Antisemitism in the United States
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Part of Jewish history
Antisemitism in the United States has been a problem for Jewish Americans for centuries. Antisemitic occurrences have been on a generally decreasing trend in the last century consistent with a general reduction of socially sanctioned racism in the United States, especially since World War II and the Civil Rights Movement. Cultural changes from the 1960s onward into the 21st century have caused a large shift in general attitudes such that, in recent years, most Americans surveyed express positive viewpoints regarding Jews.
In the United States, most Jewish community relations agencies draw a distinction between antisemitism, which is measured in terms of attitudes and behaviors, and the security and status of American Jews, which is measured by specific incidents. An ABC News report in 2007 recounted that about 6% of Americans reported some feelings of prejudice against Jews. According to surveys by the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitism is rejected by clear majorities of Americans, with 64% of them lauding Jews' cultural contributions to the nation in 2011, but a minority holding hateful views of Jews remain, with 19% of Americans supporting the antisemitic canard that Jews co-control Wall Street in 2011. As well, Holocaust denial in recent years has been only a fringe phenomenon with an estimated one percent of Americans expressing opposition to the historical record.
- 1 American viewpoints on Jews and antisemitism
- 2 Holocaust denial in the United States
- 3 Antisemitic organizations
- 4 African-American community
- 5 Avowed American antisemites
- 6 College campuses
- 7 New antisemitism
- 8 Hate crimes against Jews in the U.S.
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
American viewpoints on Jews and antisemitism
Roots of American attitudes towards Jews and Jewish history in America
Krefetz (1985) asserts that antisemitism of the 1980s seems "rooted less in religion or contempt and more in envy, jealously and fear" of Jewish affluence, and of the hidden power of "Jewish money". Historically, antisemitic attitudes and rhetoric tend to increase when the United States is faced with a serious economic crisis.
Academic David Greenberg has written in Slate, "Extreme anti-communism always contained an anti-Semitic component: Radical, alien Jews, in their demonology, orchestrated the Communist conspiracy." He also has argued that, in the years following World War II, some groups of "the American right remained closely tied to the unvarnished anti-Semites of the '30s who railed against the 'Jew Deal'", a bigoted term used against the New Deal measures under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The most persistent form of antisemitism has been a series of widely circulating stereotypes that constructed Jews as socially, religiously, and economically unacceptable to American life. They were made to feel marginal and menacing.
Martin Marger writes "A set of distinct and consistent negative stereotypes, some of which can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages in Europe, has been applied to Jews." David Schneder writes "Three large clusters of traits are part of the Jewish stereotype (Wuthnow, 1982). First, [American] Jews are seen as being powerful and manipulative. Second, they are accused of dividing their loyalties between the United States and Israel. A third set of traits concerns Jewish materialistic values, aggressiveness, clannishness."
Some of the antisemitic canards cited by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) in their studies of U.S. social trends include the claims that "Jews have too much power in the business world", "Jews are more willing to use shady practices to get what they want", and "Jews always like to be at the head of things". Other issues that garner attention is the assertion of excessive Jewish influence in American cinema and news media.
Statistics of American viewpoints and analysis
Polls and studies over the past two decades point to a steady decrease in antisemitic attitudes, beliefs, and manifestations among the American public. A 1992 survey by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) showed that about 20% of Americans— between 30 and 40 million adults— held antisemitic views, a considerable decline from the total of 29% found in 1964. However, another survey by the same organization concerning antisemitic incidents showed that the curve has risen without interruption since 1986.
The number of Americans holding antisemitic views declined markedly six years later when another ADL study classified only 12 percent of the population—between 20 and 25 million adults—as "most antisemitic." Confirming the findings of previous surveys, both studies also found that African Americans were significantly more likely than whites to hold antisemitic views, with 34 percent of blacks classified as "most antisemitic," compared to 9 percent of whites in 1998. The 2005 Survey of American Attitudes Towards Jews in America, a national poll of 1,600 American adults conducted in March 2005, found that 14% of Americans—or nearly 35 million adults—hold views about Jews that are "unquestionably antisemitic," compared to 17% in 2002, Previous ADL surveys over the last decade had indicated that antisemitism was in decline. In 1998, the number of Americans with hardcore antisemitic beliefs had dropped to 12% from 20% in 1992.
"What concerns us is that many of the gains we had seen in building a more tolerant and accepting America seem not to have taken hold as firmly as we had hoped," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "While there are many factors at play, the findings suggest that antisemitic beliefs endure and resonate with a substantial segment of the population, nearly 35 million people."
