A recent poll determined that a large number of Europeans hold views that are antisemitic and, at the same time, awareness about the Holocaust is decreasing.
More than 7,000 people were polled on behalf of the news network CNN. In each of seven countries – Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom – 1,000 people were surveyed.
One-third of those surveyed – and one in two respondents in Poland – stated that Jews exploit the Holocaust to advance their goals and that Israel uses the Holocaust as a tool to justify its policies.
One in 20 Europeans have never heard of the Holocaust. In Austria, 12% of respondents said they had never heard of it, while 40% admitted they know little about it.
About 40% of respondents in Poland and Hungary claim that Jews have too much influence on business and finances. One-third of Poles and Hungarians think Jews exert too much influence on global politics.
Other findings in the poll deliver a mixed bag. Half of respondents in all countries claimed to know “quite a lot” about the Holocaust, with 20% claiming to have “extensive knowledge.” Two-thirds of Europeans agree that commemorating the Holocaust helps ensure similar atrocities do not happen in future and half believes that Holocaust commemoration helps combat antisemitism today.
While Jewish people constitute about 0.2% of the total world population, 25% of Hungarians and 20% of Polish and British respondents believe that more than 20% of the world is Jewish.
The poll says that 54% of Europeans believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. (One almost wishes they had been asked if France has a right to exist as a French country, or Poland as a Polish country.)
One-third of Europeans, according to the poll, believe that criticism of Israel is symptomatic of antisemitism, while 20% believe that it is not.
Deflecting blame for antisemitism away from its perpetrators and onto its victims, 28% of respondents contend that antisemitism in their respective countries is a direct response to Israel’s actions. Fully 18% of Europeans blame antisemitism on the behaviour of Jews themselves.
Polls like these are an important barometer of opinion. There is little in the results that will surprise anybody who has been paying attention to European developments in recent years. Previous surveys have indicated that Europeans (as well as North Americans and others) have what we would consider an inadequate grasp of the realities of the Holocaust. Likewise, nobody needed a survey to know that antisemitism in Europe is at a level unprecedented in recent decades. However, it is important to have empirical evidence like this, especially a survey that is both cross-national and includes enough respondents to make it statistically significant.
It would be no help at all to throw up one’s hands and declare Europe lost, as some people have done in recent days. But neither do we, in Canada, have all that much influence over what happens there.
We do, however, have the ability to influence things closer to home and we should redouble our efforts to ensure that trends in Europe are not transmitted to our shores. We are, by no means, immune to this kind of thinking. A similar study done in Canada or the United States would indicate some parallels with the European results, albeit, we hope, not to the deeply concerning degree that this study has indicated.
We must continue to support every area ofHolocaust education possible. The work being done at the Vancouver HolocaustEducation Centre and by organizations across Canada must be supported andstrengthened. As Prof. Jan Grabowski said in delivering the annual Vrba lecture(jewishindependent.ca/revealing-truth-elicits-threats), there is still verymuch primary research left to do about the Holocaust, unearthing basic detailsthat are still not recorded about that time in history.
On the front of combating antisemitism here, the Jewish community must continue being vigilant and raising alarms whenever antisemitic ideas or actions emerge because this work has fallen primarily to Jewish Canadians. We must continue to build strength through our allies in all the multicultural communities in the country. This is the surest method to combat the growth of antisemitism – and this has to be a two-way street. As a community, we must stand with other groups and individuals when they are unjustly targeted if we are to expect others to stand with us.
While the last lights of Chanukah our now extinguished, we still have the season of winter before us and it is our responsibility to continue bringing light where there is darkness.