In their recent article about this Anti-Defamation League report, Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark make a series of snide and tendentious observations. They begin by invoking the wearisomely familiar complaint that concerns about antisemitism are used to silence criticism of Israel. They then express displeasure at the survey’s findings – but not because such high levels of antisemitism are worrying.
Rather than advance our understanding of this serious issue, the survey seems predictably designed to stir up fear that Jew-hatred is a growing global phenomenon that puts the world’s Jews universally at risk, and that the biggest culprits are Muslims and Arabs, particularly Palestinians.
It is pretty incontrovertible that levels of antisemitism are very high in MENA countries. Many other reputable surveys have confirmed this. Yet the authors seem determined to find fault with the ADL’s methodology.
For example, one question asked whether Jews think more highly of themselves than of other groups, and answering yes tallies points in the anti-Semitic column. But common sense suggests that almost anyone in the world would likely answer affirmatively about any other ethnic or religious community.
In fact the question clearly maps onto an antisemitic trope (of ‘chosenness’) and is thus perfectly valid.
When I first read the article, I thought Nevel and Neimark might have half a point when they argued that the Palestinian responses might benefit from a little further unpacking. It seemed reasonable to speculate that the result might be driven by local perceptions of injustice, not necessarily racism, even if the authors articulate this point with superfluous snark.
The most striking example of a leading question undergirds the ADL’s claim that the highest percentage of anti-Semitism is among Palestinians who live in the occupied territories. The ADL asked a group of people for whom the movement of goods, money and labor is controlled by Israel, “Do Jews have too much power in the business world?”. Were they really to be expected to answer anything but “yes”?
However (as @raphcouscous points out here) there is a misleading implication that the question was particularly targeted at Palestinians, rather than being a routine element in the survey.
Nevel and Neimark are also indignant about a question relating to the Holocaust, feeling that Palestinians would be justified in believing Jews talk too much about the topic. Leaving aside what one thinks of that point – and it’s worth remembering the response a Palestinian lecturer received when he arranged a trip to Auschwitz – what about the many other countries in the world where such views are prevalent?
It would of course be possible to weaponise the data thrown up by the survey in order to deliberately whip up anti-Muslim sentiment. One might imagine, from the Guardian piece, that this is what the ADL was doing. But in fact the findings are pretty calmly presented. Indeed, two elements in the press statement seemed designed to slightly soften the statistics about Muslim/MENA antisemitism. The first is this observation by Abe Foxman:
“While it is startling to see how high the level of anti-Semitism is in the Middle East and North African countries, the fact of the matter is even aside from those countries, close to a quarter of those polled in other parts of the world is infected with anti-Semitic attitudes,” said Mr. Foxman. “There is only a three-point difference when you take world attitudes toward Jews with the Middle East and North African countries, or consider the world without.”
The second is the way the religious data is summarised:
Among Muslims, which comprise 22.7 percent of the world population, 49 percent harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. In MENA, the number of Muslims holding anti-Semitic attitudes is 75 percent.
There are substantially lower levels of anti-Semitic beliefs among Muslims outside of MENA: with Asia at 37 percent; Western Europe at 29 percent; Eastern Europe at 20 percent; and Sub-Saharan Africa at 18 percent.
There were substantially higher levels of anti-Semitic beliefs among Christians in MENA, at 64 percent, compared with Christians outside of MENA
Finally – returning to Nevel and Neimark – it turns out that one paragraph of the article was too much even for the Guardian. It now concludes with this note:
This article was amended on 16 May 2014 to remove a paragraph that made a reference to “loyalty to Israel” that was inconsistent with Guardian editorial guidelines.
The offending paragraph was preserved by Cifwatch. Here it is:
In its press release, the ADL states that “The most widely accepted anti-Semitic stereotype worldwide is: Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the countries they live in.” It’s an odd indicator of anti-Semitism given that Israeli leaders consistently claim to speak for the global Jewish community and consider loyalty to Israel a precondition for being a good Jew. So it’s actually not surprising that this constant assertion has penetrated the consciousness of the rest of the world.