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How has antisemitism in the UK changed? You tell us!

Brexit, Covid and Corbyn – a lot has happened in the UK over the past five years. JPR’s new survey will explore the effects of these events and others on Jews’ perceptions and experiences of antisemitism

Isabel Sawkins

In 2018, our research for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) asked over 16,000 self-identifying Jews from across Europe about their experiences and perceptions of antisemitism in their countries. In the UK, 85% of respondents felt that antisemitism had increased in the last five years, and 84% felt that antisemitism on the internet, including social media, was a problem.

Five years have passed since then. Much has changed in the environment for British Jews over that period: Brexit has been implemented, Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the Labour Party, and the Covid-19 pandemic has taken place, prompting the birth of new antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish responsibility for the virus. With all this, are Jews feeling more or less safe now in the UK?

Well, right now, you have the chance to tell us. Today (26 April), JPR is launching its latest survey on Jewish people’s perceptions and experiences of antisemitism in the UK. The survey will enable the Jewish community, civil society and the government to understand how, if at all, antisemitism is changing in the UK, and how secure British Jews feel in the current context. It will also look at how members of the UK Jewish community perceive the threats today and how our findings compare with results for the UK from five and ten years ago, and indeed, with the situation in other countries from across Europe.

A lot can happen in five years

The last few years have been a tumultuous time for the UK. When we last undertook this survey in 2018, we did so on behalf of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The United Kingdom was included at that time because it was still a part of the EU; today that is no longer the case, so it has fallen to JPR to ensure that this vital work continues here. But perhaps the more significant issue is whether Brexit has impacted in any way on Jews’ feelings of security in the UK; as discourse has intensified about immigrants, refugees and minorities, how might that have affected Jews?

Being part of the EU wasn’t the only difference in UK politics five years ago. In 2018, Jeremy Corbyn was Leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn received much criticism from the UK Jewish community for failing to act on antisemitic incidents within the Labour Party. Many accused him of being an antisemitism enabler or even antisemitic himself. But Labour lost the general election in 2019, and Corbyn resigned as leader soon afterwards, being replaced by the current incumbent, Sir Keir Starmer. The subsequent enquiry into antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Labour Party had committed unlawful harassment and discrimination. It obligated the Party to address antisemitism in its ranks. Among the steps Labour has taken has been to remove the whip from Corbyn, and recently, its national executive committee resolved to prevent him from seeking re-election as a Labour candidate in the next general election. Yet it is still unclear what residual feelings that experience has left within the Jewish community, and this new survey provides the key opportunity to find out.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed antisemitism?

Then there was Covid-19. Starting in March 2021, people across the country had to deal with a global pandemic that, to date, has resulted in over 220,000 deaths in the UK and a series of lockdowns affecting the financial, social and mental stability of many others. The pandemic brought unprecedented measures and consequent fears, but it also created the conditions in which antisemitic sentiment and action could be perpetrated in new ways online.

In the UK, the Community Security Trust (CST) has monitored what it has described as “a completely new kind of antisemitic incident... born out of the sudden reliance on these platforms for social participation” during the pandemic. As noted in its 2022 incident report, "online channels remained especially viable for sharing hate" when space for physical interaction was restricted. In 2022, community members reported 358 online antisemitic incidents to CST. These included direct threats, abusive behaviour and mass-produced anti-Jewish literature; they featured political, religious, and conspiracist discourse; and used memes, images, caricatures and cartoons. This figure was the fifth-highest annual total for online incidents ever recorded.

Yet, since 2019, when a record number of 700 online incidents was reported, the CST has argued that it has seen a decline in this regard. The 2022 CST report links this decline, in part, to the fact that "perpetrators of extremist antisemitic rhetoric are increasingly migrating their prejudice to fringe social media forums, where their radical views are not censored and are less likely to be seen and reported by the general public.". So the decline the CST is finding in its numbers may or may not be real; as the report concludes, "online forums continue to be a fertile ground for public expressions of antisemitism."

Regardless of whether you have personally experienced an antisemitic incident lately or you think that antisemitism is overstated and that things are actually improving, we want to hear from you.

Our upcoming survey will contribute to this conversation by not only looking more closely at online antisemitism but also by adding two key audiences who cannot appear in CST research: those who encountered antisemitism but did not report it and those who did not encounter any antisemitism to report on. The survey we are launching today has been sent to approximately 7,000 JPR Research Panel members, regardless of whether they have experienced antisemitism or reported it to someone. This should provide us with a much more complete picture of antisemitism today, locate the CST data in their broader context, reveal trends that have occurred over time, location, sex, denomination and other factors, and compare the situation in the UK with other European countries.

So, regardless of whether you have personally experienced an antisemitic incident lately or you think that antisemitism is overstated and that things are actually improving, we want to hear from you. If you are Jewish, aged 16 or over and live in the UK, you can add your voice to this critical piece of research by joining the JPR Research Panel today. You can register now and make your opinion count.

Update: JPR's 2023 Antisemitism in the UK Survey is now closed. If you want to participate in future surveys, please register for our research panel, and we will email you when our next survey is live.

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Isabel Sawkins

Former Research Fellow

Isabel Sawkins

Former Research Fellow

Isabel managed JPR’s research panel and survey research programme in the UK. She has an MA in Political Sociology (Russia and Eastern Europe) from University...

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