Kenneth Jacobson

ADL’s European Antisemitism Survey Offers Glimpse of Hope

In a world where antisemitism is surging all over, one looks for any positive signs concerning the state of Jew hatred. ADL’s latest Global 100: An Index of Antisemitism™ survey of 10 European countries does not offer much in the way of good news. One out of every four residents of the countries polled harbored antisemitic attitudes. One in three believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than their home countries.

However, a glimpse of something potentially positive lies in the fact that in all the countries surveyed there was either a decline in antisemitic attitudes or no increase, hardly something to cheer about in light of the high numbers, but maybe a potential ray of light moving forward.

To many, considering what European Jews are experiencing, these findings may seem incongruous. Overall trends on the ground seem to be heading in the wrong direction when it comes to antisemitic incidents, where Jewish insecurity has risen, where anti-Israel activity has increased, where antisemitism is on people’s minds as it hasn’t been for a long time, how could it be that attitudes toward Jews have not worsened and in some cases even improved

What appears to be a contradiction between these findings and perceived reality on the ground is not necessarily so. The relationship between attitudes and behavior is not linear, and is dependent on a series of factors. Even as numbers did not worsen, the conditions that lead to acting out by the millions of residents who harbor antisemitism are present.

Even though the attitudes may have been worse the last time in 2019, it is highly likely that the disposition among the millions who still harbor antisemitism now to act on those beliefs has increased significantly.

For decades after the Holocaust, while antisemitic attitudes that had been around for centuries did not suddenly disappear, the shame of Auschwitz inhibited the acting out of antisemitism. Today, we are almost 80 years later, new generations know little about the Shoah and that sense of shame has greatly diminished if not disappeared.

Together with this is the polarization in society that opens the way to conspiracy theories that target Jews. And anti-Zionism continues to grow, with more extremist behavior against Jews, occurring, ironically, as the Arab world moves toward acceptance of the Jewish state through the Abraham Accords.

In sum, there is a perfect storm for more extreme attacks on Jews even as public opinion has not worsened. In this environment, the fact that antisemitic attitudes across Europe have stabilized or even diminished is a step in the right direction, it is hardly sufficient in itself to deter antisemitic acts.

What is needed is to build on these positive findings, as minimal as they are, to try to return the reality of antisemitism in European communities to where it was for fifty years after the shoah. Jew hatred never disappeared but it largely remained on the margins of society and its impact was significantly reduced.

This should be the goal for today and is achievable through responsible and courageous leadership. We see a start in the national strategies to combat antisemitism developed in a number of countries, including here in the US by the Biden Administration. Now it up to leaders in society beyond government, public figures, educators, religious and cultural leaders to see that these constructive plans be implemented and sold to the people.

ADL’s Global Survey confirms the continuing serious of antisemitic attitudes as a backdrop to antisemitic incidents. At the same time, it points the way to a hopeful future if only leaders take heed.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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