In recent years, white supremacists have marched in downtown Boston.

The bracing finding: A quarter of Americans hold antisemitic views



The bracing finding: A quarter of Americans hold antisemitic views

In recent years, white supremacists have marched in downtown Boston.

Decades after American Jews seemed to have completed the process of going mainstream, antisemitism has gone mainstream.

There is little statistical data to confirm the first half of that statement, but there is loads of anecdotal evidence that American Jews since World War II managed to accomplish a remarkable achievement – not being remarkable. Jews were everywhere – in the cinema (Natalie Portman, Leonard Nimoy), in sports (Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax), in politics (Sander and Carl Levin, Chuck Schumer), at the commanding heights of American universities (Larry Summers of Harvard, James Freedman of Dartmouth), in television news (Barbara Walters of Brookline, Leslie Stahl of Swampscott), in newspaper leadership (A.M. Rosenthal, Jill Abramson), even in organized crime (Meyer Lansky, Harold “Hooky” Rothman).

Now there is mounting statistical data to prove that while Jews have gone mainstream, antisemitism also has gone mainstream – and the latest piece of evidence is the most unsettling of all.

It comes – no surprise here – after the Israeli response to the ravages of the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas invasion of the Jewish state. (While the researchers found little change in support for anti-Israel policies since the beginning of the Gaza war, they report that younger Americans are “significantly more likely to see the ‘termination of the state of Israel’ ” as a policy option.)

It shows – no surprise here either – that millennials and members of Gen Z harbor more antisemitic sentiments than their parents and grandparents. Those who view the world in terms of a struggle between oppressors and the oppressed – a view prominent on campus but hardly prevalent in leafy suburbs or in assisted-living facilities – endorse more anti-Jewish notions.

But more broadly, this survey, released just last week by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Center for Antisemitism Research, shows that antisemitism is no closet sentiment, held in secret in remote, tucked-away corners of American life. It shows that antisemitism is alive and well in public, and that suspicion or hatred of Jews is no small wrinkle in the American consciousness.

The bracing finding: A quarter of Americans hold antisemitic views.

This may strike you as surprising, which I suppose is the whole point. For three-quarters of a century, Jews have walked American streets, attended American universities – worked in American law offices, hospitals, newsrooms and film studios – with the blithe notion that antisemitism was, like polio and Guinea worm, a disease that had been all but eradicated, or, like the lost colony of Roanoke, a disappeared relic of another time: yesterday’s problem, harbored in faraway places.

Maybe not.

The survey showed that the rate of Americans who hold antisemitic views has increased to 24 percent, up from 20 percent only two years ago. Do not dismiss this as a function of the margin of error. The survey was of 4,143 American adults, not some quickie poll of 850 likely voters undertaken to see how Nikki Haley was doing against Donald Trump as she approached this week’s Super Tuesday sweepstakes. The margin of error here is 1.5 percent. And remember that margins of error don’t only hold the possibility of slimming down the impact of a survey. They just as easily can increase the margin.

So for the moment let’s live with the 24 percent figure and consider its implications. It does not mean that a quarter of your mixed doubles match are antisemites, though in some places that might be entirely possible. It more likely means that there are clusters of antisemitism scattered around the country. It also could mean that antisemitism might be a bit like Covid, not so much with superspreader events but with superspreader parts of the culture.

People may quibble with these findings. My guess – responsible findings on this would be interesting, and welcome – is that most American Jews outside of college campuses haven’t personally felt the uptick in antisemitism. They don’t feel or see it at Costco, or at the gas station, or in restaurants or on the golf courses, even those where their grandparents weren’t invited to tread. But apart from campus, it spreads – again like Covid – silently.

But remember this: There is no vaccine, no Paxlovid.

Of course, some may also quibble with the ADL’s methodology. It is circuitous, measuring public attitudes to anti-Jewish tropes such as whether Jews are clannish, or tend to favor hiring other Jews (two attitudes – clannishness and favoring their own kind – that surely could be applied to graduates of Dartmouth College, where I studied and where I served for a decade as a trustee).

But some of the other notions that the ADL study tested strike directly at the heart of antisemitism: Too much power in the business world. Greater loyalty to Israel than to the United States. An inclination to use shady practices. The possession of a lot of irritating faults. The control of too much influence on Wall Street.

Wake up and smell the Kedem Grape Juice: Agreeing to six or more of these sorts of things is a pretty fair antisemitism version of the dreaded pink line beside the “T” on the home Covid test strip.

The progression from a situation where a fifth of Americans have antisemitic views to a circumstance where nearly a quarter have those views may not seem all that dramatic. But have a look at the 2014 results: Anyone can agree that a leap from 9 percent (the 2014 figure) to 24 percent in a decade’s time should not be dismissed as an aberration or a reflexive ADL embrace of victimhood.

These findings, and the news reports coming out of campus – where the future is now – may require an entirely different outlook on the part of Jewish Americans who are facing an entirely different set of attitudes held if not by their neighbors then surely by their countrymen and countrywomen. It almost certainly will require a substantially different approach to the fight against antisemitism.

Jewish leaders are beginning to sense this. “The sharp reversal, from older generations to younger generations being more likely to hold antisemitic beliefs, is a terrifying concern for our future,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the ADL. “The need for better solutions is more urgent than ever – before this dangerous momentum keeps growing.”

There is no evidence, however, that Jewish leaders, or indeed many Jews, have a unified approach to discover these better solutions. Time to find them. Θ

David M. Shribman, who won a Pulitzer Prize as Washington bureau chief of the Boston Globe, is executive editor emeritus of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and McGill University.

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