The shocking murders at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris have certainly raised alarm bells in the British Jewish community. Many feel rattled, and even those who normally dismiss the need for security outside synagogues and Jewish schools have been given pause for thought. Few can now doubt that Islamist extremism is very real, and that attacks on Jewish targets in Britain are a distinct possibility.
Coming just months after a significant spike in antisemitic incidents during the Gaza war in the summer, these attacks have only served to exacerbate Jewish anxieties and intensify calls for action. One such expression of that can be seen in the establishment in Britain of a new start-up called the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which, in its short life, has successfully organised rallies against antisemitism, and brought its concerns directly to the highest echelons of the British political establishment. Jews want opportunities to voice their concerns, and the CAA is providing an outlet.
However, looking at its recent survey of British and Jewish attitudes towards antisemitism, the CAA's assessment of the situation almost certainly overstates reality. Its strong suggestion, for example, that as many as 45% of British adults may hold antisemitic views does not stand up to scrutiny, and its claim that "well over half of British Jews believe Jews may have no long-term future in Europe" draws on research that is methodologically flawed.
The statistical reality is that Britain remains one of the least antisemitic countries in the world. A considered read of the CAA data indicates that a maximum of 11% of British people hold antisemitic views. Anti-Defamation League data from 2014 put this at 8%, and recent Pew data show between 2% to 7%. Moreover, EU data gathered and analysed by social scientists at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, demonstrate that, compared to British Jews, French Jews are significantly more anxious about antisemitism, more likely to become victims of it, and think it is more of a problem in their society. Not surprisingly, Jewish migration trends from the two countries differ significantly too: about 1.4% of French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, compared to about 0.2% of British Jews.
Indeed, Jewish life in Britain is thriving. There are numerous excellent Jewish schools, a plethora of exciting cultural events, some wonderful synagogues and an extensive range of kosher shops and restaurants. British Jews have benefited enormously from multiculturalism, and compared to a generation ago, Britain has become a fabulous place to live a meaningful Jewish life.
But perhaps that is what helps to fuel the anxiety. Because as they watched events unfold at the kosher supermarket in Paris, British Jews could imagine themselves in a similar supermarket in London. And with everything that has been built in the Jewish community here, they sense its fragility, knowing, as they do, that it is almost impossible to prevent every single terrorist atrocity from occurring. The overarching feeling for most is clear: Britain remains our home, but we're double-checking its security.