A new study shows “concerning levels” of antisemitism in Aotearoa, as more than half of New Zealanders agree with at least one antisemitic viewpoint. 

The Survey of Antisemitism in New Zealand 2021, released on Wednesday, involved 1017 people. Of those people, the survey found that 63 percent of them held at least one antisemitic view.

New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses said that this shows that some New Zealanders still believe in stubborn and dangerous myths or tropes about Jewish people.

“There are many different forms and sources of antisemitism but if you boil it down to the most basic, it has remained this - it’s the idea that Jewish people have too much control and too much power,” Moses said. 

According to Statistics New Zealand, in 2018, around 5265 people identified themselves as Jewish. 

People’s ages, gender, ethnicity, religion, location, education level, how long they have lived in New Zealand and the political party they voted for were included in the survey, which was conducted by Curia Research. 

17 percent say they know ‘virtually nothing’ about the Holocaust

“One of the most fundamental questions that can be easily asked about the Holocaust to gauge actual knowledge of it is how many Jews were murdered in Europe in the Holocaust,” the survey said.

Seventeen percent of the people surveyed said they knew “virtually nothing” about the Holocaust.

The survey also found that older people, between the ages of 61 to 75, were 4.1 times more likely to say they knew a great deal about the Holocaust compared to 18 to 30-year-olds. 

Only 42 percent knew that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. 

Older people, between 61 and 75, were three times as likely to get the answer right compared to 18 to 35-year-olds. 

But even within the older age group, only 59 percent answered correctly, the survey said. 

People living in Wellington were 2.3 times and people in Christchurch were 2.4 times more likely to answer correctly compared to people living in Auckland. 

Holocaust Centre of New Zealand chair, Deborah Hart, said the survey showed a need for Holocaust education.

“This survey represents the views of everyday New Zealanders. We recently saw an extreme side of this lack of understanding in the gross misuse of Holocaust references at the protest at Parliament,” Hart said.

Previously, disinformation researcher Kate Hannah told Re: that since the country went into lockdown in 2020, Nazi references have become increasingly common. Especially at anti-mandate and anti-vaccination protests that have been held over the past two years.

“We’ve seen over the course of the pandemic the increasing use of appropriated imagery from the Holocaust, and accusations of the government and state being Nazis and acting in Nazi ways,” Hannah said.

The content is purposely designed to make people feel under a huge amount of pressure, to feel a need to defend their family and loved ones, and to suggest there is “a group of people [the government] behaving in the worst possible way - they’re being Nazis”,” Hannah previously told Re:.

“That’s why we see the proliferation of that kind of imagery, it's used for its shock value and horror value, there is a sense of perversity.”

For Hart, if people understood what the Holocaust actually was, it would be a “significant buffer against the rise of antisemitism and other forms of racism that can lead to genocide”. 

Statements from the survey

People taking the survey were asked to rate their level of agreement with 18 statements which had various aspects of antisemitism. 

The statements were categorised as “classic antisemitism”, “Anti-Israel antisemitism” and “other antisemitism”.

The survey uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. 

Here are the 18 statements:

Classic antisemitism statements:

  • Jews have too much power in international financial markets 
  • Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust
  • Jews have too much control over the global media 
  • Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind 
  • Jews in NZ are more loyal to Israel than to New Zealand
  • Kiwi Jews make a positive contribution to NZ society 
  • A New Zealand Jew is just as Kiwi as any other New Zealander 
  • The Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves 

Anti-Israel antisemitism statements:

  • The State of Israel has every right to exist as a majority Jewish state
  • Israel is an apartheid state 
  • People should boycott Israeli goods and products 
  • Israel is committing mass murder 
  • Israel makes a positive contribution to global society 
  • Israeli government policies are similar to those of the Nazi regime 
  • Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East 

Other antisemitic statements: 

  • All societies should fear Zionists 
  • Jews have White privilege 
  • Jews are indigenous to Israel

In the survey, six of the statements were positively worded and later reverse coded in the analysis - this meant the statements were later re-worded to be negative.

“If the respondent disagreed with a [reverse coded] statement it was considered that they held that antisemitic view.” 

The survey found that six percent agreed with the statement that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves. 

The survey also found that if someone believed in statements such as “people should boycott Israeli goods and products”, “Jews have too much control over the global media”, “all societies should fear Zionists” or “Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves” then they are more likely to hold at least eight other antisemitic views. 