The 2005 Anti-Defamation League survey includes data on Hispanic attitudes, with 29% being most antisemitic (vs. 9% for whites and 36% for blacks); being born in the United States helped alleviate this attitude: 35% of foreign-born Hispanics, but only 19% of those born in the US.
The survey findings come at a time of increased antisemitic activity in America. The 2004 ADL Audit of Antisemitic Incidents reported that antisemitic incidents reached their highest level in nine years. A total of 1,821 antisemitic incidents were reported in 2004, an increase of 17 percent over the 1,557 incidents reported during 2003.
A 2009 study entitled "Modern Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Attitudes", published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009, tested new theoretical model of anti-Semitism among Americans in the Greater New York area with 3 experiments. The research team's theoretical model proposed that mortality salience (reminding people that they will someday die) increases anti-Semitism and that anti-Semitism is often expressed as anti-Israel attitudes. The first experiment showed that mortality salience led to higher levels of anti-Semitism and lower levels of support for Israel. The study's methodology was designed to tease out anti-Semitic attitudes that are concealed by polite people. The second experiment showed that mortality salience caused people to perceive Israel as very important, but did not cause them to perceive any other country this way. The third experiment showed that mortality salience led to a desire to punish Israel for human rights violations but not to a desire to punish Russia or India for identical human rights violations. According to the researchers, their results "suggest that Jews constitute a unique cultural threat to many people's worldviews, that anti-Semitism causes hostility to Israel, and that hostility to Israel may feed back to increase anti-Semitism." Furthermore, "those claiming that there is no connection between antisemitism and hostility toward Israel are wrong."
The 2011 Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews in America released by the ADL found that the recent world economic recession increased some antisemitic viewpoints among Americans. Abraham H. Foxman, the organization's national director, argued, "It is disturbing that with all of the strides we have made in becoming a more tolerant society, anti-Semitic beliefs continue to hold a vice-grip on a small but not insubstantial segment of the American public." Specifically, the polling found that 19% of Americans answered "probably true" to the assertion that "Jews have too much control/influence on Wall Street" while 15% concurred with the related statement that Jews seem "more willing to use shady practices" in business. Nonetheless, the survey generally reported positive attitudes for most Americans, the majority of those surveyed expressed philo-Semitic sentiments such as 64% agreeing that Jews have contributed much to U.S. social culture.
An ABC News report in 2007 recounted that past ABC polls across several years have tended to find that about 6% of Americans self-report prejudice against Jews as compared to about 25% being against Arab Americans and about 10% against Hispanic Americans. The report also remarked that a full 34% of Americans reported "some racist feelings" in general as a self-description.
Holocaust denial in the United States
One of the new forms of antisemitism is the denial of the Holocaust by revisionist historians and neo-Nazis. Holocaust denial serves as a powerful conspiracy theory uniting otherwise disparate fringe groups.
A survey done in 1994 by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found that denial was only a tiny fringe position, with 91% of respondents agreeing with the validity of the Holocaust and only 1% saying it was possible that the holocaust had never happened.
There are a number of antisemitic organizations in the United States, some of them violent, that emphasize white supremacy. These include the Christian Identity Churches, the Aryan-White Resistance, the Ku Klux Klan, and the American Nazis, among others. Several fundamentalist churches, such as the Westboro Baptist Church, also preach antisemitic messages. The largest neo-Nazis are the National Nazi Party and the National Socialist Movement. Many of these antisemitic groups shave their heads and tattoo themselves with Nazi symbolism such as swastikas, SS, and "Heil Hitler". Antisemitic groups march and preach antisemitic messages throughout America.
The 1998 ADL survey also found a correlation between antisemitism and sympathy for right-wing anti-government groups. Although antisemitism has declined over the past 35 years, the activities of some antisemitic groups have intensified, possibly a result of increasing marginalization of antisemitic viewpoints. From 1974 to 1979, membership in the Ku Klux Klan rose from a historic all-time low of 1,500 to 11,500, and throughout the 1980s various Klan factions allied themselves with more explicitly neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Nations.
The founding (1979) of the California-based Institute for Holocaust Review helped popularize the antisemitic notion that the Holocaust was a hoax. During the mid-1980s, groups like the Posse Comitatus (organization) espoused antisemitic rhetoric. From 1986 to 1991 the numbers of neo-Nazi skinheads grew tenfold, reaching approximately 3,500 distributed among more than 35 cities. And the mid-1990s saw the formation of paramilitary citizens' "militias", many of which were accused of circulating antisemitic conspiracy theories and preaching religious bigotry.
