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Jewish Americans and Antisemitism: How their Views Compare with the Rest of America

 
Filed under: Anti-Semitism, World Jewry
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

Jewish Americans and Antisemitism: How their Views Compare with the Rest of America
Tree of Life Synagogue – Memorials to Victims. A memorial outside the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

No. 658, July 24, 2022

  • While still holding right-wing sources more responsible for antisemitism, there is a perceptible increase in sentiment among Americans, especially Jewish Americans, of antisemitism emanating from left-wing or “woke,” progressive sources.
  • Antisemitism appears to be reported mainly as a verbal phenomenon rather than in the form of violent or physical attacks.
  • Antisemitism does not appear to be perceived as more frequent or intense than other “hate-related” sentiments. While community leaders are attuned to the dangers of attacks on Jewish institutions, the feeling among Jewish Americans and Americans, in general, appears to be that synagogues are not substantially less safe than other houses of worship.
  • Our samples felt that Jewish Americans should maintain independence in separating support for Israel from support for specific policies or behavior they may disagree with.
  • There is an overwhelming lack of awareness among our samples of specific programs or activities by Jewish organizations against antisemitism.
  • There may be a tendency among a significant minority of Jewish Americans to differentiate anti-Jewish from anti-Israel behavior.

How can empirical research shed light on issues involving the relationship between Israel and Jewish Americans? More often than not, “conventional wisdom” regarding this relationship has been guided more by a routine of established beliefs, past behavior, and organizational agendas. Further complicating things is the phenomenon of anti-Jewish (antisemitic) acts and how these are presented and portrayed by the media. Our research, of which the following report is the latest example, aims to answer questions based on data instead of conventional suppositions. Data alone, however, are not always framed objectively or accurately, and data can change from time to time. The dynamic nature of data and the events they reflect would thus call for constant vigilance in drawing conclusions.

The events surrounding the taking of hostages at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022, by Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British Pakistani armed with a pistol, received considerable attention and live coverage in the United States. After “on-again-off-again” statements by the FBI and others as to whether the Jewish community was, in fact, targeted,1 it became clear that Akram intentionally sought out the synagogue and was under the impression that Jews wielded enough power and control in the United States to force the release of an imprisoned Al-Qaeda-associated terrorist.2

Following the escape of the hostages and the subsequent storming of the synagogue by law enforcement (which resulted in the death of Akram), dialogue and discussion ensued regarding issues of antisemitism in the United States, security of synagogues, and the general feelings of safety of the Jewish community.3

We undertook two simultaneously administered surveys between February 1 and February 6, 2022, close enough after the Colleyville events to remain “fresh” in people’s memory and far enough away after initial media attention to allow for reflection and internalization of the ramifications of the experience.

One survey questioned a random group of “general” Americans (1,077 respondents, margin of error <3%), and the second, a separate random study of those who “self-identified” as Jewish (851 respondents, margin of error <4.5%). Both surveys were well within acceptable margins of error.

  Subjects Total Democrats Total Republicans Margin of error
General Population 1,077 41.77% 28.04% <3%
Jewish Population 851 45.12% 33.73% <4.5%
See the Appendix below for details on the polls and samples.

Introduction

Any survey is simply a measure of the sample selected at that particular time. Our choice of the period following the Colleyville events was, as noted above, designed to gauge attitudes with the assumption that the hostage-taking may have impacted certain attitudes. We will see the possible implications later as we analyze the data, but one piece of data, namely the composition of our Jewish American sample, needs to be addressed. Conventional wisdom, as well as past surveys (both our own and others’), have shown that the choice of political identification among Jews is highly skewed toward “Democrat” or “leaning Democrat.” Our samples do not deviate much from general estimates for Republican affiliation in both the “general” American and Jewish American samples. However, Democratic affiliation seems somewhat lower than usually found in our Jewish sample. There are a number of possible explanations for this. First, it may, in fact, be a sampling error. Second, our question here was not “party affiliation” or “party registration.” Nor was it directed at specific voting behavior. The question asked about one’s “political ideology,” which can be different. But there are also other possible explanations. One is that the Democrat plus independent groups (comprising over 63% of the Jewish sample) reflect the more “liberal” orientation or ideology that is often reported.

