitic incidents and discourse remains the same, the proportion of antisemitism emanating from each category is contentious territory.
Most reports or data on antisemitic incidents do not contain the source of, or motivation for, the antisemitism — whether political or religious, and many do not state the ethnicity, gender or age, of the perpetrator. This is partly due to the perpetrators of antisemitic incidents, eg vandalism, arson, etc, often being unidentified and unknown.
However, the motivation for some incidents can be identified, eg when graffiti or a leaflet has the name of a group attached, or when arrests are made, or in cases of physical assault and verbal abuse, aspects of the identity and motivation of the perpetrator are often identifiable due to the close proximity of perpetrator and victim. Overall, in comparison to the amount of information on antisemitic incidents (victim, incident type, date, place etc) there is much less information on the perpetrators of these acts.
The following information on the sources of antisemitic incidents, therefore, is not meant to be conclusive or even a comprehensive study, but rather an overview to indicate what the available studies show. The following, therefore, will only tell a partial story, and must be seen in that light, and read with that caution.
The four countries with the highest numbers of Jews, outside of Israel, are the USA, France, Canada, and Britain. Data and studies from these countries, plus Australia, that provide information on perpetrators of antisemitic incidents is set out below.
Europe – seven countries
A study on “Antisemitic Violence in Europe” conducted by Oslo University in 2005-2015, and published in 2017, looked at seven European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the UK. Four of these countries have large Jewish minorities, and all have a data collection system for antisemitic incidents.
The study noted that “France and the UK have the largest total number of violent incidents when we adjust for different reporting levels, estimated at 4,092 and 3,844 incidents during the period 2005–2015.”
In brief, the study found that those “exposed to [antisemitic] violence and serious threats” in France, the UK, Germany and Sweden “most often perceived the perpetrator(s) to be “someone with a Muslim extremist view”” and that “right-wing extremists, who are often associated with antisemitism, in fact constitute a clear minority of perpetrators.” In addition, “in France, Sweden and the UK (but not in Germany) the perpetrator was perceived to be left-wing more often than right-wing.” However, “perpetrators in Russia are described exclusively as right-wing extremists (neo-Nazis and skinheads).”
In the two countries with the largest Jewish populations (France and Britain), the victims of antisemitic incidents perceived Muslims to be the number one perpetrators, then the left-wing, then the right-wing. In Russia, however, most perpetrators were perceived to be from the far right.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a scholar of antisemitism, wrote in 2018 that “Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe has been greatly under-researched. Many authorities have tried to keep statistical data and other information about anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslim immigrants and their descendants out of the limelight. This has occurred despite the fact that all resolved murders of Jews in Western Europe in the past decade have been committed by Muslims. The same is largely true for other extreme anti-Semitic incidents. Among these are serious attacks on synagogues in France.”
Gerstenfeld continued, noting that in 2003, The Center for Research on Anti-Semitism (CRA) at the Technical University of Berlin, which was charged with conducting a study on European antisemitism, by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), “identified young Muslims of Arab descent as the main perpetrators of physical attacks against Jews and the desecration and destruction of synagogues. The EUMC did not publish the study. The CRA stated that the reason for not publishing the document was that it exposed the many Muslim perpetrators of anti-Semitic incidents.” In the end, the World Jewish Congress obtained and published the CRA report.
In France, there have been thirteen murders of Jews motivated by antisemitism since 2003 – all committed by Muslims. These include: Sébastien Selam (2003), Ilan Halimi (2006), Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, Aryeh Sandler, aged 6, Gabriel Sandler, aged 3, Miriam Monsonego, aged 8 (at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012), Elsa Cayat (at Charlie Hebdo in 2015), Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, François-Michel Saada and Philippe Braham (at the Hyper Cacher in 2015), Sarah Halimi (2017), and Mireille Knoll (2018).
It should be noted that a Muslim, Lassana Bathily, working at the Hyper Cacher saved the lives of many other Jews by hiding them from the gunman. Elsa Cayat is included in this list as the Islamist murderers chose to spare all the women except one, the only Jewish woman who was identified as Jewish by the perpetrators and had received racist death threats from Islamists in the past. Georges Wolinski, although Jewish, is excluded from the list, as he was killed primarily because he worked at Charlie Hebdo, along with the other male workers.
The former Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, stated in 2016 that “The problem, is that anti-Semitism today in France comes less from the far right than from individuals of the Muslim faith or culture”. He added that in France, for at least two decades, all attacks against Jews in which the perpetrator has been identified have come from Muslims.