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Surveys done by the ADL in 2007, 2009, and 2011 all found that the large majority of African-Americans questioned rejected antisemitism and expressed the same kind of generally tolerant viewpoints as the rest of the Americans surveyed. For example, their 2009 study reported that 28% of African-Americans surveyed displayed antisemitic views while a 72% majority did not. However, those three surveys all found that negative attitudes towards Jews were stronger among African-Americans than among the general population at large.
According to earlier ADL research, going back to 1964, the trend that African-Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to hold antisemitic beliefs across all education levels has remained over the years. Nonetheless, the percentage of the population holding negative beliefs against Jews has waned considerably in the black community during this period as well. An ADL poll from 1992 stated that 37% of African-Americans surveyed displayed antisemitism; in contrast, a poll from 2011 found that only 29% did so.
Personal backgrounds play a huge role in terms of holding prejudiced versus tolerant views. Among black Americans with no college education, 43% fell into the most antisemitic group (versus 18% for the general population) compared to that being only 27% among blacks with some college education and just 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree (versus 5% for those in the general population with a four-year college degree). That data from the ADL's 1998 polling research shows a clear pattern.
In spite of the strong Jewish participation in the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the Black power movement introduced considerable friction into African American–Jewish relations.
In a 1967 New York Times Magazine article entitled "Negroes are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White," the African-American author James Baldwin sought to explain the prevalence of black antisemitism. Although the 1998 ADL survey found a strong correlation between education level and antisemitism among African Americans, blacks at all education levels were still more likely than whites to accept anti-Jewish stereotypes. These have figured prominently in the rhetoric of some black leaders, most notably the influential Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
Nation of Islam
A number of Jewish organizations, Christian organizations, Muslim organizations, and academics consider the Nation of Islam to be antisemitic. Specifically, they claim that the Nation of Islam has engaged in revisionist and antisemitic interpretations of the Holocaust and exaggerates the role of Jews in the African slave trade. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) alleges that NOI Health Minister, Abdul Alim Muhammad, has accused Jewish doctors of injecting blacks with the AIDS virus.
In December 2012, the Simon Wiesenthal Center put the NOI leader Louis Farrakhan on its list of the ten most prominent antisemites in the world. He was the only American to make the list. The organization cited statements that he had made in October of that year claiming that "Jews control the media" and "Jews are the most violent of people".
The Nation of Islam has repeatedly denied charges of antisemitism, and leader Minister Louis Farrakhan has stated, "The ADL... uses the term 'anti-Semitism' to stifle all criticism of Zionism and the Zionist policies of the State of Israel and also to stifle all legitimate criticism of the errant behavior of some Jewish people toward the non-Jewish population of the earth."
Avowed American antisemites
Famous radio preacher Charles Coughlin was a prominent antisemite. He played a major role in inspiring the group known as the Christian Front, an organization described by PBS as an "underground army that attacked Jews in the streets of New York and elsewhere." Coughlin's passionate antisemitism led to him being ejected from the America First Committee, despite him sharing the organisation's goal of keeping the U.S. out of World War II. Despite his demagogic fame involving praise of Adolf Hitler's rule in Nazi Germany, Coughlin sometimes denied that he supported antisemitism, the radical Catholic priest saying that he wanted "good Jews" to be with him. Coughlin's hateful preaching received strong denunciations by publications such as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as well as by prominent American Catholics such as Frank J. Hogan, the then president of the American Bar Association. Previously an obscure figure, Coughlin picked up an audience that was around 40 million strong at its peak, but the entrance of the U.S. into the fight against the Axis powers and the surge of anti-Nazi sentiment destroyed his success, leading him back into obscurity.
Former President Richard Nixon's antisemitism has been heavily documented, with academic David Greenberg noting Nixon's historical "reputation as a hateful, vindictive anti-Semite". Nixon believed that "[m]ost Jewish people are insecure" and "that's why they have to prove things." In addition, he expressed paranoia that a "Jewish cabal" at the Bureau of Labor Statistics manipulated economic data against him, and he ordered the creation of a secret tally of Jews within the agency.
Although mostly kept in private, rumors about Nixon's viewpoints hurt him somewhat politically and also exasperated colleagues such as Arthur Burns, the then Federal Reserve chairman who found Nixon's talk odious. Nixon told his adviser Charles Colson that "[t]he Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality." He also suggested that Jews as a group were unwilling to serve in the military and more likely to desert, claiming that "I didn't notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don't know how the hell they avoid it". Nixon additionally said, "If you look at the Canadian-Swedish contingent, they were very disproportionately Jewish. The deserters." He and his aides seemed to make a distinction between Israeli Jews, whom Nixon at least partly admired, and American Jews. However, Nixon used actions by specific Jews that he had heard about to reinforce his belief that the whole group deserved his scorn and hatred.
