By Miriam Bell… 

There’s been a significant increase in the amount of Jewish New Zealanders who think antisemitism is a “very big” or a “fairly big” problem, according to a new survey of New Zealand’s Jewish community.

Back in 2008 when the last such survey – Changing Jewry (Gen08) – was conducted, more than four out of five respondents (84%) thought that antisemitism was not a serious issue in New Zealand.

But in the Shifting Jewry 2019 (Gen19) survey, which was launched last weekend, 44% of respondents indicated that they thought antisemitism was either a “very big” or a “fairly big” problem.

While 50% still do not think antisemitism is a serious issue in New Zealand, the growth in the number of respondents that do is considerable.

For report co-author Jim Salinger (pictured above), the change in perceptions of antisemitism is one of the big changes in this survey, as compared to three earlier community surveys.

Salinger, who is the New Zealand president of B’nai B’rith Australia/New Zealand, says it’s particularly interesting because most respondents have not experienced any antisemitism incidents against them.

The majority of respondents indicated that they had not directly experienced antisemitism in the previous 12 months, whether as verbal insults, harassment or as a physical attack.

Seventy respondents had experienced a verbal insult or harassment and three had been physically attacked, 363 respondents (52%) had not experienced any of these forms of antisemitism.

While 16% had experienced antisemitic insults or harassment, this compared to the 44% who said that they had experienced verbal abuse in the Gen08 survey.

Salinger says it is not clear why there are these marked differences in terms of direct experiencing antisemitism, but there was no doubt it is now considered a major issue for a majority.

Another interesting finding from the Gen19 survey is that it shows New Zealand Jewish identity is ethnic and cultural rather than religious.

Salinger says that all respondents recognised their Jewish identity was a central, significant part of their life.

But, for them, it was about upholding moral and ethical values, sharing their Jewry with other Jewish people throughout the country and the world, combating antisemitism, remembering the Holocaust and sharing Jewish festivals with family and friends.

“Religious identity might be part of it but it’s not a strong identity marker. It’s more about the cultural aspects of it: feeling part of a group, for example.

“This is probably healthy as we are not relying on religion to bind us together. We are relying on shared values and being part of a worldwide community, that’s more important to us.”

Additionally, respondents strongly identified as being New Zealanders.

The Gen19 survey, which was conducted by B’nai B’rith Auckland in conjunction with the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization in Melbourne, is full of useful and interesting information about the New Zealand Jewish community.

It provides a host of basic demographic features, like the birthplace of those surveyed and migration patterns, occupation, employment, and education.

All of these aspects provide a snapshot of the community which can be compared to the material provided by earlier surveys of the local community, with the general population, and with the Australian Jewish community.

The survey also features detailed sections on Jewish education, identity, customs and observance and material on connections with, and attitudes towards, Israel and current community issues and services.

Finally, it covers issues of importance for the future of the Jewish community as well as attitudes towards them.

In the survey itself, its authors (Salinger, Massey University research professor Paul Spoonley and Tanya Munz) note that the material in it provides an information resource from which the Jewish community can plan in terms of the community’s human capital, matters of importance in terms of identity, as well as facilities and resources.

“It provides information for better planning, funding and resourcing,” they write. “It will help Jewish communities to understand the specific challenges we face, now and in the future, and provides vital research in understanding and responding to issues of Jewish continuity.”

Salinger adds they want to distribute the report as widely as possible to make sure that communities and congregations are able to access, and benefit from, the findings and information in it.

Read Shifting Jewry 2019 (Gen19): a survey of the New Zealand Jewish community here.