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Could it happen in the UK?

Could it happen in the UK?

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris have shocked people everywhere. Viewed from a Jewish perspective, they are particularly disturbing - it is abundantly clear that the French Jews in the supermarket were targeted simply because of their Jewishness.

That reality has created anxiety among Jews living elsewhere in Europe, including the UK. But could the same thing happen in the UK? To what extent does the situation in the UK mirror the situation in France? Here's some recent data that help to answer those questions.

(1) The proportion of Jews who have experienced antisemitic violence or the threat of such violence over the past five years is considerably lower in the UK than in France: one in twenty as opposed to one in ten.

(2) The proportion of Jews who have experienced antisemitic harassment of some sort over the past five years is, once again, lower in the UK than in France, albeit not by much: 35% in France compared to 29% in the UK.

(3) However, according to community statistics reports, more antisemitic incidents have taken place in the UK in recent years than in France. In 2011, there were 609 incidents in the UK and 260 in France: in 2012, there were 649 in the UK and 437 in France; and in 2013, there were 529 in the UK and 423 in France (totals for 2011-13: UK = 1,787; France = 1,120). Final figures for 2014 are not yet available, but are significantly higher than previous years in both countries due to the spike in incidents that occurred during the summer conflict in Gaza. However, it is very important to understand that these figures need to be considered in light of (i) the fact that French Jews are marginally less likely than UK Jews to report antisemitic incidents in general; and (ii) they are based on different reporting processes: to the Community Security Trust in the UK and to the police in France.

(4) Jews in France are much more likely than Jews in the UK to think antisemitism is a problem in their country: 52% of French Jews characterised it as "a very big problem" in France in 2012; the equivalent figure for British Jews in Britain in 2012 was 11%. I don't have more recent data, but my hunch is that the figures have probably climbed in both countries, although the gap between them has probably grown too.

(5) French Jews are much more likely than British Jews to think that levels of antisemitism have increased 'a lot' in their countries in recent years: 74% of French Jews think this, compared to 27% of British Jews. And, whereas French Jews place antisemitism third on a list of nine social, political and economic issues they believe to be problematic in France (behind unemployment and the state of the economy), British Jews put it in eighth place.

(6) French Jews are noticeably more likely than British Jews to say they have considered emigrating from their country because of levels of antisemitism there. Almost half of French Jews say this, compared to less than 20% of British Jews. Of course, the actual emigration figures are much lower than this: while French aliyah figures for 2014 are the highest on record (6,658), they still represent less than 2% of the French Jewish population. British aliyah figures for 2014 were similar to the previous few years - approximately 0.2% of the British Jewish population currently makes aliyah each year. The figures for Jews in either country emigrating to countries other than Israel are largely unknown, although, in the case of Britain at least, data suggest that, overall, the numbers of Jews moving or returning to the UK outweigh the numbers leaving. We don't have equivalent data for France.

(7) There is a very clear distinction between the perceptions and experiences of antisemitism of Orthodox Jews and of  non-Orthodox Jews. This is for at least one key reason: the former are often identifiably Jewish, the latter are rarely so. Orthodox Jews in both countries experience more antisemitic harassment, discrimination and violence than non-Orthodox Jews; they are more anxious about it, and they are more likely to experience violent threats or assaults. Importantly, the data for Orthodox Jews in the UK are strikingly similar to the data for French Jews as a whole.

(8) In both countries, Jewish victims of serious antisemitic violence are most likely to say that the assault was perpetrated by someone "with a Muslim extremist view" as opposed to someone with any other religious or political association. However, whereas about half of French Jewish victims say this, a smaller proportion (about a third) of British Jewish victims say so.

(9) Researchers estimate that about 7.5% of people living in France in 2011 were Muslims (4.7m people); data show clearly that Muslims comprised 4.6% of the UK population (2.9m people) in the same year. Both Muslim populations are growing at a faster rate than the populations of the countries as a whole: forecasts for 2030 are 10.3% (6.9m people) in France, and 8.2% (5.5m people) in the UK. Of course, only a fraction of these people are/will be extremists. But given that the Muslim populations as a whole are forecasted to grow, it is distinctly possible that the numbers of Muslim extremists in both countries will grow too.

(10) Either way, Muslims are likely to carry an increasing amount of political influence in both countries, if only by the sheer weight of their numbers. Of course, that is not to suggest that all Muslims believe the same things or vote as a bloc. But in a context where the Jewish population of France is declining and the Jewish population of the UK is stable or growing slightly, the population figures indicate that the political influence of Jewish groups is likely to decline, whilst the political influence of Muslim groups is likely to grow.

(11) Some see only a threat in these demographic figures. But not only will the proportion of Muslims who become Islamist murderers continue to be very small, it is also important to remember that the relationship between Islamist ideas and Western ideas is a two-way street. It remains to be seen how influential Islamist or democratic ideas will be on the Muslim population of the UK going forward.

(12) Ultimately, how - and indeed whether - the Muslim populations of both countries choose to assert their numerical influence remains to be seen. The social, political, economic and cultural contexts are different in each country, and the Muslim populations differ from one another in terms of their ethnic backgrounds, religious practices and identities. These differences may explain in some way why Islamist violence is more intense and virulent in France than in the UK, or it may be that we start to see similar types of violence in the UK as have been seen in France as the population statistics in Britain reach those currently found in France.

In short, at present, the data demonstrate that the situation for Jews in France is markedly worse than for Jews in the UK, both in terms of their anxieties about antisemitism and their experiences of it. But the reasons for that remain somewhat unclear - they are probably partly due to political, economic and cultural differences between the two countries, partly related to differences between the Muslim populations, and partly due to demographic differences. But it is abundantly clear that violent Islamist extremism is very real, and based on a cold assessment of the data, it is far from unlikely that we will see similar sorts of attacks in the UK in the future. Hopefully, the last few days will serve as a huge wake-up call to both countries, and the foreign and domestic challenges posed by Islamic extremism will start to be tackled in a dramatically improved manner.

13 Jan 2015 - Could it happen in the UK?

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