ADL survey finds antisemitism to be at a low point

Findings of the Anti-Defamation League’s 2009 Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews suggest that antisemitic propensities are lessening in the US.

Contract researchers conducted telephone interviews with 1,747 American adults, asking them whether a series of positive and negative statements about Jews were ‘probably true’ or ‘probably false’. Within this series 11 antisemitic statements (i.e. statements which are both negative about Jews and correspond to enduring stereotypes which have been historically used against Jews) occurred at random:

  • Jews stick together more than other Americans.
  • Jews always like to be at the head of things.
  • Jews are more loyal to Israel than America.
  • Jews have too much power in the U.S. today.
  • Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street.
  • Jews have too much power in the business world.
  • Jews have a lot of irritating faults.
  • Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want.
  • Jewish business people are so shrewd that others don’t have a fair chance at competition.
  • Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.
  • Jews are (not) just as honest as other businesspeople.

Respondents who agreed with more than 6 of these were considered to be the most antisemitic, those who agreed with 2-5 were considered neither prejudiced nor unprejudiced, and 0-1, essentially unprejudiced. This year’s research found that 12% of respondents (corresponding to 30 million Americans) fell into the most antisemitic category. This continues a general trend of decline over the previous five decades.

Antisemitic propensities were found to be strongly associated with low educational achievement and an attitude of general intolerance. More men than women express antisemitic views, and these are less prevalent in the 40-64 age group than in younger or older age groups.

Antisemitism in the US is primarily concerned with Jewish power and Jewish loyalty. Most of the respondents who agreed with more than 6 of the statements agreed with those relating to Jewish power, control and influence. 30% of all respondents and 84% of the most antisemitic respondents believed that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the US. 18% of all respondents thought it was probably true that Jews had too much control in the business world; 13% thought it was probably true that Jews had too much power in the world today, and 12% thought it was probably true that Jews were more dishonest than other people.

Jews were thought to value god and family life, which the ADL held up as evidence of “high regard”. 71% of respondents believed it was “probably true” that Jews had contributed much to the cultural life of America (18% thought it “probably false”). Concern about the influence of pro-Israel lobbying groups is on the decline in the US from 37% in 1991 to 16% this year. However, among the general population 29% held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus (2 millenia ago) while 25% felt that Jews were probably talking too much about what happened to them during the Holocaust (65 years ago – can’t have been the same respondents, surely).

I didn’t understand page 27.

Surveys tend to tell us what what rather than why, and as such they raise many more interesting questions than they answer. I’d like to know how these findings compare to the general population’s views about other minority groups, and about the circumstances under which people change their minds (either way) about Jews. And how do the “many years of constant and intense efforts by ADL and others to make America a more accepting society” fit into the findings; what can we learn about changing racist views? Is it better to focus on critical thinking (i.e. a generic approach), or tackle the stereotypes head on? The main question is, what actions or circumstances have brought about this lessening and how can we strengthen them?

Interesting too to compare with the ADL’s survey of 12 European countries in 2005, where antisemitic propensities were on the whole more prevalent.

Posted in antisemitism. Tags: , . 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “ADL survey finds antisemitism to be at a low point”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Mira, I don’t understand it either! Where are the experts on social surveys when you need them? A couple of thoughts occur to me: there might have been a _scale_ of agreement/disagreement (“on a scale of 1 to 10, how strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements…”), but the ADL hasn’t bothered to say so – wrongly in my view. Thus 0 (no agreement) or 1 (slight agreement) with the “loyalty” statement is taken as meaning Jews are (more?) loyal to the US, and 6+ as more loyal to Israel.

    Or, it is the number of “antisemitic” statements agreed, of the 11 in all, that gives the figures on page 27.

    Either explanation is unsatisfactory, and I think it’s probably sloppy reporting. If we’re lucky, someone from ADL will read this and tellus.

  2. Ed Kaplan Says:

    RE: p. 27 — there are eleven statements of the “agree/disagree” form meant to measure antisemitic leanings, one of which is “Jews are more loyal to Israel than America.”

    Among respondents who agreed with at most one of these eleven statements, only 2% agreed with the statement “Jews are more loyal to Israel than America.”

    Among respondents who agreed with at least six of these statements, 35% also agreed with the “more loyal to Israel” claim.

    30% of *all* those surveyed agree with the “more loyal to Israel” claim (see p. 10), which makes this the second most-popular of the eleven statements. The statement claiming the most agreement is “Jews stick together more than other Americans” (43% agree, also found on p. 10).

    The specific point the authors are trying to make is that those with antisemitic leanings often play the “dual loyalty” card: among those individuals who are considered to harbor antisemitic leanings (by virtue of having agreed with at least six of the eleven statements offered), more than a third view Jews as more loyal to Israel, while among those considered not to harbor antisemitic leanings (by virtue of having agreed with at most one of the statements), the dual loyalty charge is nearly nonexistent.

    RE: the figure on p. 27, the category labels “Americans who believe that Jews are loyal to the US” and “Americans who believe that Jews more loyal to Israel” are confusing — the correct labels are those shown in the brackets beneath.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Cheers from me too, Ed, but I think you effectively underline the point that further explanation would have been useful. As it stands, p. 27 is for social surveys nerds (nothing personal) and leads to the sort of head scratching that Mira and I went in for – and I’m a (retired) social scientist!

  3. Inna Says:

    With other under-represented groups (e.g., people with mental illness) it seems that the more personal contact people have with members of the group, the less prejudiced they are and the more they read or hear about people of that minority in the abstract, the more prejudiced they are. I have no evidence to back this up, but I am guessing a similar dynamic is at work here. If people have personal exposure to Jews (and since many Jews tend to be professionals the people who have personal exposure to them are more likely to be better educated) the less prejudiced people are. I think ADL’s efforts are good but what ultimately makes the difference is knowing such and such person who is a good person and–oh, yeah is also Jewish.



    • Jonathan Romer Says:


      You may have hit on the only valid reason yet found for keeping Jews in permanent diaspora 🙂

      Though on further reflection, sadly, there must be other, countervailing factors at work, since a couple of millennia of galut wasn’t a notable success either.

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