FRA opinions - Experiences and perceptions of antisemitism

Drawing on the survey findings, FRA formulated the
following opinions to support EU and national policymakers
in developing and implementing measures to
prevent and counter antisemitism. These opinions supplement
those formulated by FRA in its report on the
first survey on discrimination and hate crime against
Jews in the EU, published in 2013. Due to the continued
prevalence of antisemitism on the ground, the opinions
formulated in 2013 remain valid in 2018.


Antisemitism pervades everyday life

The survey findings suggest that antisemitism pervades the public sphere, reproducing and engraining negative stereotypes about Jews. Simply being Jewish increases people’s likelihood of being faced with a sustained stream of abuse expressed in different forms, wherever they go, whatever they read and with whomever they engage. A comparison of the 2012 and 2018 surveys shows that the perception among respondents that antisemitism is a worsening problem in the country where they live is growing.

Overall, nine in 10 (89 %) respondents in the 2018 survey feel that antisemitism increased in their country in the five years before the survey; more than eight in 10 (85 %) consider it to be a serious problem. Respondents tend to rate antisemitism as the biggest social or political problem where they live. They assess antisemitism as being most problematic on the internet and on social media (89 %), followed by public spaces (73 %), media (71 %) and in political life (70 %). The most common antisemitic statements they come across – and on a regular basis – include that “Israelis behave like Nazis toward Palestinians” (51 %), that “Jews have too much power” (43 %) and that “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (35 %). Respondents most commonly come across such statements online (80 %), followed by media other than the internet (56 %) and at political events (48 %).

In this context, it is encouraging that the European Parliament adopted a resolution on combating antisemitism in June 2017, which calls for increased efforts on local, national and European levels. This follows a number of initiatives by the European Commission at EU level, as well as globally. These include appointing a coordinator on combating antisemitism in December 2015; establishing in 2016 an EU High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, which produced policy guidance for improving responses to hate crime and hate speech including antisemitic crime and speech; and agreeing with IT companies on a code of conduct for countering illegal hate speech online in May 2016.

Some Member States responded by appointing coordinators on combating antisemitism, while others adopted or endorsed a non-legally binding, working definition of antisemitism agreed on in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and welcomed by the Commission as a useful initiative aiming to prevent and combat antisemitism. A link to the IHRA definition is available on the Commission’s website. 

However, several Member States have yet to fully and correctly transpose the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia (2008/913/JHA) into national law. This Framework Decision defines a common EU-wide criminal law approach to countering severe manifestations of racism or xenophobia, and therefore also antisemitism, including in “cases where the conduct is committed through an information system” (Article 9). Eradicating antisemitism from the public sphere calls for sustained and decisive action to break down the persistent negative stereotyping of Jews, including online.

Pervasive antisemitism undermines Jews’ feelings of safety and security

The survey findings show that many Jews across the EU cannot live a life free of worry for their own safety and that of their family members and other individuals to whom they are close. This is due to a risk of becoming targets of antisemitic harassment and attacks. Feelings of insecurity among Jews have also prompted some to consider emigrating. A comparison of findings from the 2012 and 2018 surveys shows similar levels of experiences of antisemitic harassment and violence among Jews in the EU. The findings also show similar levels of worry among respondents about becoming, or their family members and other persons to whom they are close becoming, targets of antisemitic harassment or violence.

Findings from the 2018 survey show that hundreds of respondents personally experienced an antisemitic physical attack in the 12 months preceding the survey. More than one in four (28 %) of all respondents experienced antisemitic harassment at least once during that period. Those who wear, carry or display items in public that could identify them as Jewish are subject to more antisemitic harassment (37 %) than those who do not (21 %).

One in five (20 %) respondents know family members or other people close to them who were verbally insulted, harassed or physically attacked. Nearly half of the respondents worried about being subjected to antisemitic verbal insults or harassment (47 %), and four in 10 worried about an antisemitic physical attack (40 %).

One in three (34 %) respondents avoid visiting Jewish events or sites because they do not feel safe as Jews when there or on their way there. More than one third considered emigrating (38 %) in the five years preceding the survey because they did not feel safe as Jews in the country where they live.

More than half of the respondents (54 %) positively assess their national governments’ efforts to ensure the security needs of the Jewish communities. But seven in 10 (70 %) believe that the government in their country does not combat antisemitism effectively.