Moreover, over 9% of those considering themselves “Republican” in the Jewish sample also considered themselves “liberal.” Taken together, the numbers are more similar to the “liberal lean” associated with Jewish Americans. Some of our current data will also show consistency with traditional Jewish American trends, which would support this notion. However, as noted by Gallup,4 there has also been a significant recent shift in party identification from Democrat to Republican. What we see here in the Jewish sample may be a reflection, at least in part, of what Gallup reports. This is not an isolated finding, as an Associated Press analysis found that over a million voters, especially in suburban areas, have switched to the GOP.5 Altogether, even if only some of the reported shifts applied here, and if we take some of those that described themselves as liberal Republicans along with some of the independent, we certainly have a strong “lean Democrat (liberal)” Jewish sample, similar to previous reports.

If this is so, it would not be surprising, considering some recent election results which also went contrary to surveys and previous estimates. In the 2021 New Jersey gubernatorial election, the Republican candidate came within a whisker of winning, despite polling to the contrary.6 We saw a similar result in the race for Nassau County (New York) executive, where, also contrary to expectations, the Republican candidate prevailed.7 In Virginia, the Republican candidate overcame a significant pre-election polling deficit to win.8 What we see in our sample may also be another example of the shift away from Democrat identification. However, at this point, it may be conjecture regarding the broader Jewish American population. What we can say, however, is that our Jewish American sample reflects a particular set of attitudes at a given point of time, and any number of circumstances, including but not limited to the Colleyville events or (as we will see from the data later) possible perception of increased discomfort with the Democratic Party, may be responsible.

Overall Trends

Our data, on the whole, suggest the following:

  1. While Jewish Americans, as well as Americans in general, still see right-wing ideology as primarily responsible for the hate-related activity of white supremacy groups, there appears to be an increased concern over Islamic extremist activity as well as a trend of increased attribution for anti-Jewish and other hate-based activity on what can be identified as progressive or “woke” sources.
  2. Jewish Americans differ from “general” Americans in attributing greater responsibility to both left-wing ideology for hate-based incidents against Jews and in perceiving a greater threat of white supremacists and Islamic extremists to their communities. They also showed higher levels of feeling that the Democratic Party tolerates Islamic extremist activity than the general American sample.
  3. Antisemitism, as experienced by our samples, is seen as primarily based on verbal or offensive language or threats and very little on physical violence against Jews. Moreover, the subjective intensity of antisemitism in the daily lives of Jewish Americans may be less than it appears to be based on media reports and not very different from the hate-based activity against other groups.
  4. Both Americans and Jewish Americans in our survey essentially offer support for Israel in general but feel that Jewish Americans should maintain political and ideological independence and distance themselves from policies and behavior they disagree with.
  5. Both our “general” American and Jewish American samples are overwhelmingly unaware of any specific efforts to “combat” antisemitism by any Jewish organization.
  6. The threat to Jews from hate-based or extremist activity is perceived to be similar, but generally midway between the perceived threat to Christian (less threatened) and Muslim (more threatened) communities.
  7. Both the Jewish American and “general” American samples hold Donald Trump’s administration and supporters as responsible for increased antisemitism, but both, especially our Jewish American sample, attribute substantial responsibility to progressive “woke” ideology.
  8. Some consideration should be given both to the data (especially among a significant minority of the Jewish American sample) showing a cognitive differentiation between “anti-Jewish” and “anti-Israel” behavior as well as the notion that such differentiation and the rejection of a distinct Jewish national identity may enable antisemitic activity masked as “anti-Zionism.”

Summary and Conclusions

The underlying trend in our data appears to show, in contrast to conventional wisdom and our previous research, an increased recognition that the ideology of left-leaning sources (specifically “woke” ideology and especially in the Jewish American sample) bears some responsibility for antisemitism in the United States. What makes these data more convincing is that this behavior is not a “shift” away from blaming right-wing ideology and especially Trump-associated sources, but rather an expression of additional responsibility.

This would be consistent with a recent study9 we conducted on United States campuses: Israeli campus professionals assessed that liberal and progressive groups represent the more significant source of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment on campuses than do more conservative groups, who are viewed as generally supportive. That study also suggested, as will be noted later, that perception of campus antisemitism may be exaggerated to some extent. Our findings are also consistent with an apparent shift announced by the Jewish Federations of North America,10 although later reversed,11 that initially removed traditional left-liberal causes such as advocacy for gun control, voting rights, and LGBTQ protections from a key priorities document, focusing instead on support for Israel and communal security.

