From data to perception: an anti-racism take on Antisemitism in the EU

The 9th of November marks the commemoration of the night of the broken glass, a night of pogroms against Jews in Nazi Germany in 1938. Last year, I gave a personal account of why Antisemitism matters to me. This year I want to explore why it should matter to anti-racism activists and progressives.

Today the Agency for Fundamental Rights of the European Union (FRA) publishes its overview of available data on Antisemitism in the EU. A month before the findings of the second FRA survey on perception of discrimination and hate crime against Jews are published, what does the data tell us?

First – that data collected on hate crime in the EU are insufficient. The FRA reports that few EU Member States record antisemitic incidents in a way that allows them to collect adequate official data. In some countries, the numbers might be so small – including because of under-reporting – that it is hard to even draw conclusions.

Second – different methodologies and categories are used in official hate crime data collection in Member States and do not take into account the victims’ perception.

Third – hate crimes do not receive a proper response even when reported because of the lack of understanding of what a hate crime is, and of the indicators for antisemitic bias. Some have argued that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition is a step in the right direction because it maps all manifestations of contemporary Antisemitism, including when criticism of Israel could cross the line towards Antisemitism. Others argue that the definition might not be so helpful because in criminal law, or more generally in establishing whether some act could be antisemitic, we need a case by case approach to evaluate whether lines were indeed crossed. It remains a political tool, which has benefits in naming and recognising an issue.

Fourth – the data are not sufficient to establish a rise in antisemitic incidents. However, if we look at the data from Jewish community organisations, equality bodies and perception surveys, we can establish a general perception of insecurity among Jewish communities. The Community Security Trust (CST) in the United Kingdom reported a sustained period of historically high antisemitic incident totals in recent years. In Belgium, the equality body reports that complaints received for antisemitic incidents have increased from 83 in 2013 to 130 in 2014. In 2016, the equality body noted a concerning 105% increase in antisemitic reports – with particularly vivid conspiracy theories around the 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks. In France, the national human rights institution reports a 58.5% decrease of antisemitic incidents in 2016 compared to 2015, which saw a significant rise because of the Paris Kosher supermarket attack.

Fifth – there is little data to allow for a clear analysis of perpetrators of antisemitic incidents. This can leave room for interpretations – based on perceptions and bias – which either down play/exaggerate the role of the far right, ignore/focus only on issues in far-left groups or brush off antisemitic attitudes and behaviours within Muslim communities. Or, as some academics put it, we oscillate between “complacency and alarmism”.

“New forms” of Antisemitism?

In recent years in the EU, there have been several high-profile attacks motivated by a political interpretation of Islam or committed by a perpetrator who appeared to be of Muslim background. This is in particular the case in periods of violence in the Middle East. However, far-right ideologists and groups are still an important source of antisemitic hate speech and incidents. The October antisemitic attack in Pittsburgh is an example of how far-right violence can target Jews. In the UK, where the ethnicity of perpetrators is sometimes recorded, 58% of perpetrators of antisemitic incidents are described as White Europeans and far-right ideology remains the dominant one among other forms of radicalisation.

The victim-centered approach – which in the anti-racism movement is widely accepted for other groups – is often challenged when it comes to Jews

Rather than “new forms” of Antisemitism, it is the same form of racism and hatred grounded in deeply rooted antisemitic myths and stereotypes which can have multiple manifestations in a globalised world. If we want to make progress to combat Antisemitism it is crucial we understand all these manifestations. And as for any other form of racism, we can only understand it with the communities affected. This victim-centered approach – which in the anti-racism movement is widely accepted for other groups – is often challenged when it comes to Jews.

There may be numerous underlying reasons for this.

First, there are fears of political instrumentalisation. When Jews say there is Antisemitism on the far left of the political spectrum, we might be afraid of this being used against left-wing groups, in an attempt to delegitimise them and thereby reinforce right-wing groups.

Second, there are fears of Islamophobia. When Jews say there is Antisemitism in Muslim communities, we are afraid that it would be used against Muslims, and add to what is already a highly islamophobic context.

Third, far-right groups and parties are blurring lines by aligning with their counter-parts in Israel to absolve themselves of the accusation of Antisemitism within their ranks. Some conservative Jewish groups may fall into the trap by fear for their own security.

Finally, we don’t know what to make of perceptions of Jewish communities. While data show that there is no link between Antisemitism and immigration, or that the majority of antisemitic acts are committed by far-right or White perpetrators, some prominent Jewish figures and institutions have presented recent migrants as an actual or potential source of Antisemitism, or emphasised “Muslim Antisemitism” as being the biggest threat to Jewish life in Europe. The 1st FRA survey on Jewish people’s perception and experience of discrimination and hate crime showed that, for the most serious incidents of physical violence or threats, 40% of respondents mentioned categories or perceived characteristics of the perpetrators as “someone with a Muslim extremist view” (40 %).

These fears of instrumentalisation, of Islamophobia and the discomfort around perceptions may be legitimate reasons for being cautious. We do not want to further stigmatise migrants and Muslim communities or reinforce the far right. In addition, Jewish communities are not immune to simplistic, conservative, anti-Muslim or xenophobic views.

However, ignoring these perceptions will only make them bigger and reinforce those who exploit Antisemitism and legitimate fears of Jewish communities for their own political gains. In other words, we cannot leave Antisemitism unaddressed because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

We all have an obligation to hear the Jewish communities affected and develop non-racist, inclusive policies and measures to combat Antisemitism

An anti-racism approach to combating Antisemitism

A lot needs to happen within Jewish communities, progressive parties, communities of colour and the anti-racism movement to challenge Antisemitism in a consistent, unconditional, indivisible and anti-racist way. On the other hand, we all have an obligation to hear the Jewish communities affected and develop non-racist, inclusive policies and measures to combat Antisemitism.

For decision-makers at EU level, these measures include:
1. European Commissioners and Heads of States to condemn political hate speech and recognise all manifestations of Antisemitism, as well as for other forms of structural racism, and the impact of State fuelled rhetoric on all groups at risk of racism.

2. EU institutions to promote an effective, comprehensive and human rights based approach to hate speech online, where content removal might only be one part of the solution that must favour prevention and education, or criminal sanctions when applicable.

3. The European Commission to ensure that Member States collect reliable hate crime data according to victims’ and witnesses’ perceptions and other bias indicators and that States record, prosecute and sanction hate crime as crime affecting the whole of society.

4. The European Commission to adopt a road map on combatting Antisemitism that would consolidate the legacy of the EU coordinator on Antisemitism and establish objectives and recommendations for Member States based on EU and other international standards.

5. The European Commission to explore the adoption of EU standards for National Action Plans Against Racism that would take into account specific forms of racism, including Antisemitism.

6. EU institutions to provide Member States with support and resources for schools and educational institutions to combat contemporary Antisemitism, as well as other forms of racism and discrimination, and support the study of diverse cultures.

7. The European Commission to revise its own diversity strategy to include targeted measures for racial and religious minorities including Jewish staff members such as trainings on understanding Antisemitism.

Claire Fernandez in Deputy Director Programmes at the European Network Against Racism.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aenean commodo ligula eget dolor. Aenean massa. Cum sociis ultricies nec