‘They’ are taking over...
by Katie Harrison, Director, Faith Research Centre & Emma Levin, Consultant

CNN this week published findings from a major ComRes seven-country study into European attitudes towards anti-Semitism.

Across all seven countries surveyed, which were Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, Sweden:

  • Three in ten (28%) adults say Jewish people have too much influence in finance and business across the world, compared with other people
  • One in five (20%) adults say Jewish people have too much influence in media across the world compared to other people
  • Three in ten (31%) adults agree Jewish people use the Holocaust to advance their position or to achieve certain goals

We surveyed respondents online, because this is the best way to ask questions which might feel uncomfortable to answer. As we would with questions about sexual health or personal finance, where we know that people who are asked to answer verbally (by telephone or face to face) will often give the ‘right’ answer rather than a completely true one, we removed the ‘interviewer effect’ by posing the questions online.

And so we found those attitudes, otherwise unspoken, which we might never otherwise have known.

Forty-four percent of the adults in the European countries we surveyed see anti-Semitism as a growing problem in their countries, but their answers to other questions suggest that maybe they think this is happening somewhere else. Someone else is doing the bad thing, somewhere else. Perhaps they think it only happens in certain cities, or in a particular political party.

It’s a classic case of ‘they’.

Most respondents consistently over-estimate the population of Jewish people in their countries, but don’t actually know any. Across all countries surveyed, only six percent of respondents correctly identified the Jewish population in their country as less than one percent of the total population. Yet, over half (56%) of adults say they are not aware of ever having socialised with a Jewish person. Who knows how differently they might have answered if they did.

Emma Levin, a Consultant on the ComRes Graduate Scheme, writes:

The findings of this research may have shocked the wider world but as a member of Britain’s Jewish community, they simply confirm many well-established fears.

Half of British adults (49%) say they are not aware of ever having socialised with a Jewish person. As a member of Britain’s small Jewish community, I am always aware that when meeting new people I could be the first Jewish person they have ever encountered. Despite this, as this research demonstrates, many will have formed opinions of Jewish people based on thousands of years of stereotypes and conspiracy.

Jewish people are placed in a unique position among other ethnic and religious minority groups, in that the discrimination we face is because of a perceived high rather than low status. As a result, many who would never dream of causing offense simply don’t understand the danger of rhetoric surrounding Jewish “influence” over finance, politics and the media.

As proven by our history, when Jewish people are perceived to have too much control, they become scapegoats for society’s problems. This history makes us susceptible to fear that the events of the past might be repeated.

At my Jewish primary school, where I learnt about the pogroms and the Holocaust, security in stab-proof vests still have to guard the gates. The defacing of one of my local synagogues with swastikas in October 2017, the recent attacks in Pittsburgh and the findings of this research surrounding awareness of the Holocaust across Europe demonstrate that, even today, there is still so much work to be done to educate the public about anti-Semitism.