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The study also included a parallel survey of American Jews asking similar questions as well as inquiries on whether they had been impacted directly by antisemitism in the past year.

Just a little over half of non-Jewish Americans have heard of the term “antisemitism” while 46 percent are not familiar with it at all.

Antisemitism Survey
AJC

More than six in 10 Americans believe antisemitism in this country is a problem compared to 88 percent of Jewish Americans who agreed with this statement two years in a row.

These are two main findings in The State of Antisemitism in America 2020 — a first-ever survey released by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) that examines the perceptions of non-Jews about antisemitism.

The study also included a parallel survey of American Jews asking similar questions as well as inquiries on whether they had been impacted directly by antisemitism in the past year.

Antisemitism in America Survey
AJC

Released on the second anniversary of the Oct. 27, 2018, Tree of Life shooting and one week before a polarizing election, AJC officials said the timing of the release was intended to send a message. Although acts of hatred or bias against Jews may have slipped from the headlines since the onset of the pandemic and the election, antisemitism is not a Jewish problem. It is an American one and needs to be addressed.

To assure the most ironclad data and methodology, AJC hired the SSRS Opinion Panel — the same firm that conducts surveys for CNN and Pew Research. SSRS conducted the study this year via telephone Sept. 9-Oct. 4. National representative samples included 1,334 Jews and 1,010 general population adults ages 18 or older. The margin of error for the survey of American Jews is plus or minus 4.2%, and for the survey of U.S. adults, it is 3.7%.

Among the general population:

• 53% say they are familiar with the term antisemitism and know what it means. Nearly half of Americans do not, with 21% saying they have never heard the word and 25% saying that, while they have heard of it, they are unsure what it means.
• 63% of U.S. adults say that antisemitism is a problem in the U.S. today while 33 percent say it is not a problem. 43% said antisemitism has increased over the last five years.
• 48% report having witnessed an antisemitic attack, be it online in social media or physical attacks against Jewish individuals or Jewish buildings or homes of Jews.
Among the Jews surveyed:
• 88% — the exact percentage of last year’s survey — believe antisemitism in the U.S. today is very serious (37%) or somewhat of a problem (51%).
• 82% say antisemitism has increased during the last five years.
• 31% have avoided going to Jewish places or events out of concern for their safety.
• 24% say they have avoided publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items that might identify them as Jews since the Tree of Life shooting in October 2018.
• 37% reported being the target of an antisemitic incident, such as a physical attack or an antisemitic remark online or in person, by mail or by phone in the past five years. However, 76 percent of those who were targeted did not report the incident.
• 43% of those ages 18-29 say they have either personally experienced antisemitism on a college campus or know someone who has.

AntiSemitism Project Logo

Defining Antisemitism

Holly Huffnagle, AJC U.S. director for combating antisemitism, said she was “startled” about the “lack of deference” non-Jews show toward Jews in defining the term. The study revealed nearly two thirds (65%) of U.S. adults said it would make no difference in their opinion of a given statement or idea if a Jewish individual or an organization considered it to be antisemitic. Only 25% said that this would make them more likely to consider that idea or statement antisemitic.

Holly Huffnagle
Holly Huffnagle, AJC U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism. Cassel Photography

“We listen to Blacks, the LGBTQ community and Muslims to define what is racist, homophobic and Islamophobic, and it is disturbing to me to see the lack of deference toward Jews when we try to define what is hateful to us,” Huffnagle said.

“It has long been AJC’s objective that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism be more widely adopted. We need to work with other groups, government officials and institutions outside of the Jewish community to have a better understanding of what antisemitism is and why it should be important to them. We need to connect antisemitic issues with broader societal issues like the ability to practice religion safely and securely. This is an American issue that we should all get behind.”

Participants were also read statements about Jewish loyalty to Israel and were asked if refuting the legitimacy and existence of Israel as a Jewish state could be considered antisemitic. Some 85% of American Jews and 74% of the general public agreed that the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic, indicating that large majorities of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans believe anti-Zionism — the belief that Israel has no right to exist — to be a form of Jew-hatred.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC Detroit, said the findings are crucial in showing the broader community and the other ethnic and religious organizations he works with that antisemitism is something that weighs heavily in Jewish consciousness.

“We have an uphill battle. Jews must work toward letting the broader community know our sensitivities, just like we are sensitive to racism,” Lopatin said. “This [understanding] is not something that can be forced, and others must come to understanding antisemitism on a gradual basis on their own through meaningful dialogue.”

Lopatin was encouraged that non-Jews viewed denying Israel’s existence as a form of antisemitism.

“Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are two sides of the same coin,” Lopatin said. “AJC uses the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which states that singling out Israel with double standards is problematic.”

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