Sustained encounters with antisemitism severely limit people’s enjoyment of their fundamental rights, including the protection of their human dignity, the right to respect for their private and family life, or their freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is encouraging that many Jews believe that their government does enough to meet the protection needs of their communities. However, the very fact that special security measures – for example, around synagogues, Jewish community centres and schools – are required on a more or less permanent basis to ensure the safety of Jewish communities points to a persisting and deeper societal malaise. Member States need to be steadfast in their commitment to meet the protection needs of Jewish communities.

Antisemitic harassment is so common that it becomes normalised

The survey findings suggest that people face so much antisemitic abuse that some of the incidents they experience appear trivial to them. But any antisemitic incident is at its core an attack on a person’s dignity and cannot be brushed away as a mere inconvenience. Both the 2012 and 2018 surveys show that respondents report very few experienced incidents of antisemitism to the police or other institution. A comparison of the two surveys’ results shows that the categories of perpetrators of antisemitic harassment remain consistent, with certain categories of individuals consistently over-represented as perpetrators.

Findings from the 2018 survey show that eight in 10 respondents (79 %) who experienced antisemitic harassment in the five years before the survey did not report the most serious incident to the police or other organisation. The main reasons given for not reporting incidents are the feeling that nothing would change as a result (48 %); not considering the incident to be serious enough to be reported (43 %); or because reporting would be too inconvenient or cause too much trouble (22 %).

The normalisation of antisemitism is also evidenced by the wide range of perpetrators, which spans the entire social and political spectrum. The most frequently mentioned categories of perpetrators of the most serious incident of antisemitic harassment experienced by the respondents include someone they did not know (31 %); someone with an extremist Muslim view (30 %); someone with a left-wing political view (21 %); a colleague from work or school/college (16 %); an acquaintance or friend (15 %); and someone with a right-wing political view (13 %).

The Victims’ Rights Directive provides that victims are to be treated in a respectful and sensitive manner without discrimination based on any ground, including religion (Recital 9). According to Article 22 of the directive, all victims are entitled to an assessment of whether measures are necessary to protect them against further victimisation. This assessment must take personal characteristics of the victim into account, including their religion where it is relevant for assessing a victim’s protection needs. The directive particularly highlights cases where a crime was committed with a discriminatory motive that relates to a victim’s personal characteristics, including their religion. In such cases, Member State authorities are under a special duty to asses the risks of further victimisation motivated by this characteristic. The Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia requires that the bias motivation is considered an aggravating circumstance or taken into consideration by the courts in the determination of the penalties handed down to offenders (Article 4). The full implementation of EU law entails encouraging victims to report antisemitic offences to the police, as well as ensuring that the police properly record the bias motivation at the time of reporting.

Antisemitic discrimination in key areas of life remains invisible

The survey findings suggest that antisemitism translates not only into hate crime, but also into unequal treatment in key areas of life. But the very low reporting rate for antisemitic discrimination, combined with the apparent normalisation of incidents, prevent the true extent of antisemitic discrimination from coming to the attention of relevant authorities, equality bodies or community organisations. A comparison of findings from the 2012 and 2018 surveys shows that levels of perceived antisemitic discrimination in employment, education, health and housing and education remained the same. No changes can be observed in the reporting rate, which remains low.

Findings from the 2018 survey show that, in the 12 months preceding the survey, one in 10 (11 %) respondents felt discriminated against in employment, education, health or housing because they are Jewish. Nearly eight in 10 (77 %) of those who say they experienced such discrimination did not report the most serious incident to any authority or organisation. The main reasons given for not reporting are the perception that nothing would change as a result (52 %); the incident is not serious enough (34 %); and not having any proof of discrimination (33 %). Meanwhile, the vast majority of respondents are aware of anti-discrimination legislation (85 % in the area of employment, for example), as well as of organisations that can offer advice or support in cases of discrimination (71 %), including Jewish community organisations and national equality bodies.

The Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) prohibits ethnic discrimination in key areas of life, including employment, education, health or housing. The Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC) prohibits discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in employment. The directives require Member States to ensure that their provisions are communicated to those concerned through all appropriate means and throughout the territory of each country. The directives foresee effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for offenders in cases of discrimination.