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How widespread is anti-Semitism among students?

National study by Konstanz Research Group on Higher Education shows: Anti-Semitism is less widespread among students than in the general population.

The amount of anti-Semitic incidents in Germany increased significantly following the Hamas attacks on Israel and the ensuing military response. According to media reports, this also applies to the university context, and there is news of growing anti-Semitic sentiment among students. But how much anti-Semitism is there at German universities?

In order to have reliable data and facts to contribute to this discussion, the Research Group on Higher Education led by Thomas Hinz, a professor of empirical social research and a principal investigator in the Cluster of Excellence "The Politics of Inequality" at the University of Konstanz, conducted an online survey of 2,000 students and 2,000 members of the general population in December 2023 to study anti-Semitic prejudices. "The study showed that anti-Semitic prejudices are less widespread among students than in the population as a whole. Of the respondents from the general population, 18 percent expressed general anti-Semitic attitudes, whereas the number was only 8 percent among students", says Thomas Hinz, who led the study.

The researchers distinguish between two forms of anti-Semitism in their study: general anti-Semitism targeting Jewish people and anti-Semitism directed at Israel, delegitimizing it as the "state of the Jews" and assessing it according to double standards. The survey results for students and the general population were similar with regard to anti-Semitism directed at Israel. Hinz explains that criticism of Israel should not be equated with anti-Semitism: "Respondents also often expressed criticism of Israel's military actions and concern for Palestinian civilians, even in the absence of anti-Semitic views directed at Israel".

Rector Katharina Holzinger from the University of Konstanz emphasizes the importance of the study: "I am very grateful for this important and well-founded analysis from Konstanz, which makes a sound contribution to the current debate, which is sometimes very emotional. The Research Group on Higher Education conducted this study with the necessary speed using its proven expertise. Now, it is important to discuss the results at every level and identify potential options".

Overwhelming majority views the Hamas attacks as an act of terrorism
The team's research data strongly confirms that many students are concerned about an escalation of the conflict: "The overwhelming majority of students view the Hamas attacks on Israel as cruel acts of terrorism", Thomas Hinz explains. "However, about 12 percent of respondents consider the Hamas attacks part of a legitimate struggle for the liberation of Palestine". While the majority of all respondents see Israel's military response critically, among students, this position is even more pronounced.

Subjective perceptions of discrimination
Universities are not free of discrimination. The study indicates that discrimination on the basis of a religious affiliation is rather rare at universities by comparison with other potential characteristics (such as gender). According to the researchers, however, Jewish and Muslim students report experiencing an above-average amount of discrimination on the basis of their religious affiliation. The authors emphasize that when universities approach the issue of discrimination, people need to be aware of this fact and take these experiences seriously.

In order to obtain reliable results, the Research Group on Higher Education included participants from every German state, type of university and discipline in their online survey. The same number of participants from the general population was surveyed to be able to better assess the results. The study included a survey experiment focusing on the political mobilization of respondents for different goals.

What recommendations do the study's authors take from the findings? Thomas Hinz explains: "Our research results can motivate policymakers and universities to develop and implement suitable measures to stop the spread of anti-Semitism, for example, by establishing a point of contact for reporting anti-Semitic incidents and by implementing clear sanctions for crimes motivated by anti-Semitism". Engaging in academic debate on the historical origins of the conflict and the current situation in Israel and Palestine is also important in the university context, according to Hinz.

Key facts

  • Transparency notice: The study was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
  • Authors:
    • Thomas Hinz is a professor of empirical social research and a principal investigator in the Cluster of Excellence "The Politics of Inequality" at the University of Konstanz.
    • Anna Marczuk holds a doctorate in sociology and is project coordinator in the Research Group on Higher Education at the University of Konstanz.
    • Frank Multrus holds a doctorate in sociology and is an academic staff member in the Research Group on Higher Education.
  • The Cluster of Excellence The Politics of Inequality at the University of Konstanz studies the political causes and effects of inequality from an interdisciplinary perspective. The research focuses on some of the most pressing issues of our time: access to and distribution of (economic) resources, the global rise of populists, climate change and unfairly distributed educational opportunities.