Educating Labour – a serious approach to antisemitism: No 2

JVL introduction

This is the second in a planned series of commentaries based on the many comments the JVL Education Group has received about the Jewish Labour Movement’s online Antisemitism Awareness Education sessions. We offer the commentaries as further contributions to the discussion about how best to understand antisemitism in order to challenge and resist it.

The contribution below looks at the pitfalls of interpreting statistics in relation to antisemitism.

No 2: Making numbers count

It is quite easy to create false impressions by quoting only those statistics that tell your preferred story; or mislead in a webinar presentation by commenting selectively on a part of a table of numbers which is only briefly visible. Here are some examples from the JLM presentation.

General attitudes to Jews

The presenter pointed out that 2.4% of people in the UK had a highly unfavourable view of Jewish people, and a further 10.2% had a somewhat unfavourable view. Alarming? Well, maybe. But the figures for attitudes to Christians in these two categories add to 10.7% – or only about 2% less than for Jews. Should we be worrying about anti-Christian prejudice?

Looking at the figures for negative views of Muslims helps put all this in perspective – they come to 9.9% very unfavourable, and 23.7% somewhat unfavourable. So why is ‘Understanding Antisemitism’ the Labour Party’s priority? The JLM presentation did not touch on this question.

Agreement with antisemitic statements

The JLM analysis was based on survey data from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) on what percentage of the British population holds antisemitic attitudes. Eight potentially antisemitic statements were tried out on subjects. The JLM presenter’s headline figure (based on a rather complicated graphic) was that 30% of people agreed with at least one of them. What she didn’t point out was that half of these agreed with only one of the eight! The JPR’s analysis of its own survey data was that people combining open dislike of Jews with developed negative ideas about them “does not exceed 2.4% of British adults”. That 30% figure is scaremongering. What is more, the JPR specifically draws attention to the need for caution in interpreting their figures – a point ignored by the JLM presenters.

Antisemitic incidents

The presenter showed a chart of rising numbers of ‘antisemitic incidents’ year on year. (The figures are collected by CST, the Community Security Trust.) In the most recent year the number was 1668. Only three incidents were classified as ‘extreme violence’; but the very next slide was of the locations of four murderous assaults. None of them had happened in the UK.

Of the year’s incidents, 1399 were what was called abusive behaviour. A worrying figure but one that needs to be seen in perspective. The CST report from which these figures are taken shows that 634 of these, nearly half, were social media postings. We don’t know how many of these were statements about Israel rather than about Jews – but the presentation encouraged a more alarmist interpretation of the figures. Participants would be entitled to ask probing questions about this. JLM’s presentations make no provision for such questions.


Comments (1)

  • There is a real danger in responding to the JLM’s false training in its own terms. And that is that you accept the whole basis of the fraudulent exercise to begin with. The real question is why is ‘antisemitism’ seen as Labour’s major problem and what does that say for the ingrained racism of the leadership and most of the PLP

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