The relationship between Israel and the Jewish American community remains somewhat vague. While expressing general “support for Israel,” Jewish Americans still essentially wish to exercise choice in distancing themselves when they disagree with Israeli policy or behavior. That alone may seem reasonable, but when combined with our data showing that most also see the support of Israel as a reason for antisemitism, and a sizable minority (20%) who do not equate anti-Israel behavior with antisemitic behavior (a claim made by many ideologically anti-Israel organizations and individuals), what “support” means is unclear. This finding is consistent with the conflict some see between support for Jewish nationalism in Israel, namely Zionism, and aversion to the concept of seeing Jews as a whole as a national identity, or as noted by James Loeffler, “the obvious presence of Jewish nationalism in America coupled with the putative absence of a Jewish nation.”12 Our data may reflect that this attitude may remain present in at least a portion of the Jewish American leadership.

Moreover, selective distancing based on policy disagreements presupposes an ability to understand the social, cultural, and political fabric of Israel and the day-to-day life of the average Israeli, something that even liberal figures acknowledge that many Jewish Americans are not likely to fully appreciate in the same way as Israelis do,13 especially if they interpret “right vs. wrong” on a scale of values relevant to their lives in America as opposed to life in Israel. Disagreement and exceptions to policy are legitimate, but many would say this is true only when there is an adequate understanding of those policies and the background issues and not simply superficial and limited exposure to them.

With regard to antisemitism in the United States, there are frequent and somewhat differing assessments. However, still, a general conventional and apparently accepted (but perhaps inaccurate) reporting in both academic14 and lay15 publications see “rising” or “increased” antisemitism. That antisemitism exists in the United States is indisputable, but the topography and extent are still unclear. For example, our data did not show a perception of risk attending synagogue more than “moderate,” and generally in line with risk perception with Christian churches and Muslim mosques. We also found that antisemitic acts are seen mainly in the form of offensive language and very little in the form of actual physical violence. In general, our data support the findings of Tom Eshed that there is inconsistency in the definition, description, and reporting of antisemitism in the United States and that it is “important not to exaggerate the phenomenon.16

There are few reports of what can be described as “systemic” or “institutional” antisemitism in the United States, although according to Charles Asher Small (director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy), this can and should be applied when sanctioned group activity, such as seen with Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood, includes antisemitic behavior.17 Accordingly, it may be that many antisemitic attacks are of the “lone wolf” type (as in Colleyville) as far as execution is concerned, although they are likely motivated or inspired by the kinds of “institutional” sources. Charles Asher Small also cites other far-right sources, such as Q-Anon.18 This, too, would be consistent with our data showing substantial levels of attribution to “Islamist ideology” and “right-wing” ideology (both around or above 30%) in fostering antisemitism. Yet, while some feel there is “palpable fear” among Jewish Americans19 (no doubt because of the spate of isolated yet targeted attacks), the data as a whole would show that it would be unreasonable and no doubt inaccurate to describe Americans or American society as a whole as “antisemitic.” In fact, to the degree that antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment are related, recent data by Gallup points to the majority support for Israel among both Republicans and Democrats, albeit (again reflecting present findings) that Republican support for Israel is 15 percentage points higher than Democrat support (80-65.)20

Gol Kalev touches on how anti-Jewish behavior is expressed today in his conceptualization of “Judaism 3.0,”21 where he posits the transformation of Judaism from a more religious element to a more national one (as in Zionism).22 As societies have evolved, so has the expression of anti-Jewish behavior. As Judaism has moved more into the national realm with the establishment of Israel, so has anti-Jewish behavior. Our data show that a sizable portion of people, including Jews, see a separation between anti-Jewish and anti-Israel behavior, even though a much lower amount calls for an unconditional separation from actual support for Israel. So, it is possible to claim no apparent or stated objection to the Jewish “religion” while expressing anti-Jewish attitudes through objection to the Jewish national entity, namely Israel.23 By denying a Jewish connection to nationhood, one can declare immunity from charges of antisemitism. Both secular24 and religious25 Jewish and non-Jewish “anti-Zionists” have made and debated that claim.26 By institutionalizing the separation between religious and national definitions of Judaism, “national” based anti-Jewish behavior is given a free pass and can claim not to be antisemitic, as we see in statements made by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement.27

All this only amplifies the striking finding in our data regarding the widespread lack of awareness among Americans, including Jewish Americans, of any specific programs or efforts targeting antisemitism. This is despite the stated concern regarding antisemitism from Jewish organizations.28 While many Jewish and Israeli advocacy organizations claim to undertake these efforts, the impact on public consciousness remains low. We cannot offer a definitive explanation for why this is so, but one possibility that needs to be considered is that if such programs exist, they are not effectively applied in practice or carried out as efficiently as they should be.

