ADL’s globe-spanning study of anti-Semitism reveals that over 750 million people’s hatred isn’t about the Jews at allGlobal 100 survey of worldwide anti-Semitic attitudes, published Tuesday, offers some sobering statistics. Some 1.1 billion adults harbor anti-Semitic views. In the Middle East, 74 percent of adults agreed with a majority of the survey’s 11 anti-Semitic propositions, including that “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” and that “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.”
These are valuable insights, and the survey offers many others.
The question is put into sharp relief by the finding that fully 27% of people who have never met a Jew nevertheless harbor strong prejudices against him. Or, indeed, that a huge majority, 77%, of those who hate Jews have never met one. Even more starkly, the survey found an inverse relationship between the number of Jews in a country and the spread of anti-Semitic attitudes there. As a general rule, the fewer the Jews in a particular country, the more numerous the anti-Semites.
This should not surprise us. We already understood that anti-Semitism is skyrocketing in precisely those parts of the world where Jews fled from or perished in the last century, primarily the Middle East and Eastern Europe. But by giving numbers to these beliefs, the study allows us to think more carefully about the sources of the phenomenon.
A wrench in the worksNo anti-Semitism has been better studied than that of modern Europe. It is there that we learned how little anti-Semitism has to do with the actual living Jews who are its subject, and how much with the ideological and social tensions that torment the anti-Semites themselves.
For 19th- and 20th-century Europe, the Jews were anomalies.
What does it mean to be a German nationalist, wrapped in the imagery of the Volksgemeinschaft and imagining oneself the heir to an ancient, ennobling, and ultimately biological national community, when one’s Jewish neighbor demonstrates that it is also possible to be at once German and something other than German? By straddling the boundaries of national identity, by sharing “Germanness” with his German neighbors and “Jewishness” with coreligionists in far-flung lands, the Jew’s very existence belied and endangered the organic immutability and exclusivity that nationalists sought from their new identities.
At its most extreme, this tension was the reason the Nazis made the eradication of the Jews a fundamental war aim. As Adolf Hitler indicated years before the Holocaust, in “Mein Kampf,” the Jews weren’t murdered for being different, but for being dangerously, indistinguishably similar, for implying by their very existence that the borders of “Germanness” are permeable, and thus, perhaps, not as real and innate as the romantic nationalist would like to believe.
In their unwanted role as the ubiquitous Other through two centuries of Europe’s struggles to understand itself, the Jews served as a kind of canvas onto which Europeans projected their own national insecurities and dilemmas.
It’s not about the JewsThus we find in the ADL survey that the two statements most affirmed by Greek anti-Semites – indeed, by a vast majority of Greeks – are “Jews have too much power in the business world” (85%) and “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” (82%). Battered by the global financial havoc of the past few years, Greeks have attached a human face to the actual, amorphous source of their suffering.
Similarly in Britain, the sixth-least anti-Semitic country in the survey, few people view the Jews as exceptionally evil or duplicitous – except when it comes to the Middle East. The two sentences that found the most agreement among Britons were “Jews have too much control over the United States government” (19% agreed) and “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” (27%).
This questioning of the loyalty of British Jews is actually growing among the young — perhaps a sign that it is growing on the political left. Less than a quarter (24%) of Britons aged 35 and older agreed that British Jews are more loyal to Israel, compared to more than one-third (34%) among Britons aged 34 and younger.
It is not hard to draw a connecting line from Britain’s post-colonial guilt over the Middle East and the surprisingly high prejudices expressed about British Jews on that subject alone.
The Arab world may be the most startling example of this projection of national insecurities onto the Jews. The survey offers dramatic evidence that none of the reasons usually given to explain the astronomical levels of anti-Semitism in the Arab world — Islam, political tensions, the experience of war — are sufficient.
While huge majorities of Middle Easterners (74% region-wide) were found to hold anti-Semitic views, it is significant that the two least anti-Semitic peoples among the 18 polled were the two non-Arab ones. Over half of Iranians (56%) and two-thirds of Turks (69%) hold anti-Semitic views, but that still compares favorably to the whopping 82.5% average among the 16 Arab states surveyed.
Among all Muslims (Arabs included), less than half (49%) are anti-Semitic.
In some places, such as Eastern Europe, Muslims are less likely to be anti-Semitic (20%) than Christians (35%), while the Middle East’s Christians are much more likely to be anti-Semitic (64%) than non-Middle Eastern Muslims.
Arab hatred of Jews is thus not explainable as a function of Muslim religious affiliation (Arab Christians are more anti-Semitic than non-Arab Muslims), by political friction (Iranians are less anti-Semitic — 56% — than Jordanians — 81%), or by the actual experience of conflict (Moroccans and Algerians are more likely to hate Jews than Lebanese).
Is it too much to suggest, then, that the Arabs’ problem with the Jews is not actually about the Jews, but about the Arab world’s own struggles with modernity, identity and political dysfunction?
Blessedly disinterestedOf course, there is good news, too. The ray of light in the dismal findings — and it is a powerful beam indeed — is the English-speaking world, where just 13% hold anti-Semitic views.
While Laos took the prize as the world’s least anti-Semitic country, with less than 1% expressing such views, it is far more remarkable that only 9% of Americans did the same. After all, the United States is the only country outside Israel that is home to millions of Jews. And American Jews, unlike their brethren in Europe or Asia, are visible, cacophonous, politically engaged and unabashedly influential. In a world where the Jews serve as convenient foils for every sort of identity crisis and social tension, there is something hopeful about the way in which the Jews of America don’t appear to symbolize or evoke anything of note in the imaginations of their compatriots.
Perhaps Americans are less imaginative in their prejudices, or simply have a comparatively benign attitude toward what it means to be American. Either way, from the perspective of the Jewish experience highlighted in the ADL’s remarkable study, and bearing in mind that some three-quarters of the Jews outside Israel live in the United States, America’s blessed disinterestedness in the Jewishness of its Jews is cause for celebration.