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Hating the Jew you’ve never met
ADL’s globe-spanning study of anti-Semitism reveals that over 750 million people’s hatred isn’t about the Jews at all
The ADL’s massive Global 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.”
The complexities uncovered by the study are fascinating and important. They include, for example, the jarring discovery that 52% of Germans and Austrians believe Jews talk too much about the Holocaust — but also that young Germans and Austrians are shedding their parents’ anti-Semitic attitudes. The number of Germans holding such views dropped steeply from 33% among those over 50 to 15% among those under 34, and among Austrians from 41% to 12%. The German-speaking world is simultaneously growing tired of hearing about the Holocaust and more accepting of Jews.
And while the Internet has toppled tyrants and created new opportunities for openness and development in the Muslim world, Internet use is also a significant factor in a Muslim becoming anti-Semitic. The prevalence of anti-Semitic views grew by some 20 percentage points among Muslims who get their news primarily online compared to those who get their news from television, newspapers or even religious leaders, the study found.
These are valuable insights, and the survey offers many others.
Yet the study shines not in the details, but in its sweeping international perspective. In interviewing over 53,000 people in 93 languages across 102 countries and regions, the survey pieces together a global picture of the web of stereotypes and hatreds through which a significant swath of humanity views the Jews. It enables us to go beyond the narrow confines of each nation’s politics and prejudices and think more deeply about the phenomenon and the essential question that lies at its root: Why do they hate us?
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 works
No 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.
In an age of consolidating national identities, of the birth of “Germanness” and “Polishness” and other national movements, the distinctive duality of Jewish identity as both a religion and a quasi-ethnic peoplehood resisted easy national categorization, and thus called the immutability and authenticity of the new national identities into question.
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 Jews
Thus 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.
These high figures are remarkable precisely because there is so little prejudice against Britain’s Jews in other areas. Just 12% say Jews have too much control in the global financial markets (the Western European average is 34%). Just 7% agree that “people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave” (Western European average: 22%).
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.
Political tensions also don’t offer a clear-cut explanation. Iran’s government, controlled by Holocaust deniers and viewed by Israel as its number-one enemy, rules a population far less anti-Semitic than Saudi Arabia, which proposed the Arab Peace Plan with Israel and whose geopolitical interests align closely with those of the Jewish state. It is not surprising, considering the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that the Palestinians are the most anti-Semitic people in the world (94%); it is surprising that anti-Semitism is more widespread in Algeria (87%), Iraq (92%) and Morocco (80%) than in Lebanon (78%), though only the latter can offer ongoing conflict as an explanation.
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?
Of 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.