Expectation also plays a role. Is the ideal of an antisemitism-free utopia even possible? But while reports describe specific levels or incidents of antisemitic behavior, there is an absence of any understanding of what “baseline” levels should be anticipated. Since antisemitism has always been present and, in all likelihood, will always be present, is it at all even possible to eliminate antisemitism? What exactly does “fight” or “combat” antisemitism mean? If such efforts are not operationally defined, the public, including the Jewish American public, cannot be expected to identify them if they at all exist. And if considering the ubiquitous and age-old phenomenon of antisemitism, which makes it immune to intervention and resistant to total eradication, perhaps part of the “fight” against antisemitism would be to educate Jews that expecting a total absence of anti-Jewish hate is simply unlikely, no matter what efforts are put forth.

As noted earlier, the interpretation of data is variable, but the data themselves are not. Our respondents were anonymous, which may account for the open expression of sentiment that is not always acceptable in some social circles (for example, among those who may self-identify as “liberal”). Anonymity can sometimes create the opposite problem in survey research, for example, if group sentiment is present to intentionally mislead, as claimed in the case of Israeli elections.29 Our samples had no such motivation, and the consistency of their responses would lead one to conclude that they are, in fact, both valid and reliable. As such, this research is agnostic to the data and ultimately apolitical, representing neither a “right-wing” nor “left-wing” orientation or analysis.

* * *

Notes

1 https://www.timesofisrael.com/with-hostage-crisis-info-under-wraps-authorities-jewish-groups-get-messaging-mixed/

2 https://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/remarks-by-director-christopher-wray-to-anti-defamation-league-on-hostage-incident-in-colleyville-texas-012022

3 https://urj.org/blog/after-colleyville-renewed-focus-synagogue-safety-and-security

4 https://news.gallup.com/poll/388781/political-party-preferences-shifted-greatly-during-2021.aspx

5 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/more-than-1-million-voters-switch-to-gop-raising-alarm-for-democrats

6 https://www.nj.com/politics/2021/11/why-the-pollsters-were-so-wrong-about-the-nj-governors-race.html

7 https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2021/11/03/nassau-county-executive-race-bruce-blakeman-laura-curran-lawrence-levy/

8 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/02/us/elections/youngkin-wins-virginia-governor.html

9 https://jcpa.org/article/the-antisemitism-anti-israel-phenomenon-what-do-israeli-campus-professionals-think/

10 https://www.jta.org/2022/02/17/politics/jewish-federations-umbrella-group-removes-gun-control-and-lgbtq-advocacy-from-policy-priority-list

11 https://www.jns.org/opinion/for-jewish-federations-is-there-such-a-thing-as-a-jewish-priority/?utm_source=The+Daily+Syndicate&utm_campaign=105c80ed02-Daily+Syndicate+02-20-22+%28new%29_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8583953730-105c80ed02-%5BLIST_EMAIL_ID%5D&ct=t%28Daily+Syndicate+02-20-22+%28new%29_COPY_01%29

12 https://www.jstor.org/stable/43998226?read-now=1&seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

13 https://www.atlantajewishtimes.com/american-and-israeli-jews-dont-understand-each-other/ https://www.atlantajewishtimes.com/american-and-israeli-jews-dont-understand-each-other/

14 https://www.inss.org.il/publication/antisemitism-and-guardian-of-the-walls/

15 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57286341

16 https://www.inss.org.il/publication/antisemitism-data/

17 https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/institutional-anti-semitism-exists-in-the-us-expert-says-391584

18 https://www.ajc.org/translatehate/QAnon

19 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/anti-semitism-new-normal-america/608017/

20 https://news.gallup.com/poll/390641/americans-rate-canada-britain-france-japan-favorably.aspx

21 https://judaism-zionism.com/

22 https://herzl.haifa.ac.il/images/Item_31267259_20181025085620.pdf

23 https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/linda-sarsour-apologizes-to-woman-s-march-members-for-slow-response-to-anti-semitism-1.6675453

24 https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/zionism/

25 https://www.truetorahjews.org/mission

26 https://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/anti-zionism-is-anti-semitism/

27 https://bdsmovement.net/A-Palestinian-Civil-Society-Critique-JDA

28 https://news.wttw.com/2022/04/26/anti-defamation-league-reports-record-number-antisemitic-incidents-across-us-2021

29 https://www.jpost.com/israel-elections/pollsters-public-is-misleading-us-576836

 


Appendix: Analysis of Survey Questions and Data

We undertook two simultaneously administered surveys regarding antisemitism in America between February 1 and February 6, 2022. One survey questioned a random group of “general” Americans, and the second, a separate random study of those who “self-identified” as Jewish. This Appendix provides detailed analysis of survey questions and data.