An extensive article in the New York Times in 2018 states: “Anti-Semitism was supposed to be a disease of the far right. But the people actually killing Jews in France these days are not members of the National Front. They are Islamists. “The major crimes against the Jewish community — Ilan Halimi, the Toulouse killings, the Hyper Cacher killings, Sarah Halimi — all of them have all been carried out by radicalized Muslims,” Robert Ejnes, the executive director of CRIF, an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups. […] Jews represent less than 1 percent of the population in France, yet in 2014, 51 percent of all racist attacks were carried out against them, according to the French Interior Ministry.”
In France, the murder of Jews was perpetrated exclusively by Muslims. As to other forms of antisemitic incidents, high level claims are made that Muslims feature prominently, but actual studies on the composition of perpetrators has not been conclusively determined.
In Britain, both the police and the Community Security Trust (CST), a Jewish community organisation, monitor, document and analyse antisemitic incidents.
In identifying the political, religious or ethnic identity of a perpetrator, Dave Rich of CST noted in 2014 that the use of the Nazi term “Heil Hitler” is not confined to neo-Nazis or the far right, but he writes that paradoxically “Those British Muslims who verbally abuse British Jews on the street are more likely to shout ‘Heil Hitler’ than ‘Allahu Akhbar’ when they do so.” Clearly, the term is recognised widely as being extremely offensive to Jews. Rich adds that “The most acute threat to Jewish life in Europe today comes from the jihadists of al-Qaeda, ISIS and their supporters. Much antisemitic hate crime in Western Europe is perpetrated by Muslim youths (although this varies from country to country, and from city to city).”
In its “Antisemitic Incidents Report 2017”, the CST stated (page 29): “a description of the ethnic appearance of the offenders was obtained in 420, or 30 per cent, of the 1,382 antisemitic incidents recorded by CST in 2017. Of these, 225 offenders were described as ‘White – North European’ (54 per cent); 13 offenders were described as ‘White – South European’ (three per cent); 77 offenders were described as ‘Black’ (18 per cent); 74 offenders were described as ‘South Asian’ (18 per cent); one offender was described as ‘Far East or South East Asian’ (0.2 per cent); and 30 offenders were described as being ‘Arab or North African’ (seven per cent).” Of note, “CST uses the ‘IC1-6’ system, used by the UK Police services, for categorising the ethnic appearance of offenders.” The report cautions that “While it is possible to collect data regarding the ethnic appearance of incident offenders, this data is not direct evidence of the offenders’ religious affiliations.”
According to these statistics, albeit referring only to 30% of incidents, the ethnic appearance breakdown of perpetrators is 57% of European background, 18% Black, and 25% composed of those of South Asian (predominantly Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian), Arab or North African background.
In previous years, ‘TellMama’ (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which documents anti-Muslim incidents, expressed concern at the high proportion of Muslims involved in antisemitic incidents, when in September 2014 noted that “The CST have just released their July figures on antisemitic hate crimes and the figures make for grim reading, particularly when victim feedback on the profiles of their perpetrators indicate that a high proportion of the 107 cases where the profiles of the perpetrator are known, are of a Muslim background. (Victims reported perpetrator profiles in 107 out of the 302 cases in July 2014).”
The ‘Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism’ in February 2015, noted (page 77) that: “indications from victim feedback on the profiles of perpetrators, that a high proportion of cases involved someone from a Muslim background.”
A report by the ‘Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy’ by Günther Jikeli in May 2015 stated: “Statistics for France and Great Britain from the last decade show that antisemitic perpetrators have been disproportionately of Muslim origin. Exact numbers are difficult to establish, however, because most perpetrators have not been identified. Cautious estimations put the percentage of Muslim perpetrators of antisemitic acts in Great Britain at between 20 and 30 percent, while the percentage of Muslims in the general population stands at 5 percent. About 30 percent of the perpetrators in all antisemitic incidents in France in recent years have been identified as Muslim/Arab. […] Muslims make up 6 to 8 percent of the total population of France.”
In Britain, those of European background are the clear majority of ethnically identified perpetrators, at 57%. The next group, at 25%, is composed of people of South Asian (Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Indian), Arab or North African background; this group would predominantly be composed of Muslims, since those lands, apart from India (which has the largest Muslim minority in the world), are Muslim-majority countries.
Statistically, those of European background are responsible for over twice as many incidents as those of a Muslim background. However, Muslims are disproportionally represented as perpetrators – five times their proportion of the British population – given that Muslims account for 4-5% of the British population.
According to Statistics Canada, a government body, in reference to their ‘Police-reported hate crimes by motivation and region, 2016’ (Table 2), the most targeted group for hate crimes in Canada were Jews, followed by Blacks, then Muslims, then LGBTI people. Of note, Jews make up only about 1% of the population of Canada.
On the perpetrators, Statistics Canada found that “Persons accused of crimes targeting Jewish populations tended to be young compared to those accused of other types of hate crimes, with 40% being under the age of 17. Moreover, accused persons were almost always male (89%).”
