Who are the perpetrators of antisemitic incidents?

Seventy years after the Holocaust, Jews around the world are again facing increasing levels of racist attacks.

Many Jewish communities outside Australia are effectively living under siege. Synagogues and Jewish schools need to operate under armed guard, either by private agencies or heavily armed police.  In many places Jews are having to hide their Jewish identity by not wearing or by disguising Jewish garb when out in public to avoid physical attack.  With propaganda calling for the killing of Jews, with synagogues being torched, and with Jews being murdered, the situation needs to be tackled head-on.

A major prerequisite for countering antisemitism is to identify the perpetrators of antisemitic incidents. With all these attacks, there is much debate over who poses the greatest threat to Jews in the 21st century.  Some point to the far Right, others to the Islamists, and some to the far Left.  Often, it is ideological or political considerations that determine where the finger is pointed, rather than an objective analysis of the reliable reports and statistics.

A major difficulty in identifying the sources of antisemitic incidents is that most of the relevant reports or data do not include a reference to the ethnicity, gender, or age, of the perpetrators, or their motivation – whether political or religious.

In some instances, when arrests are made, or in cases of physical assault and verbal abuse, aspects of the identity and motivation of the perpetrators are often identifiable due to the close proximity of perpetrators and victims.  The motivation for some other types of incidents can also be identified, such as when graffiti or a leaflet bears the name of a group.

Despite widely held assumptions, the nature of the antisemitic act itself cannot provide conclusive evidence of who the perpetrator is.  For example, use of the Nazi term “Heil Hitler” is not confined to neo-Nazis or the far right, as Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust noted in 2014, finding that “Those British Muslims who verbally abuse British Jews on the street are more likely to shout ‘Heil Hitler’ than ‘Allahu Akhbar’ when they do so.” 

New York Times

Another example is when a Chanukah menorah, a Jewish religious symbol, was twisted into a Nazi swastika on the front lawn of a Jewish home in Arizona in December 2016 the assumption was that it was done by white supremacists or neo-Nazis.  As it turned out, an African-American and his three unidentified accomplices were responsible for the antisemitic act.

Given these limitations, any study of the sources of antisemitic incidents can only provide an overview to indicate what the available studies show.  The following, therefore, will only tell a partial story, and must be seen in that light, and read with that caution.  The four countries with the highest numbers of Jews, outside of Israel, are the USA, France, Canada, and Britain.

So, who is murdering, physically assaulting and verbally abusing Jews, vandalising synagogues, spraying hate graffiti, making the streets unsafe for Jews, and threatening Jews in many other ways?  What is their political or religious motivation, and their ethnicity, age and gender?

A study on “Antisemitic Violence in Europe” conducted by Oslo University in 2005-2015, and published in 2017, looked at seven European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the UK. In the two countries with the largest Jewish populations (France and Britain), the victims of antisemitic incidents perceived Muslims to be the most frequent perpetrators, followed by the far left, then the far right.  In Russia, however, most perpetrators were perceived to be from the far right.

Breaking Israel News. Vandalism in France

In France, Jews comprise only 1% of the French population, yet over 50% of racist attacks in France are against Jews.  Since 2003, thirteen Jews have been murdered, including three young children at a Jewish school and an elderly Holocaust survivor in her home.  All these murders were motivated by antisemitic hatred, and all were committed by Muslims.  A report by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) by Günther Jikeli in May 2015 found that: “About 30 percent of the perpetrators in all antisemitic incidents in France in recent years have been identified as Muslim/Arab. […] Muslims make up 6 to 8 percent of the total population of France.”  Conversely, this indicates that the majority of perpetrators, 70%, are indigenous French and other non-Muslims.

In Britain, two studies can be cited. The Community Security Trust (CST), a Jewish community organisation, documents and analyses antisemitic incidents in the UK.  According to the statistics in its Antisemitic Incidents Report 2017, albeit referring only to 30% of incidents (ie those where the ethnicity of the perpetrator was identified), the ethnic appearance breakdown of perpetrators was 57% of European background, 18% Black, and 25% composed of those of South Asian (predominantly Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian), Arab or North African background.

The ISGAP report by Jikeli in May 2015 put “the percentage of Muslim perpetrators of antisemitic acts in Great Britain at between 20 and 30 percent, while the percentage of Muslims in the general population stands at 5 percent.”  Statistically, those of European background are responsible for over twice as many incidents as those of a Muslim background (namely, South Asian, Arab or North African backgrounds). However, Muslims are disproportionally over-represented as perpetrators – five times their proportion of the British population.

In the United States, the FBI collects and analyses hate crime statistics across the nation.  For the seventeen years from 2000 to 2016 (the last year available), anti-Jewish hate crimes constituted between 55% and 74% of all hate crimes in the U.S. in the “Religion” category.  In this category, Jews consistently are the foremost victims of hate crime. However, for all hate crimes combined, regardless of category, Jews are the second most targeted group, after Blacks. Jews comprise only 2% of the American population.

A comprehensive study in 2017 by Johanna Markind comprised an investigation into the perpetrators of antisemitic hate crimes in the USA.  Markind noted that the FBI data does not provide, or does not know, the race or ethnicity of over 75% of the perpetrators of anti-Jewish hate crime.  Markind concludes, from her study of FBI data, that:  “Circumstantial evidence suggests the main perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes come from two separate sources: right-wing groups such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and Muslims and/or Arabs.”

According to Statistics Canada, a government body, in reference to their ‘Police-reported hate crimes by motivation and region, 2016’ (Table 2), the most targeted group for hate crimes in Canada were Jews, followed by Blacks, then Muslims, then LGBTI people. Of note, Jews make up only about 1% of the population of Canada, yet are the most targeted group.  On the perpetrators, Statistics Canada found that “Persons accused of crimes targeting Jewish populations tended to be young compared to those accused of other types of hate crimes, with 40% being under the age of 17. Moreover, accused persons were almost always male (89%).”

In Australia, two different analyses of statistical data were compiled using the annual Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Report on Antisemitism in Australia – in 2016 on the ethnicity of perpetrators of physical assault and verbal abuse (although only 47% of such incidents identified the ethnicity of the perpetrators), and in 2017 on the percentage of incidents perpetrated by the far right.

The Advertiser. Neo Nazis South Australia.

In 2016, people of Caucasian and Middle Eastern backgrounds were predominantly responsible in near equal proportions, at 47% and 43% respectively, for physical assault and verbal abuse.  In 2017, the extreme far right (ie neo-Nazis/white supremacists, understood to be composed of Caucasians) were disproportionally responsible for 22% (comprised predominantly of posters and stickers) of all incidents.

In Western countries, from the data and reports available (as above and elsewhere), the majority of perpetrators of antisemitic incidents come from two sources – the far right (Caucasians) and Muslims. However, it should be noted that Caucasian and Muslim are not mutually exclusive.  Given that Muslims comprise only 2-8% of the population of the countries noted above, but comprise between 20-30% of perpetrators, this disproportional over-representation of Muslims as perpetrators is of serious concern.

In the 21st century, when it comes to murdering Jews, the ultimate act of Jew-hatred, Islamists have been and continue to be the most frequent culprits.  However, given the rapid rise in extreme right-wing violent activity over the last decade, with neo-Nazis openly calling for the murder of Jews, it remains to be seen whether this continues to be the case.

Part of the fight against antisemitic incidents involves identifying the sources of the incidents, ensuring full legal sanction against perpetrators and their enablers, and public condemnations and effective action against those who spread, encourage or incite demonisation of Jews and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. As history has taught, antisemitism does not only affect Jews, it infects and cripples whole societies.

Julie Nathan is the Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.

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