(February 24, 2023 / JNS) Headlines reverberate with news of rising antisemitism. But how widespread is Jew-hatred in the United States?
The Anti-Defamation League has queried Americans about antisemitism since 1964. Its latest survey captured changes, including the virtual disappearance of the gap between traditionally tolerant young adults (ages 18 to 30) and older Americans.
Beyond that, 39% of respondents believed American Jews are “more loyal to Israel than America.” Some 36% said “Jews do not share my values.” A total of 26% thought that “Jews have too much power in the business world,” and 20% believed “Jews have too much power in the United States today.”
Overall, the number of Americans agreeing with at least six of 11 tropes jumped from 11% to 20% between 2019, when ADL last conducted this survey, and 2022. Is a near-doubling possible?
“It is too soon to say that antisemitism has doubled,” said David Hirsh, senior lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and Academic Director of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism. “We’ll see what the next survey says, and the one after that. But this figure is coherent with my own experience and judgment.”
Jay Greene, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, doesn’t believe that antisemitism has doubled. Greene noted the American population has remained fairly constant; no particular incident between 2019 and 2022 should have multiplied antisemitism; and people’s opinions remain “stable over time.” However, “what has dramatically changed is that people are willing to tell the surveyor”—in this case, a faceless Internet poll—that they view Jews negatively.
America’s experienced a “cumulative deterioration [of restraint] in polite society,” observed Greene. The pandemic also “broke [Americans] a bit. … [It] broke down norms of civil discourse that would stop people from saying impolite things out loud.” Put differently, Americans with hateful opinions now feel emboldened to tell strangers. These individuals “may feel like they’re winning, have support and are part of a group.”
So, what is the reality of American antisemitism? Alvin Rosenfeld, professor of Jewish Studies and director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, said “we live in a time when anti-Jewish hostility has been on the rise, at least since the turn of the millennium.”
Explaining younger Americans’ increased animosity towards Jews, he pointed to social media, where “many sites are antisemitic and anti-Israel, and they imbibe that.” Additionally, many college campuses “expose students to prejudicial views about Israel and Jews.”
Then there is the far-left congressional “Squad” of progressives and celebrities, who have also modeled anti-Israel invective as the socially acceptable way to express anti-Jewish sentiment. Relatedly, ADL’s survey found 21% of young adults “agree[d] with five or more anti-Israel statements,” while only 11% of older Americans did.
ADL’s survey “adapted questions from [Daniel] Allington and Hirsh’s Antizionist Antisemitism Scale,” which Hirsh explained looks at “the relationship between ‘classic’ antisemitism or antisemitism that would be widely recognized as such, and antizionist antisemitism that is hotly contested.”
Some 40% of respondents adopted Holocaust inversion, agreeing that “Israel treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews.” A total of 24% believed that “Israel and its supporters are a bad influence on our democracy,” accepting “Jews as a universal evil,” elucidated Hirsh. Another 23% leaned into the myth of Jewish media control, agreeing that “Israel can get away with anything because its supporters control the media.” And 18% were “not comfortable spending time with people who openly support Israel,” namely, the vast majority of Jews. And 10% are so antagonistic they agree that “Israel does not have a right to defend itself against those who wish to destroy it.”
Hirsh observed, “What we know for sure is that if you hate Israel, you’re more likely to hate Jews, and if you hate Jews, you’re more likely to hate Israel.”
Or as Izabella Tabarovsky, senior advisor at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, reflected: “This survey illustrates once again how tightly demonization of the Jewish state, which is becoming increasingly normalized in American progressive discourse, is intertwined with the demonization of the Jewish people (which is typical of right-wing antisemitism)—and how increasingly meaningless is the distinction between the two.”
Based on these findings, 20% to 25% of the American population embraces Jew-hatred. Greene said “the true rate of antisemitism has to be higher than the revealed rate” because some respondents adjust their responses to direct questions about bigotry.
Rosenfeld suggested education and more organized Israel trips so that Americans can see Israel’s reality firsthand.
For her part, Tabarovsky advised American Jewish leaders to learn about the demonization of Israel and Zionism; devise strategies to counter it; and teach all of the broader American Jewish community, which currently finds itself defenseless against this form of defamation and hate.
ADL’s forthcoming reports on its 2022 survey should provide more granular data about the contours of American antisemitism. In the meantime, though, it’s clear that much work remains for those wishing to combat antisemitism.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein is an independent writer based in metro Washington.
Jewish News Syndicate
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