Xenophobia on the Continent

Xenophobia on the Continent

Mini Teaser: Anti-Semitism is on the march in Europe. But the European’s new turn toward isolationism goes even further than that.

by Author(s): Andrew KohutRichard Wike

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 one-in-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. Similarly, in all three countries, more people now think Jews have too much power in the business world and that they exercise too much power in international financial markets. The ADL surveys find signs of growing anti-Semitism in other European nations as well, especially Austria, Belgium and Hungary.


IN MANY cases, it is clear these trends are especially strong among certain demographic groups. Those with common ideologies, of similar age groups and with comparable levels of education tend to have similar opinions of Jews.

Countless studies have shown that prejudice and intolerance toward minority groups is more common among people with less education, and anti-Semitism is no different. Both the Pew and ADL surveys find that less educated Europeans are more likely to express negative attitudes toward Jews. Moreover, in the four Western European countries surveyed by Pew in 2006 and 2008-Britain, France, Germany and Spain-nearly all of the rise in anti-Semitic views has occurred among people who have not attended college. Among those who have attended college, there has been little change.

Age is also an indicator of opinions, though the exact relationship varies between the Western and Eastern European countries surveyed by Pew. In Western Europe, people age fifty and older are more likely to voice a negative opinion of Jews than are those under fifty-an age gap of sorts. And anti-Jewish sentiments have increased substantially among these older Western Europeans; in the last two years, up a full seven points in France, Germany and Spain. The reverse is true in the Eastern European countries surveyed-Poles and Russians over fifty are actually less likely to hold a negative opinion of Jews than their younger counterparts.

Political leanings have an impact, too. Anti-Jewish attitudes are more common on the political right. Historically, of course, the most virulent strains of anti-Semitism have erupted on the far right, and in recent years the most caustic anti-Semitic rhetoric in Europe has been found among right-wing nationalist parties, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in France, Jörg Haider's Alliance for Austria's Future and Corneliu Vadim Tudor's Greater Romania Party. As Pew's surveys reveal, French, German and Spanish respondents who characterize their beliefs as being on the right side of the political spectrum are somewhat more likely than others to express an unfavorable attitude toward Jewish people. In an analysis of combined data from France, Germany and Spain-the three Western European countries surveyed by Pew where anti-Jewish views are most common and on the rise-34% of people who place themselves on the right of the ideological spectrum hold negative views of Jews, compared with 28% of those on the left and 26% of those in the political center.

Looking only at data from Spain reveals a slightly different pattern there. Those on both ends of the political spectrum are more likely to harbor negative opinions about Jews than those in middle: 55% of people on the right and 53% of those on the left express an unfavorable view, compared with 42% of Spanish centrists.


DEMOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES may account for much, but they cannot capture this evident change in attitudes over the last three years. Many Europeans simply appear to be becoming more xenophobic. It's not just Jews who receive more negative marks these days among European publics. As Pew's surveys in Europe make clear, negative attitudes toward Muslims have also become more common. Since 2005, the percentage of Poles with an unfavorable opinion of Muslims has risen sixteen points (from 30% to 46%), while in Britain there has been a nine-point increase (from 14% to 23%). In Spain, 37% held a negative opinion of Muslims in 2005, compared to 52% today (although this is actually a slight decrease from 2006, when 61% expressed an unfavorable view). Overall, looking across the six European countries surveyed by Pew in 2005 and 2008, the median percentage with a negative view of Jews has jumped from 21% to 30%, while the median percentage expressing an unfavorable opinion of Muslims has increased from 35% to 42%.

Attitudes toward Jews and Muslims tend to correlate with one another-where negative attitudes toward one group are pervasive, negative views of the other group are usually widespread as well. For instance, among the European countries surveyed in 2008, negative views toward both Jews and Muslims are most common in Spain. The increasingly negative views in Spain may be driven in part by the waves of immigration to the country and the changing composition of Spanish society in recent years. On the other hand, negative attitudes toward both groups are least common in Britain. Public opinion in America is very similar to that in Britain-negative opinions of both Jews and Muslims are relatively rare in the United States, compared with other Western nations.

The patterns underlying this xenophobia are similar to the factors contributing to anti-Semitic views-age, education and ideology. In Western Europe, the same demographic groups that voice negative opinions of Jews also tend to express negative views of Muslims: people over age fifty and those who have not attended college. And as is the case with anti-Jewish sentiments, unfavorable opinions of Muslims are more common among respondents who place themselves on the ideological right.

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