According to Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the sources of antisemitism in Canada are from “the old white supremacist form of anti-Semitism” and antisemitism “coming from the Muslim and the very left-wing academic, intellectual movement that is promoting things like boycotts and really the delegitimization of Israel, and that in turn is sending a ripple effect that creates more anti-Semitism for the general Jewish population.”
In the United States, the FBI collects and analyses hate crime statistics across the nation. For the seventeen years from 2000 to 2016 (the last year available), anti-Jewish hate crimes constituted between 55% and 74% of all hate crimes in the U.S. in the “Religion” category. In this category, Jews consistently are the foremost victims of hate crime. However, overall, Jews are the second most targeted group for all categories of hate crimes, after Blacks. Of note, Jews comprise only 2% of the American population.
The FBI categorises Offenders, with a slight change in terminology from 2013, according to race (“White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”, mixed, and unknown) and ethnicity (““Hispanic or Latino” and “Not Hispanic or Latino””, mixed, and unknown). None of these categories provide much information to indicate motivation. Of note, in a US Census report for 2010, on the “Definition of Race Categories” it states: ““White” refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.”
If the FBI uses the same definition of ‘White’ as the US Census Bureau (both government bodies) this means that ‘White’ can include a range of political and religious ideologies, and ethnicities from neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK, Christian Identitarians, Islamists, survivalists, socialists and so on; and ‘Black’ can also include a range of political and religious ideologies, eg the antisemitic group Nation of Islam.
A report released in December 2016 by the Community Security Service (CSS) in the USA, ‘Terrorist Incidents and Attacks Against Jews and Israelis in the United States 1969-2016’ authored by Yehudit Barsky, catalogued 104 serious incidents (including arson, shootings, and explosive devices) against Jews and Jewish institutions from 1969-2016. The CSS executive summary states: “Of the incidents where motivation can be ascertained, white supremacist and radical Islamist ideologies were a central influencing factor.”
An extensive and comprehensive article in ‘The Tower’ in 2017 by Johanna Markind investigates the perpetrators of antisemitic hate crimes in the USA. Markind states that: “Circumstantial evidence suggests the main perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes come from two separate sources: right-wing groups such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and Muslims and/or Arabs. Unfortunately, little information has been systematically collected on the subject.” She notes that both the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provide little in the way of the identity of perpetrators.
However, as written by Markind, the FBI recorded, in the case of anti-Jewish hate crimes, that of the 635 offenders in 2014, 87 were ‘White’, 20 were ‘Black’, 11 were ‘Non-Hispanic’, and 513 were unknown; in 2015, of the 695 offenders, 121 were ‘White’, 31 ‘Black’, 13 were ‘Non-Hispanic’, and 533 unknown. FBI data does not provide, or does not know, the race or ethnicity of over 75% of the perpetrators of anti-Jewish hate crime.
Markind noted that the media often make assumptions about the perpetrators. For example when a Chanukah menorah was twisted into a Nazi swastika, on the front lawn of a Jewish home in Arizona in December 2016, the assumption was that it was done by white supremacists. As it turned out, an African-American and his three unidentified accomplices were responsible for the antisemitic act. This provides a good example that the nature of the act itself cannot provide conclusive evidence of who the perpetrator is.
In Australia, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, publishes an annual report on antisemitism in Australia. Each report covers a twelve month period.
The ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia in 2016, with a total of 210 incidents, included information on the ethnic composition of the perpetrators of some types of antisemitic incidents, namely physical assault and verbal abuse (both types of incidents are where the victim and perpetrator are within close physical proximity). Of the 91 incidents of assault and abuse in Sydney and Melbourne (the two main Jewish population centres in Australia), there were 43 incidents where the ethnicity of the perpetrator/s was identified in the reporting of the incident. Many incidents had multiple perpetrators.
The data showed that of the 72 perpetrators whose ethnicity was logged, these were composed of 34 Caucasian, 31 Middle Eastern, 5 Maori/Polynesian, and 2 African. Percentage-wise, it comprised Caucasian at 47%, Middle Eastern at 43%, and ‘Other’ at 10%.
However, the breakdown between Sydney and Melbourne told a different story. In Sydney, it comprised Caucasian (17 perpetrators) at 39%, and Middle Eastern (22 perpetrators) at 51%. In Melbourne, it comprised Caucasian (17 perpetrators) at 58%, and Middle Eastern (9 perpetrators) at 31%. In both Sydney and Melbourne, ‘Other’ comprised 10%.
