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

Immigration from predominantly Muslim nations, as well as the assimilation of European Muslim minorities, has been a hot-button issue over the last several years, and seems to correspond to xenophobic and anti-Semitic views. Pew surveyed twelve European nations in 2007-six from Western and six from Eastern Europe-and majorities in all twelve supported tighter restrictions and controls on immigration to their country. Obviously, this issue of immigration is closely linked to attitudes about Muslims in Europe, but Europeans who worry about immigration from North Africa and the Middle East are also particularly likely to have negative attitudes toward Jews. For example, in a 2006 Pew survey, among Germans who consider immigration from North Africa and the Middle East a bad thing, 27% had a negative view of Jews. In contrast, when it comes to people who rate immigration from these regions as a good thing, only 14% hold a negative view of Jews.

The trend seems to hold for immigration in general, not only from Muslim countries. When it comes to immigration from Eastern Europe, Western European attitudes are also linked to opinions about Jews. In the same 2006 poll, Germans who consider immigration from Eastern Europe a bad thing express more negative opinions of Jews (28%) than do those people who say immigration from Eastern Europe is a good thing (14%).




In many ways, this creeping xenophobia may be tied to fears about globalization. In addition to the flow of people across borders, many in the West are increasingly worried about free-flowing trade across borders. While most people in Western nations continue to believe trade is good for their countries, support for it has nonetheless declined significantly in Western Europe, as well as in the United States, since Pew first investigated this issue in 2002. And data from 2008 show a clear relationship between opposition to trade and negative attitudes toward both Jews and Muslims. For instance, in France, 29% of people who consider growing trade and business ties between countries a bad thing have an unfavorable opinion of Jews, compared with 18% of those who favor trade. Similarly, 48% of French respondents who say trade is bad express a negative opinion of Muslims, compared with 35% of trade supporters.

The personal impact of trade has a similar effect. Europeans who believe growing trade and business ties are having a negative impact on their families are more likely to hold negative opinions of both Jews and Muslims. Likewise, people who think foreign ownership of companies in their country is a bad thing are also more likely to give Jews and Muslims negative ratings.

Of course, some of the factors driving negative views toward particular groups such as Jews, Muslims or Eastern Europeans are specific to those groups, rather than necessarily being part of a broader xenophobia encompassing many groups. Negative attitudes toward Muslims, for instance, are driven in part by the perceived threat posed by Islamic extremists in European countries and by the perception that large numbers of European Muslims support al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. Additionally, negativity toward Muslims is linked to the belief that many Muslims in Europe do not attempt to assimilate to European customs. In the same way, attitudes toward Jews are affected by their own unique factors-most importantly, how people feel about Israel.


AND THEN there is anti-Semitism among European Muslims themselves. Though far-right groups have been responsible for the bulk of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, in recent years, Muslim youth have also been increasingly involved in these acts. The 2008 U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom notes that in Germany, "while most anti-Semitic acts were attributed to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons, recent anti-Semitic incidents indicated that Muslim youths were increasingly behind attacks on and harassment of Jews."

As a 2006 Pew survey highlights, these acts demonstrate a broader pattern in public opinion; negative attitudes toward Jews are common among European Muslims. Six-in-ten Spanish Muslims held negative views of Jews, as did 47% of Muslims in Britain and 44% in Germany. France, however, is a major exception-just 28% of French Muslims expressed an unfavorable opinion, while about seven-in-ten (71%) had a positive opinion.

While overall negative attitudes toward Jews are quite common among European Muslims, it is also worth noting that they are still not as prevalent as in predominantly Muslim countries surveyed by Pew. In addition, although their population is growing, Muslims still do not comprise a large-enough part of the population in Western European countries to account for the rise in anti-Jewish attitudes.

And just as attitudes toward Muslims and Jews are correlated, people who hold negative opinions of Americans are also especially likely to express negative attitudes toward Jews. The French philosopher André Glucksmann has called anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism "twin brothers." Certainly, Europeans tend to believe U.S. policies lean too much toward Israel. For instance, 62% of the French and 57% of the Germans surveyed by Pew in 2007 said American policies favor Israel too much in the conflict with the Palestinians. Negative views toward both Jews and Americans have increased in tandem across Europe this decade, although negative views of the United States have endured a steeper rise. In Germany, 37% of those who have an unfavorable opinion of Americans also have an unfavorable opinion of Jews, while among those with a favorable opinion of Americans, only 17% voice an unfavorable attitude toward Jews. The same pattern holds true in Britain, France and Spain.





THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN conflict is a polarizing issue, not least in Europe where anti-Semitism often goes hand in hand with negative views of Israel, especially when compared to the Palestinians.

Many observers have suggested that European attitudes toward the Middle East conflict shifted after the 1967 Six Day War. As the Economist has described, the war transformed Israel's image-especially on the European left-from "the plucky survivor of the Holocaust keeping powerful neighbours at bay" to that of a "neo-colonial regional superpower."

Pew polls support those findings. To the extent that they favor one side or the other, Western Europeans tend to sympathize more with the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (although Germany is an exception-34% of Germans sided with Israel in 2007, while 21% favored the Palestinians). In the 2006 Pew survey, conducted after the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections, Western European sympathies had moved a bit in Israel's direction. But by the 2007 poll, conducted after the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, public opinion once again swung back to the Palestinian side. In addition to sympathizing more with the Palestinians, Western Europeans also tend to believe Israel deserves most of the blame for the fact that the Palestinians do not have a state of their own. For example, 49% of the French say Israel is mostly responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state, while 33% primarily blame the Palestinians (18% blame both, someone else or do not offer an opinion).

Those on the political left in Western Europe are especially likely to sympathize with the Palestinians and to blame Israel for the lack of a Palestinian state. Looking again at combined data from France, Germany and Spain, 39% of people who place themselves on the left sympathize with the Palestinians, compared with 29% of centrists and 24% of those on the right. Similarly, 46% of respondents on the left blame Israel for the fact that there is no Palestinian state, while 40% of centrists and 35% of those on the right hold this view.

Among Eastern Europeans, the Middle East conflict is less salient. Many writers have argued that anti-Semitism in former-Eastern-bloc nations has less to do with Israel and is instead of the more "classic" variety. As University of Michigan-political-scientist Andrei Markovits describes it:

The anti-Semitism witnessed in contemporary Eastern Europe is of the classic kind-a continuation of the standard negative tropes, but quite devoid of its anti-Israel and anti-American component so prominent in the western half of the European continent.

Pew surveys suggest that Eastern Europeans are generally less engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In both Russia and Poland, where anti-Jewish views are relatively common, sizable numbers of respondents do not offer an opinion when asked about their sympathies in the conflict or who is to blame for the lack of a Palestinian state.

Many Europeans not only sympathize more with the Palestinians or believe that the intractability of the Middle East conflict is mostly Israel's fault, they also see Israel as a threat to global stability. A 2003 European Union survey of fifteen EU countries generated considerable attention and controversy with its finding that 59% of those interviewed considered Israel "a threat to peace in the world," ranking it above Iran, North Korea and the United States.

A 2004 survey of Germans by Bielefeld University highlights the extent to which some Europeans view Israel as an imperial power violating the human rights of the Palestinians. Roughly eight-in-ten (82%) Germans feel angry when they think about how the Israelis treat the Palestinians; 68% say Israel pursues a war of extermination against the Palestinians; and, remarkably, 51% say what Israel does to the Palestinians is not in principle different from what the Nazis did to the Jews.

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