People who believed the statements that “Jews are [not] indigenous to Israel”, “Israel is [not] the only democracy in the Middle East”, or “Kiwi Jews [don’t] make a positive contribution to NZ society” are less likely to hold many more other antisemitic views, the survey found.

The survey also found that men were more likely to hold an antisemitic view than women. 

People who identified with ‘other religion’ in the survey were found to be significantly more likely to hold antisemitic views - they were six times more likely to hold nine or more antisemitic views compared with people who identified as having no religion. 

People who voted for the ACT party and those who refused to say who they voted for were significantly less likely to hold more than nine antisemitic views compared with people who voted for Labour. 

Former New Zealand chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, who wrote the foreward for this survey, said in a statement that the information showed that “classic antisemitism has re-emerged - particularly during the pandemic - as Holocaust denial has become conflated with conspiracy theories and alt-right politics”. 

“Another recent trend is the global emergence of left-wing antisemitism. While most forms of discrimination are unacceptable in progressive thinking, antisemitism does not seem to count as racism because Jews can be accused of ‘White privilege’ and hatred can be hidden under a cloak of Zionophobia, or anti-Israel sentiment,” Gluckman said.

“History tells us that whenever societal cohesion breaks down or is at risk, antisemitic attitudes, memes and actions soon surface.”

Rejecting antisemitic views and being unsure about these views

Overall, 91.5 percent of New Zealanders rejected at least one of the views and 40.9 percent did not hold nine or more of the 18 views.

The survey found “there is a trend toward older people rejecting more antisemitic views, with 61 to 75-year-olds being more than three times more likely to reject at least nine views compared with 18 to 30-year-olds”.

Alongside this, 95.9 percent of New Zealanders were unsure about at least one of the views, and 43.5 percent were unsure about nine or more of the 18 views.

‘Criticism should not be conflated with antisemitism’

Justine Sachs, a member of New Zealand’s Jewish community and co-founder of Dayenu: New Zealand Jews against Occupation, said the survey had upset some members of the community. 

After reading some of the statements, Sachs said “a lot of us are critical of Israel and to conflate that is pushing an agenda that is reckless and frankly, makes a mockery of antisemitism”. 

Criticism or disagreement of Israel’s actions was not antisemitic, she said. 

“Criticism should not be conflated with antisemitism.”

Sachs also said the statement about White privilege was irresponsible phrasing and unnuanced.

“It really is a red flag to me and erases diversity within our community.”

Marilyn Garson, co-founder of Sh’ma Koleinu - Alternative Jewish Voices, said she was disappointed with the anti-Israel antisemitism statements and the other antisemitism statements such as the one about White privilege.

Criticising Israel could not be the basis of understanding antisemitism, she said. 

‘Get to know each other’

The survey found that warmth increases when people know a member of a particular ethnic and/or religious group. 

Thirty-two percent of those surveyed knew a Jewish person. 

“These numbers are likely to represent the relative populations of each group in New Zealand and are not surprising,” the survey said.

It also found that men had lower warmth scores compared to women, Christians had a higher warmth towards Jews compared to people with no religion, and people living in Christchurch had a significantly higher warmth toward Jews than people living in Auckland.

Moses said the first thing that needed to be acknowledged was a lack of understanding about the Jewish community and who Jewish people are, and what antisemitism is. 

“Once you’ve got that awareness, it’s about acting on it - ensuring you don’t perpetuate things and when you hear other people saying things, you can educate them.”

Moses said “the best way to counter mistrust and prejudice and hatred, is face-to-face meeting. Getting to know people, having a dialogue and understanding them”.

It was about unity not uniformity, she said. 

Wellington Jewish Council chair and one of the founders of the National Interfaith Forums, David Zwartz, said in a statement that “perhaps unsurprisingly, it found that warmth towards ethnic and religious groups increases when people personally know a member of that community”.

“The simplest way to fight racism is to get to know each other, and do things together. When communities understand each other, they build trust and are able to put their judgements aside. They can embrace their similarities as well as their differences.” 

Top Image: A rally was held in the United States in 2021 by various organisations and Jewish community groups to provide support after a rise of violent antisemitic attacks in the United States. (File photo) Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Image

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