Perceived Safety in Houses of Worship

High-profile attacks on Jewish houses of worship (Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, October 27, 2018, and Chabad of Poway, April 27, 2019) have left some in the Jewish community with a sense of risk and lack of security about attending services. Witness the operation of an active security service (Community Security Service)1 for Jewish institutions with over 6,000 trained volunteers across the United States. The synagogue hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022, and subsequent media and community discussion may have deepened that feeling, with over 1,500 Jewish leaders participating in an online meeting with federal officials to discuss synagogue security shortly after the event.2 However, our data show that both Jewish Americans and “general” Americans feel that attending synagogue is not substantially less safe than attending houses of worship of other religions. When it came to rating the safety of synagogue attendance, our samples rated it as “moderately safe” (or “moderately risky”). Jewish Americans rated perceived safety at 56/100 (with 100=very safe), and “general” Americans rated 57/100.

Jewish Americans: 56/100

General Americans: 57/100

When comparing feelings of perceived safety for synagogues relative to Christian churches and Muslim mosques, our data again show general equivalence, with perceptions among both survey samples in the range of “moderately safe” (“moderately risky”) with somewhat less risk at Christian churches and very slightly greater risk at Muslim mosques.

Jewish: 66/100

General: 69/100

Jewish: 52/100

General: 51/100

Anti-Jewish and “Anti-Other” Sentiment

Both our population samples rated feelings of anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States as “moderate,” consistent with ratings of anti-Christian (low moderate) and anti-Muslim sentiment (moderate-high moderate).

Perceptions of levels of “anti” sentiment against Christians and Muslims differ only modestly from perceptions of anti-Jewish sentiment among both “general” Americans and Jewish Americans, with the perception of anti-Muslim sentiment higher and perception of anti-Christian sentiment somewhat lower.

Jewish Americans rated anti-Jewish sentiment at 55/100 (0=very low; 100=very high, see graph below).

Jewish Americans

The General American population sample rated it essentially the same, 50/100 (see graph below).

General Americans

Negative (“anti”) sentiment toward both Christians and Muslims is similarly rated by both Jewish Americans and General Americans in the “moderate” range (from low moderate to high moderate), with anti-Muslim sentiment slightly higher than anti-Jewish sentiment and anti-Christian sentiment somewhat lower.

Ratings of “anti-Muslim” sentiment

Jewish Americans (58/100)

General Americans (60/100)

Ratings of “anti-Christian” sentiment

Jewish Americans (41/100)

General Americans (38/100)

Responsibility for Hate-Based Activity

Regarding attributing responsibility for hate-based activity and expressing concern about the source of actual threats and attacks, both our Jewish American sample and the General American sample see right-wing ideology as a significant factor. However, according to our data, left-wing ideology also plays an influential role.

There appear to be different assessments in degree (but not trends) between General American and Jewish American samples: 40.57% of the General American sample attribute “a lot/great deal” of responsibility to right-wing ideology for hate-based incidents in the United States; 49.59% of the Jewish American sample do so. When counting those who rate the degree of right-wing responsibility “a moderate amount,” both samples (especially the Jewish American sample) show very high ratings, as the percentages among Jewish Americans rise to over 80% and among the General American sample to over 67%. These high ratings, especially that of the Jewish American sample, are consistent with previous research.3

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

When we look at the data for attributing left-wing responsibility, we see ratings that deviate from our previous research, especially for the Jewish American sample study.4 Although they do not reach the elevated levels we see with right-wing ideology, the responsibility attributed to left-wing ideology for hate-based anti-Jewish incidents is also substantial, according to our data. This would represent a marked difference from our previous research (noted above), which showed minimizing left-wing responsibility for antisemitism among the Jewish American population.

Our data show different assessments of left-wing ideology’s responsibility for hate-based incidents against Jews between General American and Jewish American samples: 21.92% “a lot/great deal” in our General American population sample; 36.13% in our Jewish American sample.

These findings indicate that while both “general” Americans and Jewish Americans in our sample assessed that right-wing ideology was more related to anti-Jewish hate-based incidents than left-wing ideology, both models (especially the Jewish American one) saw substantial left-wing responsibility as well. Moreover, Jewish Americans seem to attribute greater weight to left-wing responsibility for these incidents than our General American sample.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

Findings related to a possible increased attribution of antisemitism to other than right-wing elements and white supremacists are seen in other data we collected as well. We gauged attitudes related to both threats and concern about actual future hate-based attacks from both white supremacist groups and Islamic extremists.

