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Where are Jews in Europe safest?
In a recent article, conservative writer Ed West refers to the “irony that Jews are often safer in the eastern half of the continent” as compared to the “more liberal west”. In countries like France, he notes, the danger to Jews “overwhelmingly comes from immigrant communities”. By contrast, Jews are “obviously safer” in Hungary, with its “opposition to western-style multiculturalism”.
I agree with West’s overall point. There is much more antisemitism in Western Europe than you’d expect based on how liberal those countries are, due to the presence of large Muslim populations; for historical and cultural reasons, levels of antisemitism are much higher among Muslims than in the general population.
However, I’m not sure Jews in Eastern Europe are safer than those in Western Europe. West did qualify himself by saying that they’re “often” safer in Eastern Europe, so he’s probably still correct. Though he singled out France as the country where the situation is “most precarious”, and I can’t be absolutely sure that’s true.
You have to remember that there are far more Jews in France, Germany and the UK than there are in Eastern Europe, so all else being equal, we’d expect more antisemitic incidents in Western Europe. There are 100 times more Jews in France than there are in Poland, so if Jews faced the same risk in both countries, we’d expect 100 times more incidents in France.
Last year, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report on antisemitic incidents in Europe between 2011 and 2021. The report notes that data “are generally not comparable between countries”, due to differences in methodology. Nonetheless, it’s a good place to start.
The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights recorded 1,615 “antisemitic actions and threats” from 2019 to 2021, which corresponds to an annual rate of 1.2 per 1,000 Jews. Over the same time period, the Polish Ministry of the Interior recorded 320 “antisemitic incidents”, which corresponds to an annual rate of 23.7 per 1,000 Jews – almost twenty times higher.
Of course, we have to be careful because the French and Polish bodies may use different definitions. (Incidentally, the figures given in the latest Antisemitism Worldwide report published by the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry are very similar). And note: comparing France and Czechia yields the same finding: the rate of antisemitic incidents is much higher in Czechia.
A more comparable source of data is the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ 2018 survey of Jews in 12 European countries. As West notes in his article, it found that French Jews were the most worried about “becoming a victim of verbal insults, harassment or physical attack in the next 12 months”, with Polish Jews being substantially less worried.
However, the survey also asked respondents whether they had personally experienced “antisemitic harassment” in the past 12 months. And in that case, Polish Jews were more likely to say they had. 32% said they had, compared to 27% of French Jews – though the percentage was even higher for German, Belgian and Dutch Jews.
In addition, the percentage of Jews who said they had witnessed “other Jews being verbally insulted or harassed and/or physically attacked in the past 12 months” was higher in Poland than in any other country. And the percentage who said that a family member had been “a victim of verbal insults or harassment and/or physically attacked” was third-highest in Poland.
These three questions seem like better measures of the scale of antisemitism than the question about whether respondents were worried, given that the latter could be influenced by things like media coverage.
Unfortunately, the survey only included two eastern European countries (Poland and Hungary) so it is not possible to compare France to any other countries from European Europe. Hungarian Jews, as West notes, generally reported high levels of safety.
Another question in the survey asked those respondents who had personally experienced antisemitic harassment to describe “the perpetrator in the most serious antisemitic incident of harassment in the 5 years before the survey”. Results are shown below.
Consistent with West’s argument, the average number saying “someone with a Muslim extremist view” is 31% across ten Western European countries, but is less than 2% in Poland and Hungary (where there are practically no Muslims). The number saying “someone with a left-wing political view” is also negligible in Poland and Hungary.
On the other hand, the number saying “someone with a right-wing political view” is 46% in Hungary and is 53% in Poland – far higher than in all the Western European countries.
It seems that antisemitic harassment in Eastern Europe is an overwhelmingly right-wing phenomenon. In Western Europe, by contrast, antisemitic harassers are most often Muslims, then people with left-wing views, and then people with right-wing views.
The fact that 31% of antisemitic harassers in Western Europe are Muslim is noteworthy given that Muslims comprise only 5–10% of the population in most Western European countries. This underlines West’s main point that there’s much more antisemitism in Western Europe than you’d expect due to the presence of large Muslim populations.
I suspect it’s true that Jews are “often” safer in Eastern Europe, especially Hungary – though I can’t be sure this claim holds for all East-West comparisons. Data from two recent EU reports suggest the relatively small number of Polish Jews may face higher rates of antisemitism than their French counterparts, mainly from the far-right.
Image: U.S. Department of State, Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris, 2015
My latest piece for Aporia
Contrary to popular narrative, I argue that British police are doing a pretty good job:
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