A se­ri­ous as­sess­ment of the is­sue

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY JONATHAN BOYD

THERE ARE two things that ir­ri­tate me about the gen­eral dis­course on an­ti­semitism. The first is sen­sa­tion­al­ism — a ten­dency among some to present al­most ev­ery piece of data with alarm, and to ex­ag­ger­ate the scale of the prob­lem.

The sec­ond is com­pla­cency — a ten­dency among oth­ers to ig­nore cer­tain mea­sures of an­ti­semitism, and to min­imise the scale of the prob­lem.

Nei­ther serves the com­mu­nity well, and nei­ther helps in­form sen­si­ble pol­icy to ad­dress ex­ist­ing re­al­ity.

If we can agree that an­ti­semitism ought to be taken se­ri­ously, we should also be able to agree that it should be mea­sured and an­a­lysed se­ri­ously — by pro­fes­sion­als, with ob­jec­tiv­ity, pre­ci­sion and cir­cum­spec­tion. That’s what we have tried to do in the JPR sur­vey.

The first key point we make is that an­ti­semitism is an at­ti­tude, and like all at­ti­tudes, it ex­ists at dif­fer­ent lev­els of in­ten­sity in so­ci­ety. Some peo­ple — 2.4% of the pop­u­la­tion of Great Bri­tain it turns out — are hard-core an­ti­semites. They hold mul­ti­ple an­ti­semitic at­ti­tudes si­mul­ta­ne­ously; pre­sented with sev­eral an­ti­semitic tropes, they agree with most, if not all.

But at the same time, 28 per cent of peo­ple agree with at least one an­ti­semitic trope, even as they dis­agree with, or are neu­tral on, many oth­ers. De­scrib­ing most of these peo­ple as an­ti­semitic would not only be ab­surd but po­lit­i­cally fool­ish — they are not, even though they may ex­press a view on oc­ca­sion that makes of­fends us. And, of course, there are many shades in be­tween these fig­ures.

Which brings me to my sec­ond point. Most re­search about an­ti­semitism high­lights a sin­gle fig­ure as the mea­sure of an­ti­semitism. That’s an­a­lyt­i­cally in­de­fen­si­ble. There is no clean cut-off point be­tween those who are an­ti­semitic and those who are not. If we want to get se­ri­ous about un­der­stand­ing an­ti­semitism, we need to mea­sure it, at its vary­ing lev­els of in­ten­sity, sys­tem­at­i­cally, over time.

But that’s also in­suf­fi­cient. Be­cause to de­rive any mean­ing from any fig­ures, we need con­text. We need to draw com­par­isons, not just over time, but also across so­ci­ety. For ex­am­ple, we should note that lev­els of in­tense misog­yny in Great Bri­tain ex­ist at a level of about 3-4 per cent, but the pro­por­tion of peo­ple in Great Bri­tain who hold at least one at­ti­tude that, if ex­pressed, might make some women feel un­com­fort­able or of­fended, is 31 per cent. Those fig­ures are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to the ones for Jews. The more such com­par­isons we draw, the more we can make sense of the lev­els of an­ti­semitism we ob­serve.

And we need to know more than that. Hold­ing an at­ti­tude does not nec­es­sar­ily equate to act­ing vi­o­lently on the ba­sis of it. The level of peo­ple who feel that vi­o­lence is of­ten or some­times jus­ti­fied against Jews, Is­raelis or Zion­ists is 3-4 per cent, lower than the equiv­a­lent pro­por­tions for those jus­ti­fy­ing vi­o­lence against banks, big busi­ness, Bri­tish mil­i­tary per­son­nel, im­mi­grants or Mus­lims. That doesn’t mean there is no cause for con­cern, but it does pro­vide a bit of per­spec­tive.

De­ployed care­fully, we can also use sta­tis­tics to as­sess whether an­tiIs­raelism is an­ti­semitism at a so­ci­etal one. The an­swer, ex­plored em­pir­i­cally for the first time in JPR’s re­port, is ob­vi­ous re­ally — some­times it is, some­times it isn’t. But by quan­ti­fy­ing it, we can mon­i­tor whether the two phe­nom­ena are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly in­ter­min­gled, or in­creas­ingly dis­tinct over time. In turn this will help us to de­ter­mine the ex­tent to which lev­els of hos­til­ity to­wards Is­rael rep­re­sent a threat to the Bri­tish Jewish com­mu­nity.

Read the re­port. It of­fers, I be­lieve, a sober as­sess­ment of con­tem­po­rary re­al­ity. And that’s its key pur­pose. No drama, no eva­sion. Just pure, hard em­piri­cism.

An­ti­semitism ex­ists at dif­fer­ent lev­els of in­ten­sity’

Dr Jonathan Boyd is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search

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