Assessment of Threats

We found different assessments of perceived community threat from white supremacists between our General American and Jewish American samples: 29/100 (“not at all”—“a great deal”) in the General American sample; 46/100 in the Jewish American sample (Jewish Americans claiming greater perceived danger to their community than the General American sample, with the General sample rating danger “low,” the Jewish sample rating it “moderate”). The discrepancy here is consistent with previous data5 showing a high attribution of antisemitism by Jewish Americans to white supremacist groups.

General Population: 29/100

Jewish Population: 46/100

But, perhaps contrary to conventional expectations, we also found different assessments of perceived community threat from Islamic extremists between General American and Jewish American samples as well: 22/100 (“not at all”—”a great deal”) in our General American sample (“low” rating) and 48/100 in our Jewish American model, a “moderate” rating (Jewish Americans claiming greater perceived danger to their community than the General American sample).

General Population: 22/100

Jewish Population: 48/100

These data indicate that Jewish Americans perceive the danger to their communities from both white supremacists and Islamic extremists as greater than do “general” Americans, who rate the threat from both “low.”

What about concern for actual “attacks” (as opposed to just “threats”)?

Here we found a similar pattern, first with similar assessments of perceived danger from actual white supremacist attacks between our General American and Jewish American population samples: 47.54% “a lot/great deal” in our General American sample; 50.83% in our Jewish American sample. If we add in those whose rating was “a moderate amount,” then 72.15% of the General American sample and 81.92% of the Jewish American population sample are concerned about attacks from people motivated by white supremacist ideology.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

We found slightly different assessments in degree (but not trends) of perceived danger from actual Islamic extremist attacks between our General American and Jewish American population samples: 37.14% “a lot/great deal” in the General American sample; 45.04% in the Jewish American sample.

The findings here indicate that Jewish Americans, as opposed to “general” Americans, assess the danger of attacks from Islamic extremists more similarly to their assessment of the threat of attacks from white supremacists. This, again, is a departure from the relative evaluation of concern about attacks expressed in previous studies, where concern about white supremacist activity was predominant.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

The events at the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, may have created some feeling, especially among Jewish Americans, of increased danger from Islamic extremism and white supremacy.

Attitude Shifts?

Do the data support the notion that there is a change of attitude from what is perceived as a distinct left-leaning ideology among the Jewish American population?

Judging from our data, the answer may appear to be yes.

First, we asked our samples to assess to what degree the Republican Party and the Democratic Party “tolerate” both white supremacist and Islamic extremist activity.

Both the General American and Jewish American samples are consistent in rating perceived Republican tolerance of white supremacist hate activity. 46.79% of our General American sample say that the Republican Party tolerates this activity “a lot/great deal,” while 46.21% of the Jewish sample, essentially the same amount, agree. When added to a rating of “a moderate amount,” both samples show high ratings (67%-75%) of feeling the Republican Party tolerates white supremacist hate activity to some significant degree (moderate or higher).

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

Both our General American and Jewish American samples rate perceived Democratic tolerance of Islamic extremist hate activity slightly lower than Republican tolerance of white supremacist hate activity. 21.82% rate that tolerance “a lot/great deal” in the General American sample as opposed to a somewhat higher rating of 30.92% in the Jewish American model. However, when added to a rating of “a moderate amount,” both samples show moderate ratings (46%-61%) of feeling the Democratic Party tolerates, to some significant degree (moderate or higher), Islamic extremist hate activity—with Jewish Americans showing a significantly higher rating of this perceived danger than the General American sample.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

These data indicate that while both Jews and “general” Americans see Republican tolerance of white supremacist hate as greater than Democratic tolerance of Islamic extremist hate, both, especially the Jewish American sample, still see substantial Democratic tolerance of Islamic extremist hate. This last point appears to be a finding that was not reported in the past and may represent a shift in thinking.

We asked our respondents if the events of Colleyville are likely to change their views on the relative threat of white supremacy versus Muslim extremism. While about 23% of the general population said that a change of view is “likely” or “very likely,” over 35% of the Jewish American sample endorsed the notion. The fact that more than one of three Jewish Americans may be experiencing an attitude shift in this metric is telling.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

The possible shift in what has been considered more “liberal” or “left-leaning” Jewish American thinking will also be seen in data we report later concerning attribution factors for antisemitism in the United States.

