Xenophobia on the Continent

By Kohut, Andrew; Wike, Richard | The National Interest, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Xenophobia on the Continent


Kohut, Andrew, Wike, Richard, The National Interest


A disturbing new trend is emerging across Europe. Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are on the rise. A growing minority of citizens in several European countries holds unfavorable opinions of Jews. Negative views of Israel, sympathy with the Palestinian cause, rising anti-Americanism, and a backlash against globalization and immigration all play a role in this trend.

Research by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, as well as polls by the Anti-Defamation League, make clear that anti-Jewish sentiments are increasing. Granted, the breadth of European anti-Semitism should not be overstated. This rise in negative attitudes toward Jews has for the most part been modest, and anti-Jewish sentiments in Europe remain much less common than anti-Muslim views. Most of the Europeans surveyed by Pew continue to hold favorable opinions of Jews and, compared with other regions of the world, Europeans remain relatively tolerant. For instance, anti-Jewish sentiments are almost universal in the three Arab nations surveyed--95% or more in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt say they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews.

Though they may be modest trends, in light of the dark history of anti-Semitism in Europe, any uptick is surely troubling. Moreover, rising anti-Jewish views are part of a broader pattern of increasing xenophobia; European attitudes toward Muslims have also turned more negative over the last few years. And in Western Europe, the same groups tend to have the most negative opinions of both Jews and Muslims: the less educated, those over fifty and people on the political right. All these features combined lead to a troubling trend it would be unwise to ignore.

The starkest example of increasingly anti-Jewish views is Spain, where negative ratings have more than doubled since 2005, rising from 21% to 46%--by far the highest negative percentage among the European nations included in Pew's 2008 survey.

Anti-Jewish sentiments are also common--and on the rise--in Poland and Russia, the two Eastern European nations included in the survey. In a 1991 survey by the Times Mirror Center (the predecessor of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press), 34% of Poles had an unfavorable opinion of Jews. But Pew's 2005 poll found that anti-Jewish attitudes had ebbed in Poland since the beginning of the post-Communist era--by 2005 only 27% held a negative view of Jews. Yet, the trend has reversed itself within the last three years. In the 2008 survey, anti-Jewish sentiment has rebounded to 36%, just slightly higher than it was two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The percentage of Russians with a negative opinion of Jews was exactly the same in 1991 and 2005--26%--but it has increased over the last three years to 34%.

Negative attitudes toward Jews are only slightly less common in Germany, where onein-four express an unfavorable view, and in France, where 20% say they have an unfavorable opinion. And in both countries, negative ratings have become somewhat more widespread since 2004.

In Britain, however, anti-Jewish views are relatively rare. Consistently, fewer than 10% of the British express a negative opinion of Jews. The pattern is similar in the United States, where just 7% say they have unfavorable views, the lowest percentage among the twenty-four nations included in the 2008 poll. And in the third predominantly English-speaking nation included on the survey, Australia, negative ratings of Jews are similarly scarce--only 11% of Australians express an unfavorable view.

Like the Pew surveys, recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) polls of eleven European nations found growing anti-Jewish sentiment. For example, concerns about the loyalty of Jewish citizens and fears of Jewish economic power have become more widespread in France, Poland and Spain. In all three of these countries, between 2005 and 2007 there were significant increases in the number of people who believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home country. …

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