Menu JTA Search

Special Interview Leading Historian Says It is ‘dangerous’ to Rely on Public Opinion Polls That Popu

Prof. Yehuda Bauer, head of the Hebrew University’s International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, said here yesterday that it was “dangerous” to rely on reports by recent public opinion polls that popular anti-Semitism had declined in the U.S., despite their essential accuracy.

These reports, he continued, should not lead to the “simplistic” conclusion that there is no need to worry about factors that are far more significant: the continued existence of latent anti-Semitism, the spread of the “denial of the Holocaust” theories, and the potential impact of Soviet anti-Jewish propaganda.

Bauer, a Prague-born historian who has written widely on the Holocaust, expressed these views in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency following his address to a conference the two-year-old Center held here Sunday on “Anti-Semitism: Threat to Western Civilization.”

Bauer pointed out that there were periods in Germany when public opinion polls could have shown that popular anti-Semitism was declining there, and they would have been correct. “The Nazi period taught us that you don’t have to have popular anti-Semitism to murder Jews.”

The vast majority of the German people, he continued, were not anti-Semitic in terms of “murderous anti-Semitism”; they were “moderately” anti-Semitic. The majority of Europe’s Jews were murdered not by those holding extreme anti-Semitic convictions but by supporters of a regime whose small ruling elite was convinced that the major issue before the world was to free it from the Jews. So even if there is “moderate anti-Semitism,” he said, “it can end in genocide.”

Of the three major factors that bear watching in the U.S., Bauer said that “latent cultural anti-Semitism is very often unconscious and impossible to measure.” Indications of its existence surfaced in the anti-Jewish arguments and “code words” used “quite unconsciously” by some in the media during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Bauer also pointed to the significance of the continuation of Christian anti-Semitism. Stressing that the Catholics had been most positive in trying to “break” with Catholic anti-Semitic tradition follow ing Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate declaration on the Jews in 1965, he added that “there hasn’t been a tremendous push but things have changed.” Some Protestant fundamentalist groups were anti-Jewish, but some were pro-Jewish, he said.

Turning to the second factor requiring alertness, Bauer called the “denial of the Holocaust” propaganda a “dangerous phenomenon” which has succeeded in penetrating schools and universities and is a new means of spreading anti-Semitism. It is directed, he continued, at the “delegitimization of the Jewish people.” He continued:

“If the Jewish people argue that they suffered in the Holocaust and it turns out that this whole collective is lying, then how can you believe anything they say? Therefore, the conclusion is that Hitler was right in attacking the Jews … and that the Hitler regime is the right kind of regime for us.”

The third danger, Soviet propaganda attacking the Jews with recycled conspiracy theories, “sooner or later will reach Chicago,” Bauer told JTA. He pointed to the huge propaganda machinery, which has so far churned out 600 anti-Semitic books whose contents some Soviet science fiction writers have used in stories “lapped up by millions of people” and whose arguments are voiced at the UN.

CITES RACIST IDEOLOGY EVOLVING IN THE USSR

Bauer is especially disturbed by a racist ideology promoting the superiority of Indo-Europeans which is evolving in certain Soviet academic sectors. He suggested a possible scenario in which this ideology would be translated into political terms — attacking the U.S. as the “running dog of Zionist conspiracy” — accepted by some states at the UN, followed by propagandizing in the U.S. He asked, “Couldn’t there then be some in America who will then think it’s time to cut the Jews down to size?”

UNCHANGED ‘CORE’ OF ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE U.S.

Bauer stressed in the interview that the “core” of anti-Semitism in the U.S. had not changed since the early 1940’s when 15 percent of the population advocated Hitler’s policy toward the Jews. This 15 percent core, “may develop into large movements under certain crisis situations,” he said.

Pointing, as well, to the spread of extreme fundamentalists — such as anti-choice and anti-Constitution groups — Bauer said that in the U.S. there are many social movements “originating in alienation” and a “multitude of social problems” here. It hasn’t all come together in a major threat, “but the danger is there.”

There is also a “numbing” toward anti-Semitism, especially in some university sectors, which “could turn into hostility if circumstances change.” One indication of this indifference, he said, was the “lack of reaction” by the Black intelligentsia and leadership to Rev. Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic utterances.

Bauer believes that “America is different” in its “encouraging” commitment since the 1960’s to a multi-cultural society, in which Jews are “part of the general scene.” There are in the U.S. “built-in defenses” against anti-Semitism, and he does not see any “major, acute or immediate danger” to Jews here in the present and foreseeable future, Bauer said.

But his disagreement with studies which tout the decline of popular anti-Semitism in the U.S. is that they “see things as givens, and don’t look at the dynamics. They photograph a situation and say how lovely it is. It is dangerous to make such statements,” Bauer said, and not look beneath the surface.

NEXT STORY