It is to be noted that this data only applies to 43 out of the 91 incidents of assault and abuse in Sydney and Melbourne, ie to 47% of these incidents, and therefore only tells a partial story. However, it does provide some indication of the composition of the ethnic sources of antisemitic incidents.
In the subsequent ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia in 2017, 22% of the 230 recorded incidents were perpetrated by one group, a neo-Nazi group. These incidents comprised putting up posters, stickers, graffiti and murals. Some of these posters were calling to legalise the execution of Jews, demonising Jews as poisoning Australian society, and blaming Jews for non-white immigration.
In summary, in Australia over 2016 and 2017 (the years where statistics on some perpetrators were compiled and analysed), ethnically, in 2016, Caucasians and Middle Eastern people are predominantly responsible in near equal proportions, at 47% and 43% respectively, for assault and abuse; while politically, in 2017, the extreme far right (ie neo-Nazis /white supremacists, understood to be composed of Caucasians) are disproportionally responsible for posters and stickers, at 22%.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census in 2006, approximately 370,000 people recorded Middle Eastern ancestry (which includes all ethnicities and national groups in the Middle East, such as Arab, Assyrian, Jewish, Kurdish). The ABS Census in 2016, recorded that over 320,000 (1.4% of) Australians spoke Arabic at home, and 604,000 (2.6% of) Australians recorded their religion as Islam.
In the West, from the data and reports available (as above), the majority of perpetrators of antisemitic incidents come from two sources – Caucasians and Muslims. This shows racial and religious components, but not the political bent of perpetrators, whether far right, far left, or other. The reports also show that the motivation and demographic of perpetrators of antisemitic incidents vary from country to country and from year to year.
Information gleaned from the reports above, where perpetrators have been identified by various means, indicate the following:
- In France, all antisemitic murders are perpetrated by Muslims and apparently all or most serious attacks on Jews have also been perpetrated by Muslims.
- In Britain, the majority of perpetrators are of European background, with those from immigrant Muslim backgrounds at around half the rate.
- In Europe generally, another study found that in France, the UK, Germany and Sweden, the perpetrator is most often perceived to be an extremist Muslim; and in France, the UK, and Sweden, the perpetrator was perceived to be left-wing more often than right-wing.
- In Russia, most perpetrators are right-wing extremists (assumed to be European).
- In Canada, there is insufficient data to make an assessment.
- In the USA, perpetrators are predominantly ‘White’ (which includes those of European, North African and Middle Eastern backgrounds), extreme right-wing and Islamists.
- In Australia, for physical assault and verbal abuse in 2016, perpetrators are roughly equal between Caucasian and Muslim, and in 2017, most perpetrators of antisemitic posters were by the extreme right-wing.
The fact that Caucasians are one of the two main sources of perpetrators is not surprising, given that the West is populated primarily by Caucasians. The fact that Muslims in the West are one of the two main sources of perpetrators is of great concern, given that Muslims comprise only 2-8% of the population of the countries noted above, but comprise between 20-30% of perpetrators.
The disproportional representation of Muslims as perpetrators sends a worrying signal. It should also be noted that Caucasian and Muslim are not mutually exclusive terms, although the term Muslim in these studies usually refers to people of Arab (North African and Middle Eastern) and South Asian (Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian) backgrounds.
However, despite widely held assumptions, the relationship between the nature of incidents and perpetrators is not always clear cut. For example, yelling out “Heil Hitler” and the use of swastikas can come from Muslims or non-whites, as much as from neo-Nazis. Being identified as “White” (with the corollary assumption, in regard to perpetrators of antisemitic incidents, of being white supremacists or neo-Nazis) in the US includes not just those of European background, but also those of North African and Middle Eastern backgrounds, ie Muslims.
In summary, in the twenty-first century so far, when it comes to murdering Jews, the ultimate act of Jew-hatred, Islamists have been and continue to be the greatest threat to Jews. However, given the exponential rise in extreme right-wing activity with neo-Nazis openly calling for the murder of Jews, it remains to be seen where that takes us.
This study only dealt with incidents, not discourse. However, the discourse about Jews, Judaism and Israel, as well as the societal atmosphere and cultural history often have a profound influence on the levels, intensity and motivation to commit antisemitic incidents. It is recognised that the discourse, online and offline, has a considerable influence on the incidents.
Violence does not occur in a vacuum. It is words, when given free reign, which create a poisonous atmosphere for those targeted by racism. It is words that incite hatred and violence. As Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Minister for Justice, stated: “The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words.”
Part of the fight against antisemitic incidents involves identifying the sources of the incidents, ensuring full legal sanction against perpetrators and their enablers, and public condemnations and action against those who spread, encourage or incite demonisation of Jews and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. Antisemitism does not just affect Jews, it infects and cripples a whole society.
Julie Nathan is the Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and authors the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.