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Jewish affairs expert: No exodus of Jews from Europe despite rising anti-Semitism

A study by Tel Aviv University has shown rising anti-Semitism in some European countries, notably the UK. DW asked Jonathan Boyd, a UK expert for Jewish affairs, whether he could confirm its findings.

Barbara Wesel: The University of Tel Aviv says it has noted a significant rise of violent anti-Semitic incidents in Western Europe. France takes first place, the UK second – is this part of a concerted trend in Western Europe, or are the underlying reasons more differentiated?

Jonathan Boyd : I think the primary reason we see anti-Semitism in France and the UK is that that is where most Jews live. But the reason why there was a rise in incidents in 2014 can largely be attributed to the reaction to the summer conflict in Gaza in that year, which expressed itself in hostilities and sometimes violence against French and British Jews. On the other hand, I think there are really important differences. We have seen far more cases of Islamist violence against Jews in France than anywhere else in Europe. I can only speculate why this may be the case: It may partly have to do with integration or the economic or employment situation in both countries, and partly with the political realities in each. Right-wing nationalist parties have traditionally done much better in France than in the UK, and it is partly probably about ethnic and political differences in the Muslim populations of both countries as well.

How strong is the connection between conflicts in Gaza and anti-Semitic sentiment?

My sense, based on what we can see from the data, is that when conflict kicks off in Israel - and the two best examples are summer 2014 and winter 2008/09, both very similar conflicts - we see a huge spike in anti-Semitic incidents on the streets of Europe. There is very clearly a relationship between those two things.

Is that the reason why the Israeli researchers speak of waves of anti-Semitism?

Actually what happens is that we see a dramatic spike during the very specific times that those conflicts are going on. And once the conflict is over - give it a few weeks - we return to a largely normal level of incidents. There are fluctuations, but these are spikes rather than a linear growth over time.

Does this mean that there is no real underlying change in opinion or mood in Western Europe ?

There is no clear evidence from the data that there is a significant increase (in anti-Semitism) over time. There is a concern that when those incidents happen, people who have anti-Semitic tendencies may feel more able to express them. I think its unclear yet, as this has not been going on for enough time really, to know whether that will result in a long-term growth in anti-Semitic attitudes or not.

What about a rise in "classic anti-Semitism" as it is described by the authors of the Tel Aviv study? Are there any indicators that this is really on the rise?

Jonathan Boyd

Jonathan Boyd

When they talk about "classic anti-Semitism," I think they are talking about classic anti-Semitic tropes in imagery, cartoons and that sort of stuff. I think what's happening is that those images are increasingly being used to vilify Israel and Israelis. This is less about a return to classic anti-Semitism, which I would understand as medieval Christian anti-Semitism or late 19th century/early 20th century racial anti-Semitism, but more about the use of anti-Semitic imagery to express a new form of anti-Semitism that is largely antagonism towards Israel.

Moshe Cantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress, has said that Jewish life in Europe has reached a turning point, and when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Paris after the January attacks there, he called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel. Are there really signs that Jewish communities in Europe are ready to pack up and leave ?

I don't think so; I don't think there is much evidence for that yet. Some Jews are leaving, but the numbers are low. Even though more French Jews moved to Israel in 2014 than in any previous year in history, those migrants represent less than 2% of the whole French Jewish population. Overall the proportions are very small. In the case of the UK, there are actually more Jews moving to Britain than leaving Britain. It varies, but I don't think we can talk about an "exodus of Jews from Egypt"; there is no evidence of that at the moment. On the other hand, there is an increasing concern about growing anti-Semitism, and there is a likelihood that more people will decide to leave if we see more Islamist attacks.

But the other side of the coin is that some of the senior political leaders, particularly Angela Merkel, Manuel Valls and David Cameron, have come out very strongly against anti-Semitism and against extremist Islamism. They have been very supportive of the Jewish community; they have made statements along the lines that it would be an utter failure of their policies if the Jewish population were to leave. So I think there is apprehension, and there is probably more apprehension than there has been in the past, but I don't see any real evidence yet of mass migration or of a critical turning point in Jewish reactions to anti-Semitism.

Jonathan Boyd is the Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based independent research centre and think-tank that provides data and policy insight on contemporary Jewish issues for organisations working to support Jewish life in Europe.