Israel and Antisemitism

Our next question may provide insight into the relationship between the Jewish American community and Israel. We were interested to know how much each population attributed the perceived support of Israel by the Jewish American community to hate-based attacks.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

Here we see similar results and trends in both population samples, with over 72% of our Jewish American selection indicating that hate attacks against Jews are associated (at least to “a moderate amount”) with Jewish American support of Israel. The General American sample endorsed the notion at a somewhat lower level (62%).

Clearly, both Jewish Americans and Americans in general in our sample saw a direct relationship between attacks on Jews and support of Israel.

The logical extension of this finding is that Americans feel that perpetrators of anti-Jewish attacks are significantly motivated by anti-Israel feelings. If so, this would indicate that the attackers would more likely be anti-Israel (as in Islamic extremists) than simply anti-Jewish (as in white supremacists). Whether or not Jewish Americans or Americans consciously accept this conclusion, in general, is still an open question, but the data point to the strong possibility that this notion is accurate.

Other data also appear to show the multifaceted aspect of the relationship between Jewish Americans and Israel. Please take the following question we posed regarding the perpetrator of the Colleyville attack, Malik Faisal Akram.

General American population sample

Jewish American population sample

Here the Jewish American sample appears to reflect some of the conventional thinking associated with more traditional or conventional liberal circles, thinking that separates, to some degree, anti-Israel behavior from necessarily antisemitic behavior. While both population samples agree that Akram was “Anti-Jewish (antisemite),” the Jewish American sample felt, more than the General American sample, that Akram was “anti-Israel (anti-Zionist) but not necessarily anti-Jewish/antisemitic” (32.59% versus 20.61%). The Jewish American sample was also less inclined to label Akram a “terrorist” than the General American sample (42.5% versus 55.06%).

Since the two samples were more similar in attributing other possible motivational factors to Akram, such as “Mentally ill” or “Motivated by radical Islamic ideology,” the question of what role Israel and perception of Zionism play in the Jewish American psyche is front and center.

Are there any consequences of the attitude that seems to link hate-crime attacks on Jews with the support of Israel?

We also examined whether our population samples felt Jewish Americans would be better off if they “distance” themselves from Israel. Here, our result for both the General American and Jewish American samples is “No, but…”

While a substantial amount in both samples felt that there should unconditionally be no distancing (35% in the General American sample, 32% in the Jewish American sample), about half in each sample (47% in the General American sample, 52% in the Jewish American sample) felt that there should be selective distancing, based on behavior or policy issues that individual Jewish Americans may disagree with.

General population sample

Jewish population sample

The data here indicate that despite positive attitudes toward Israel among both “general” and Jewish Americans, there remains a strong sentiment that some separation should exist, especially when there are policy differences about Israeli actions.

Perception of “Combating” Antisemitism

The impression of a rise in antisemitism in the United States is reflected in reports from reliable sources whose claims range from saying 25% of Jewish Americans have experienced an antisemitic incident (with 3% saying it was a physical attack) and that 42% of Jewish Americans have experienced antisemitism6 to findings that 93% are “concerned” about it.7 Part of the reason for this relatively wide range is the lack of specificity and consistency between the various surveys and the differences in when the surveys took place. This is not to criticize the accuracy of any particular report, but it is an explanation for how statistical reports can be (and are) interpreted differently by different people. As a result, we have headlines that reflect opinions (here from ADL chief Jonathan Rosenblatt) that “Jews across the [United States] are terrified,”8 which are based on interpretation of events (and sometimes data) and not directly on any particular data themselves. In addition, news stories can attribute attacks that are “possible” hate crimes to antisemitism based on the identity of the victim alone, before the attack is actually verified as a hate crime and without investigating other possible reasons for the attack.9 Further complicating reports are data, especially campus-based data, that use the term “unsafe” without specifying that this term does not imply any specific threat or action but merely connotes a subjective sense of discomfort with specific offensive speech.10

The role of Jewish organizations (such as the ADL) in discussing antisemitism and the “up again, down again” reported levels of antisemitism have been linked to political factors, such as the candidacy and subsequent election of Donald Trump in 2016.11 What is not in dispute is that many Jewish organizations, as well as organizations that claim to advocate pro-Israel “education,” use the moniker of fighting or “combating” antisemitism as their raison d’être and in fundraising.

This begs the question of how much awareness there is among the general and Jewish American public of specific programs or efforts that do indeed “combat” antisemitism. We asked that question directly and found that there is an overwhelming lack of awareness among both of our samples of any such efforts.

