Perception Is Reality

November 20, 2013

The new report on anti-Semitism issued by the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) paints an unsettling picture of the eight EU countries where 90 percent of the continent’s Jews live. Nevertheless, one must draw conclusions carefully.

One caveat is that the 5,847 Jews polled in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the U.K. were self-selected, rather than random. A second is that the report is subjective, in that it registers the perceptions and experiences of the individual respondents, rather than absolute figures of anti-Semitic incidents in any of the affected countries. Finally, the report relies on each respondent to define anti-Semitism for himself or herself, rather than establishing a single definition for use by all respondents.

That said, perception is reality. And the clear reality is that many European Jews are living in a state of growing discomfort and unease and feel targeted as Jews. According to the report, one-fifth of Jewish respondents said they had experienced an anti-Semitic incident in the past year. And 82 percent of respondents said they had not reported the most serious incident they had encountered — presumably because they didn’t think authorities would act on it.

The report reflects a perception that anti-Semitism is growing throughout Europe, both on and off the Internet. And there is also a mounting sense of fear caused by anti-Semitic events and attempts in several countries to ban certain Jewish ritual practices. Perhaps in direct response to those concerns, more than 20 percent of respondents reported that they do not wear anything in public that would identify them as a Jew.

In meeting with Jewish organizations and other stakeholders after the report’s release, the FRA sought to help develop responses to these troubling perceptions. One suggested response is a concerted effort by governments to build trust in law enforcement. Another is to establish inter-community dialogue between groups that are historical victims of hate crimes, including Jews, Muslims, Roma and LGBTs. These efforts to communicate and to develop appropriate responses should continue, and increased cooperation and communication with other affected groups can only help the effort.

The problem of anti-Semitism in Europe is not going away. It is a very troubling reality with which our co-religionists cope daily, as they try to lead Jewish lives in an increasingly unfriendly environment. This is an issue that deserves increased attention and strategic input from our North American Jewish community. We are, after all, our brother’s keepers.

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