On April 3, 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced its finding that incidents of antisemitism are a "serious problem" on college campuses throughout the United States. The Commission recommended that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights protect college students from antisemitism through vigorous enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and further recommended that Congress clarify that Title VI applies to discrimination against Jewish students.
In February 2015, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law and Trinity College  presenting results from a national survey of American Jewish college students. The survey had a 10-12% response rate and does not claim to be representative. The report showed that 54% of the 1,157 self-identified Jewish students at 55 campuses nationwide who took part in the online survey reported having experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the Spring semester of the last academic year.
The National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students provided a snapshot of the types, context, and location of anti-Semitism as experienced by a large national sample of Jewish students at university and four-year college campuses. Inside Higher Ed focused on the more surprising findings of the report, like the fact high rates of anti-Semitism also were reported at institutions regardless of location or type of institution, that the data from the survey suggest that discrimination occurs in low-level, everyday interpersonal activities, and that Jewish students feel their reports of anti-Semitism are largely ignored by the administration. However, not all reception was positive, with The Forward arguing that the study documented only a snapshot in time rather than a trend, that it did not have a representative sample of Jewish college students and that it was flawed because it allowed students to define anti-Semitism (leaving the term open to interpretation).
In recent years some scholars have advanced the concept of New antisemitism, coming simultaneously from the Far Left, the far right, and radical Islam, which tends to focus on opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel, and argue that the language of Anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are used to attack the Jews more broadly. In this view, the proponents of the new concept believe that criticisms of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, and attribute this to antisemitism.
In the context of the "Global War on Terrorism" there have been statements by both the Democrat Ernest Hollings and the Republican Pat Buchanan that suggest that the George W. Bush administration went to war in order to win Israel supporters. During 2004, a number of prominent public figures accused Jewish members of the Bush administration of tricking America into war against Saddam Hussein to help Israel. U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina) claimed that the US action against Saddam was undertaken 'to secure Israel.' Television talk show host Pat Buchanan said a 'cabal' had managed 'to snare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests.' Hollings wrote an editorial in the May 6, 2004 Charleston Post and Courier, where he argued that Bush invaded Iraq possibly because "spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats."
"While it’s certainly true that most of Trump’s supporters are neither racists nor anti-Semites, it appears to be the case that all of the racists and anti-Semites in this country (and many beyond) support Trump."
Criticism of "new antisemitism" findings in the United States
Noted critics of Israel, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, question the extent of new antisemitism in the United States. Chomsky has written in his work Necessary Illusions that the Anti-Defamation League casts any question of pro-Israeli policy as antisemitism, conflating and muddling issues as even Zionists receive the allegation. Finkelstein has stated that supposed "new antisemitism" is a preposterous concept advanced by the ADL to combat critics of Israeli policy.
Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has argued that the concept of a "new antisemitism" is essentially false since it is in fact an alternative form of the old antisemitism of previous decades, which he believes remains latent at times but recurs whenever it is triggered. In his view, the current trigger is the Israeli situation; if a compromise making ground in the Arab-Israeli peace process were achieved, he believes that antisemitism would decline but not disappear.
Hate crimes against Jews in the U.S.
The Anti-Defamation League published in April 2014 an audit of antisemitic incidents occurring the previous year, with the results finding a decline of 19% for 2013 as part of an about a decade-long side in attacks. The report cited a total number of 751 incidents across the U.S. This was made up of 31 physical assaults, 315 incidents of vandalism, and 405 cases of harassment.
In April 2015, the Anti-Defamation League published its 2014 audit of antisemitic incidents. According to it, 912 such incidents took place across the U.S. during 2014. This represented a 21% rise from the year before. Most of the incidents, a total of 513, belonged to the category of "[h]arassments, threats and events". Another finding of the audit showed that most of the vandalism incidents, 35% specifically, occurred in public areas. A review of the results shows that during operation Protective Edge there was a significant increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, compared to the rest of the year. As usual, highest totals of antisemitic incidents have been found in states where there is a large Jewish population: New York State – 231 incidents, California – 184 incidents, New Jersey – 107 incidents, Florida – 70 incidents. In all of this states, more antisemitic incidents were counted in 2014 than last year.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) organizes Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) designed to collect and evaluate statistics of offenses committed in the U.S. In terms of 2014, the related statistics on hate crimes listed 1,140 victims of anti-religious crimes, of which 56.8% were motivated by offenders' anti-Jewish biases. A total of 15,494 law enforcement agencies contributed to said UCR analysis.
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