General Population: 89.04% (959) “No,” 10.96% (118) “Yes.”

Jewish Population: 88.27% (745) “No,” 11.73% (99) “Yes.”

Moreover, even among the 10%-11% of our samples that answered “yes,” almost all were unable to specify any detail or provide an example of a program or effort against antisemitism, resorting instead to simply stating an organization’s name (e.g., ADL, AIPAC, and some other nonexistent organizations). These results indicate that despite public perception of “increased antisemitism” in Jewish media and among some Jewish organizations, there is little to no public awareness among both the “general” American and Jewish American samples of any efforts by organized Jewish sources to “combat” antisemitism.

Description of Antisemitic Activity

As noted earlier, a specific description of what exactly constitutes antisemitism or antisemitic activity is often absent from many reports. Hence, we asked our respondents to check off specific examples that they experienced or were personally aware of. But first, we were interested in how both General Americans and Jewish Americans perceived the presence of antisemitism.

We examined that by asking both samples if they had either personally experienced (for Jewish Americans) or personally seen (for the General American sample) antisemitism or if they knew someone who personally had.

As expected, Jewish Americans answered higher than General Americans in the affirmative, 56.52% versus 33.15%.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

This figure seems to be higher than some past estimates and lower than others. We sought to clarify this possible discrepancy by delineating various antisemitic actions and asking which of these have been experienced (or personally seen).

Here are our findings:

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

Both our samples have little personal knowledge of any physical antisemitic-based attacks (only 10%-12%). The overwhelming majority of antisemitic behavior experienced is verbal, with only about 32%-33% involving any actual threat. Social media material deemed “offensive” also is cited 40%-50% of the time, with destructive attacks on property cited about 20% of the time.

While perceptions among the Jewish American population of antisemitism in the United States exist, they appear to be less intense than some other reports and public impressions appear to be. Moreover, when personal knowledge or experience with antisemitism is reported, only a small minority is associated with actual physical violence, with a slightly higher report of property damage related to antisemitism. The overwhelming expression of reported antisemitism among both the “general” and Jewish American samples is related to verbal, offensive activity, including activity on social media.

Responsibility for Antisemitism

So who, or what, is responsible for antisemitism? We asked both our samples that question, offering several choices.

General Population sample

Jewish Population sample

Patterns of attribution of antisemitism for both the General American and Jewish American samples are very similar. Both see Donald Trump’s administration as a significant contributor to antisemitism (47.73%-45.73%). Both also see progressive “woke” ideology as a considerable factor (29.9%-40.4%), with the Jewish sample seemingly seeing it as a more serious one, similar to the perception of Trump’s responsibility. Both are relatively consistent in also seeing “MAGA” ideology (39.93%-33.77%) and Islamist ideology (32.22%-29.03%) as responsible. Both samples similarly see Israel’s policies and behavior as a factor in fostering antisemitism (each about 19%).

There is a distinct perception among both “general” Americans and Jewish Americans of Donald Trump and his supporters contributing to antisemitism in the United States. However, as opposed to impressions and conventional wisdom until now, both samples, especially the Jewish American sample, also see progressive “woke” ideology as playing a significant, albeit lesser, role in contributing to antisemitism in the country.

* * *

Notes

1 https://thecss.org/

2 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/1500-synagogue-leaders-meet-feds-discuss-security-wake-texas-standoff-rcna12629

3 https://jcpa.org/article/american-liberal-jews-strong-concern-about-anti-semitism-strong-support-of-israel-but-less-for-under-60s/

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 https://www.ajc.org/news/american-jewish-committee-releases-2021-state-of-antisemitism-in-america-report

7 https://rudermanfoundation.org/press_releases/over-90-of-american-jews-are-concerned-about-current-state-of-antisemitism-in-the-us-new-ruderman-survey-finds/

8 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/jewish-americans-are-terrified-amid-rising-anti-semitic-attacks-how-can-they-feel-safe

9 https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/07/us/new-york-city-hate-crimes-investigation/index.html?ms=EL_EML_20220211_Dispatch2022-02.11.2022&utm_campaign=Dispatch2022&utm_source=LuminateEmail&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=Dispatch-02.11.2022-TS2ReadMore&p2asource=Dispatch2022-02.11.22

10 http://www.psychologysalon.com/2011/12/are-you-unsafe-or-just-uncomfortable.html

11 https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/jonathan-greenblatt-abe-foxman-adl