Lawmakers and leading figures in the fight against antisemitism around the world have described the results of CNN’s investigation into European attitudes towards Jews as “appalling” and “frightening.”
Felix Klein, who was appointed as Germany’s federal government commissioner for Jewish life in April, said that while he was upset by the poll’s findings, they did not surprise him.
According to the poll, more than a quarter of Europeans surveyed believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in four said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world.
Meanwhile, a third of Europeans polled said they knew just a little or nothing at all about the Holocaust, the mass murder of some six million Jews in lands controlled by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s.
In a statement sent to CNN, Klein said: “For combating antisemitism, it is fundamental to keep the memory of the Shoah alive and nurture a vivid culture of remembrance.
“On a European level, I am going to encourage other states to create national functions similar to mine. We have already started to fight antisemitism on the level of the EU, for example by calling for the member states to adopt the definition for antisemitism that the IHRA has formulated.
“The German Bundestag and the German government have adopted this definition in 2017. Our biggest challenge, however, will be to change the views people hold about Jews. This is a task for all of us, and for the sake of society as a whole — because antisemitism is a threat for any democratic, open society.”
The CNN/ComRes poll interviewed more than 7,000 people across Europe, with more than 1,000 respondents each in Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden.
American historian Deborah Lipstadt, author of the forthcoming book “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” said the poll showed in “frightening detail, how traditional antisemitic motifs persist in Europe.”
“While, given recent developments, this is not entirely surprising, it is disheartening,” she said of the results.
“Stepping back from the specific findings of the study, it is imperative to note that antisemitism constitutes a conspiracy theory, i.e. an irrational evidence-free perspective that attributes to all Jews — irrespective of their location, status, age, nationality, world view — the same qualities and stereotypes. Antisemitism makes as much sense as attributing to all left-handed people or all blonds similar attributes and behaviors.”
Lipstadt, one of the world’s pre-eminent Holocaust historians, says she was also disturbed by the ignorance that surrounds the systematic murder of Europe’s Jewish population during World War II.
“This is not something that should so easily be forgotten. It should be something about which Europeans should still be grappling. Not because of guilt — today’s Europeans are clearly not guilty of anything — but in terms of the society within which they live.”
The poll also highlighted a sharpening of attitudes when it comes to the relationship between the Holocaust, Israel, Jews and antisemitism.
A third of survey respondents believe that criticism of Israel tends to be motivated by antisemitism, while only one in five said it does not.
However, a third of people CNN surveyed said that Israel uses the Holocaust to justify its actions, with half the respondents in Poland agreeing. Only one in five disagreed.
A third of Europeans said supporters of Israel use accusations of antisemitism to shut down criticism of Israel, while only one in 10 said that was not true.
“We have always known that for many, being anti-Israel is a natural extension of their antisemitic beliefs. This has an impact both on their attitudes to history and to the present,” Israel’s Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett, told CNN.
“What is clear is that it is not only important that people know about the Holocaust, but that they understand the lessons of the Holocaust. The same deeply antisemitic stereotypes and accusations we hear today were the same fuel which powered the death camps.”
“Attacks do not exist in a vacuum”
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, took aim at those who blame Jewish people themselves for antisemitism, branding such an attitude “absolutely intolerable.”
“The results indicate that substantial numbers of European citizens hold dangerous views about Jews, and back up recent figures about antisemitic attacks across the continent, showing that such attacks do not exist in a vacuum but are the practical manifestation of longstanding attitudes of hate turning into violence,” Kantor said.
“Even more problematic, though, is that many Europeans believe that Jews are somehow to blame for the hatred directed against them, as if Jews raise the issue in bad faith,” Kantor added. “To legitimize Jew-hatred is bad enough, but to delegitimize the Jewish right to fight this oppression is absolutely intolerable.”
A spokesman for CRIF, the umbrella body for the French Jewish community, said the poll showed that antisemitism is “evolving as a multiform disease.”
According to those polled in France, 48% agree that antisemitism is a growing problem in the country today. Some 29% know just a little about or have never heard of the Holocaust, while 24% believe Jewish people have too much influence over global finance.
“It is astounding to read that substantial minorities blame Israel or Jews themselves for antisemitism,” the spokesman said.
“For CRIF this is no surprise as we fight antisemitism on all fronts — whether it originates from the extreme right, as the hate of the Jew for what (he or she) represents, or from the extreme left, as the hate and delegitimization of Israel.”
According to the poll, 34% of Europeans surveyed know just a little or have never heard of the Holocaust, while 20% of French people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust.
And 31% of Europeans polled believe commemorating the Holocaust distracts from other atrocities and injustices today.
“The survey highlights the troubling fact that many entrenched hateful antisemitic tropes persist in European civilization, 75 years after the end of the Holocaust,” said Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
“The result of this survey proves the necessity to intensify broad-based efforts in the area of Holocaust education and awareness, which is essential to any effort to contend with antisemitism.”
Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz Memorial, said the poll results underlined the importance of education in tackling hate.
“The antisemitic or xenophobic ideologies that in the past led to the human catastrophe of Auschwitz seem not to have been erased from our lives today,” he said.