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Attitudes Toward Jews Improve, but Anti-semitic Incidents on the Rise

April 5, 2005
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Even as anti-Semitic attitudes become rarer in the United States, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased to the highest level in nine years. “Americans have come a long way in their attitudes toward Jews, but America is not immune to anti-Semitism,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which commissioned the poll.

Released Monday, the poll showed that 14 percent of Americans were deemed “anti-Semitic,” a three percent decrease from a 2002 poll. The poll also found that one in three Americans believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States, and 30 percent believe Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.

The ADL’s annual round-up of anti-Semitic incidents found a 17 percent increase in the number of cases in the United States in 2004. The audit found 1,821 incidents last year, compared to 1,557 incidents in 2003.

Though the numbers pale in comparison to the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, they do show that a small batch of extremists believe they have more latitude to commit attacks against Jews, Foxman said.

Taken together, the results suggest a greater appreciation for American Jews in general society, but a continuing acceptance of so-called “big lies” that have dogged Jews for decades, such as the loyalty question and the Christ-killer theory.

Both issues have been in the headlines in the past year. Many American Jewish leaders were concerned that Jews would be seen as more loyal to Israel than to the United States when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was accused of passing classified documents to the Jewish state last summer.

And many believed that Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” would heighten American perceptions that Jews killed Jesus.

“Well, he certainly didn’t help,” Foxman said of Gibson. Considering that one in four Americans believed that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death in 2002, Foxman suggested that the film solidified those views in some parts of the country and may have led to the five percentage-point increase.

Foxman said the Jewish community often has been unwilling to combat such perceptions of Jews because they do not want to give the views any legitimacy.

“I think we need to begin to deal with the loyalty issue, and not hide from it and believe it’s going to go away,” said Foxman, noting that the Jewish community had taken a proactive stance against Holocaust deniers.

The poll, conducted last month by the Marttila Communications Group, asked 1,600 Americans a series of questions about their views on Jews. People were considered “anti-Semitic” if they agreed with six or more of 11 statements, including “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today” and “Jews have a lot of irritating faults.”

The percentage of Americans who responded positively to all 11 statements either dropped or stayed the same since the last poll was taken. Only 15 percent of Americans said Jews hold too much power in the United States, down from 20 percent in 2002, and 15 percent also said Jews were more willing to use shady practices, down from 19 percent in 2002.

The poll has a 2.8 percent margin of error.

When compared to ADL polls commissioned in 2002, 1998 and 1992, the latest polls show a stabilization in the types of people who are considered anti-Semitic, which can help educators tailor their programs, Foxman said.

For example, adults over the age of 65 are twice as likely to be anti-Semitic as are younger Americans. That number has remained constant even as Americans have aged.

“It’s a natural tendency,” Foxman said, noting that senior citizens worry less about being politically correct. But concerns arise when older Americans teach their children and grandchildren anti-Semitic lessons that could undo positive messages the students receive in schools and society.

Similarly, the poll found that more educated people were less likely to be anti-Semitic. Only five percent of people with post-graduate degrees fell into the most anti-Semitic category, compared with 13 percent of college graduates and 35 percent of people with only a high-school degree.

“Education is a key, key convergence,” said John Marttila, the poll’s author.

The poll confirmed newly identified trends about American anti-Semitism. It found 29 percent of Hispanics polled held anti-Semitic views, but that foreign-born Hispanics were significantly more likely to be anti-Semitic than Hispanics born in the United States.

It also found that black Americans are four times as likely to be anti-Semitic than whites, by 36 percent to 9 percent. That number has remained relatively stable over the past 13 years.

Foxman said the Jewish community has had trouble convincing black leaders that there are anti-Semitic trends in their community, which has made it more difficult to combat such attitudes.

“In the African-American community, it continues to be a problem of leadership,” Foxman said. “Leadership unwilling to accept it and deal with it.”

Hispanic leaders have been more willing to accept that there is a problem and try to solve it, he said.

The poll also found a rise in perceptions of Jewish power in the United States. Among those deemed anti-Semitic, 90 percent believed Jews like to be in charge of things, and 82 percent believe Jews have too much power in business. Marttila said such views of Jewish power have replaced negative stereotypes of Jews as less honest and ethical in business.

Of those surveyed, 28 percent believed pro-Israel lobbying groups have too much influence over U.S. policy in the Middle East. More results about U.S. views on Israel will be released next week, timed to coincide with President Bush’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The audit found most anti-Semitic incidents at their highest level in the United States since 1995. The increase was caused by more organized neo-Nazi hate-group activity and a rise in anti-Jewish harassment in schools.

Foxman said “The Passion of the Christ” may have been responsible for some of the school incidents.

There were 1,177 incidents of harassment last year, a 27 percent increase, and 644 incidents of vandalism.

New York had the highest number of reported anti-Semitic incidents last year, with 350, a decrease of 14 from the previous year. New Jersey came in second with 297 incidents, followed by California with 237, Florida with 173 and Massachusetts with 128.

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