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Poll: U.S. Jews still anxious about anti-Semitism in America

NEW YORK, June 3 (JTA) — American Jews have an “ongoing sense of anxiety” about anti-Semitism, according to the results of a new survey by the American Jewish Committee. In fact, a majority of American Jews believe that anti-Semitism is a greater threat to Jewish life in the United States than intermarriage. But of the 61 percent of respondents who listed anti-Semitism as a greater threat, 82 percent of them were intermarried. Each year, the AJCommittee releases a comprehensive survey of American Jewish attitudes toward a broad range of subjects, including the Israel-Arab peace process and Jewish identity issues. While surveys in recent years have focused heavily on the Middle East peace process, the 1997 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion downplayed its findings in that area. AJCommittee officials said this year’s findings — which include the statistic that 61 percent said they “support” the “Netanyahu government’s current handling of the peace negotiations with the Arabs” — were “taken over by events” in the Middle East. Both in the report itself and in a news release accompanying it, AJCommittee emphasized that the survey of 1,160 adults in February was taken after the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had signed the Hebron agreement, transferring the bulk of the city to the Palestinians, but before the controversy over construction of a Jewish housing project at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem. The building, coupled with a suicide bomb attack on a cafe in Tel Aviv, brought Israeli-Palestinian relations to a screeching halt. According to David Singer, AJCommittee’s director of research, this year’s survey focused on a broader range of questions, including those related to domestic social and political issues and views of anti- Semitism. According to Singer, the main finding of the survey is the Jewish perception of anti-Semitism. There is a “significant gulf between mass Jewish opinion” and what social scientists have found with regard to the extent of anti-Semitism, Singer said. Among the findings related to anti-Semitism: * Ninety-five percent of American Jews believe that anti-Semitism in the United States is either a “very serious problem” or “somewhat of a problem.” * Jews perceive the religious right and Muslims as the most anti- Semitic groups. * Forty-seven percent of respondents disagree with the statement: “Virtually all positions of influence in the United States are open to Jews.” The study, released this week, found a correlation between views on anti-Semitism and personal characteristics of respondents. * Seventy-four percent of those who identified themselves as Reform Jews and 75 percent of those who said they were “just Jewish” answered that intermarriage was less of a threat than anti-Semitism. * The view that anti-Semitism was a problem was more prevalent among those who are older, have lower incomes or have less education. Some 43 to 44 percent of respondents over 40 years old said anti- Semitism is “a very serious problem,” compared with 34 percent of those under 40. In terms of income, 52 percent of those who make less than $30,000 backed that view, compared with 36 percent of those who make more than $50,000. Fifty-seven percent of those with a high school education or less agreed with that opinion, compared with 30 percent of those who have five years or more of higher education. On questions related to Jewish identity, 47 percent of those surveyed said that “being part of the Jewish people” was most important to their Jewish identity; 18 percent said “social justice” was; 16 percent cited “religious observance.” Seventy-one percent of American Jews said celebration of the Jewish holidays was “extremely important” or “very important.” Turning to Israel, the survey found that 61 percent of respondents were in favor of the Hebron agreement; Orthodox Jews were the only group with a majority opposed to the Hebron agreement. A majority of Orthodox Jews, however, support the Netanyahu government’s handling of the peace process. The survey was conducted for AJCommittee by Market Facts, Inc. between Feb. 3 and Feb. 11. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.