The Increasing Harassment of Jews Around the World

A new report finds a seven-year high in the percentage of countries where Jews face hostility from governments or society—particularly in Europe.

Adam Baker/Flickr

How can you measure hostility toward a religious group? It's one thing if governments ban people from worshipping or arrest those who won't denounce their faith; that kind of discrimination is easy to track and define. But it's more difficult to put numbers to general feelings of ill-will—the sense that you're not welcome here.

That, however, is exactly what Pew Research Center has done. In a new report, researchers coded information from news outlets, government reports, and questionnaires to measure the level of hostility expressed toward religious groups by governments and communities around the world.

What they found is not welcome news for Jews. Last year, Jews were harassed by governments or members of their communities in 77 out of the 198 countries and territories included in the study, or 39 percent. That represents a sharp increase over the last seven years.

Percentage of Countries Where Jews Were Harassed
Pew Research Center

The level of discrimination was most stark in Europe. Jews experienced harassment in 34 of the region's 45 countries, or 76 percent—by comparison, members of the group were only harassed in 25 percent of countries in the rest of the world. Muslims also experienced widespread harassment in Europe, with incidents happening in 32 out of 45 countries, or 71 percent—in the rest of the world, this only happened in 34 percent of countries.

But what's different about the discrimination faced by Jews and Muslims is that, in general, Muslims face discrimination from both governments and communities, while "Jews tend to be harassed by individuals or groups in society rather than governments," said Peter Henne, one of the authors of the report. He said the study can't provide much insight into why that might be, though, and noted another important caveat: Although Pew tracked the number of countries in which religious groups were harassed, the report doesn't provide specific insight into how often each group was harassed in each country.

Discrimination against Jews and Muslims in Europe should be equally troubling, but it's particularly ironic that European anti-Semitism is thriving in spite of some governments' efforts to prevent it. Reading through the incidents of hostility directed at Jews tracked by the U.S. State Department and other agencies, it's hard not to feel a sneaking, depressing familiarity:

Following an argument, several residents of the Parisian suburb Seine-et-Marne attacked their Jewish neighbors with a crowbar, shouting anti-Semitic slurs.

An unidentified group poured tar over metal tiles embedded in the streets of Komarno, Slovakia, which were installed to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

"Hitler was right" was painted in graffiti beside a swastika on the wall of the town bullring in Pinto, Spain, before a local celebration; city officials left the graffiti up temporarily "so that the celebration could take place without delay."

During a soccer match in Pozna, Poland, fans shouted, “Auschwitz is your home, off with Jews" at the opposing team. An investigation into the incident was discontinued, officials said, because it was unclear that the opposing team's fans were Jewish.

Measuring hostility, it seems, isn't so hard after all.