Almost all American Jews say anti-Semitism is a problem. Half of Americans don’t know what it means.
Those are takeaways from two surveys published Monday by the American Jewish Committee. The surveys asked Jews and the general American public about anti-Semitism in the United States.
The Jewish survey found that a large majority of Jews consider anti-Semitism a problem, and that most see it as a problem on the right and in the Republican Party. Those findings were in line with what the AJC, a nonpartisan advocacy organization, found when it surveyed American Jews last year.
The new surveys found that, in a year when 88 percent of American Jews say anti-Semitism remains a problem in the United States, 21 percent of Americans overall — more than one in five — say they’ve never even heard the term. An additional 25 percent of Americans overall have heard the term but are unsure of what it means.
But nearly half of Americans overall say they have seen antagonism against Jews either online or in person during the past five years, suggesting that respondents may be familiar with the reality of anti-Jewish bigotry but unfamiliar with the term “anti-Semitism.”
Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s U.S. director for combating anti-Semitism, said she believes using the term anti-Semitism is important because it covers a broad historical spectrum of how anti-Jewish discrimination manifests — from conspiracy theories to stereotypes to slurs.
“I think this is an opportunity for education on what anti-Semitism is,” she said. “If someone would have said ‘Jew-hatred, do you know what that is,’ or some other term, I think we would have seen that number a little bit less, but we need the term anti-Semitism to be understood.”
The surveys were taken in September and early October and included 1,010 Americans overall and 1,334 Jews. The margin of error for the general America sample was 3.7 percent and 4.2 percent for the Jewish sample.
Same as last year
The poll of Jews found that 82 percent say anti-Semitism in the United States has increased during the past five years. The survey numbers for Jews are statistically equivalent to those from an AJC survey taken last year, which found that 88 percent of Jews saw anti-Semitism as a problem in the United States and 84 percent said it had increased during the past five years.
In this year’s survey, 43 percent of Jews said the status of Jews in the United States is less secure than it was a year ago, while 52 percent say it’s about the same and 4 percent say it’s more secure. Those numbers are also essentially the same as last year’s.
A quarter of Jews say they have been targeted with an anti-Semitic attack in person over the past five years. During the same period, 22 percent have experienced anti-Semitism online and 3 percent have been victim to an anti-Semitic physical attack. The poll found that about a quarter of Jews avoid publicly wearing things that identify them as Jewish and that the same percentage avoid identifying as Jews online.
‘Response to rising anti-Semitism needed’
A majority of Jews say that Jewish institutions they’re affiliated with have increased security in the two years since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Almost 40 percent say their Jewish institutions have beensubject to anti-Semitic graffiti, threats or attacks since the shooting, which occurred in October 2018. Ten percent of Jewish respondents said they’ve avoided visiting Jewish institutions since the shooting.
“What American Jews and the general public are saying in these surveys, for us, is a clarion call for a stepped-up, multi-pronged response to rising antisemitism in the United States,” said AJC CEO David Harris in a statement.
A majority of Americans overall, 62 percent, consider anti-Semitism a problem in the United States, though while 37 percent of Jews consider it a very serious problem, only 19 percent of Americans overall agree. And while the vast majority of Jews believe anti-Semitism has gotten worse over the past five years, only 43 percent of Americans overall agree.
Jewish opinions have no effect
Most Americans overall also said the opinions of Jewish people and organizations make no difference to them when considering whether a statement or idea is anti-Semitic. A quarter of Americans overall said that Jews considering something anti-Semitic would make them more likely to consider it anti-Semitic, 7 percent said it would make them less likely to consider it anti-Semitic and 62 percent of people said it would make no difference.
“It comes down to this whole idea of who defines anti-Semitism,” Huffnagle said. “Is it the Jewish community? Who is the arbiter of what is anti-Semitism? Ideally it should be the Jewish community. Every other minority group gets to define the discrimination against them.”
Majorities of Jews and of Americans overall believe that the Republican Party holds anti-Semitic views, while 42 percent of Americans overall and 37 percent of Jews say the same about the Democrats.
In addition, nearly half of Jews (49 percent) feel the extreme political right poses a very serious anti-Semitic threat. An additional 26 percent say it poses a moderately serious anti-Semitic threat. By contrast, 16 percent of Jews say that the extreme left poses a very serious anti-Semitic threat while the same percentage say it poses a moderately serious threat.
In terms of extremism in the name of Islam, 27 percent of Jews say it poses a very serious threat while 26 percent say it poses a moderately serious threat. This set of questions was not asked of Americans overall.
Orthodox Jews and Republicans
In terms of which political camp poses the greatest threat, Orthodox Jews as well as Republican Jews were split from the rest of Jewish respondents. Both Orthodox respondents as well as Republican respondents were much less likely to say the Republican Party holds anti-Semitic views or to say that the extreme right poses a very serious anti-Semitic threat. Those groups see that threat on the left and among Democrats instead.
Among Orthodox respondents, 66 percent say the extreme left poses a very or moderately serious anti-Semitic threat, and the same percentage says the Democratic Party holds anti-Semitic views. Among Republican Jewish respondents, 71 percent say the extreme left poses a very or moderately serious anti-Semitic threat, while 79 percent say the Democratic Party holds anti-Semitic views.
Huffnagle said that the data show AJC “need[s] to increase our efforts as an organization to fight the far right.”
The survey also found that a majority of Jews are at least somewhat familiar with the BDS movement, which encourages boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and that 37 percent consider it anti-Semitic. An additional 43 percent say it has some anti-Semitic supporters. Fifteen percent say the movement is not anti-Semitic.
More than three-quarters of Jews also agree it’s anti-Semitic to say “Israel has no right to exist,” “The U.S. government only supports Israel because of Jewish money” and “American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America.”
While 74 percent of Americans overall believe that saying “Israel has no right to exist” is anti-Semitic, 55 percent believe it’s anti-Semitic to say “The U.S. government only supports Israel because of Jewish money” and half say the statement “American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America” is anti-Semitic.