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Poll Reveals Soviet People Have Mixed Feelings on Jews

March 15, 1991
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A comprehensive study of how Soviet citizens view Jews, Israel and Jewish issues has found that while substantial portions of the population hold positive attitudes, 56 percent agree that the Soviet Union “should be more resolute in fighting Zionism and Zionists in the USSR and all over the world.”

The survey, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, also found that despite their views on Zionism, 64 percent want the Soviet Union to restore diplomatic ties with Israel and 44 percent would like to visit Israel as tourists.

AJCommittee officials said this and other information gleaned from the survey of 3,712 Soviet citizens would be useful in monitoring trends, pinpointing potential problems and offering suggestions on Soviet educational programs.

They said the information about restoring diplomatic ties to Israel would be especially useful in countering official Soviet claims that this cannot be done because of opposition from the general public.

“Clearly this poll tells us that public opinion strongly supports such a step,” said David Harris, AJCommittee executive vice president. Israel and the Soviet Union recently established consular but not full diplomatic ties, 23 years after ties were broken.

Harris added that the apparent discrepancy between respondents’ views on restoring diplomatic ties to Israel and their general feelings on Zionism stemmed from the tendency of Soviet governments to use the word Zionism when they wanted to malign Jews.


“Zionism has successfully been portrayed by the enemies of Israel as a demonic ideology, and that view has taken root even by people considering themselves well-disposed to Israel,” said Harris. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

Harris said that the Soviet Union “has often used Zionism or Zionists as code words when they often meant Jews but wanted to avoid the appearance of anti-Semitism.”

The survey found that overall, 40 percent of respondents harbor some negative feelings toward Jews, with 10 percent strongly anti-Semitic and 2 percent openly hating Jews.

When asked how they generally viewed Jews, 61 percent said their attitude was “generally positive.” Jews are viewed more favorably than Uzbeks or African-Americans, according to the survey, but less favorably than Russians, the British and Germans.

Although the majority of respondents agree that Jews are generally hard workers, good family men, well-bred and educated, a majority or a plurality also hold negative stereotypes about Jews.

Forty-one percent say money means more to Jews than human relations, 61 percent believe Jews avoid physical labor and 63 percent agree Jews are richer than others.

While only 16 percent think Jews “must answer for killing Christ,” 34 percent disagreed and 50 percent said they did not know.

“There is much ignorance about Jews, including about the Holocaust, and we would encourage Soviet officials to try to reverse that, since a good part of the Holocaust took place by the Nazis on Soviet soil,” said Harris.

When people were asked how many Jews they believed died in the Holocaust, 74 percent said they did not know, and only 2 percent were able to give the figure of 6 million.

In an open-ended question asking which Jews have inflicted great harm on either the Soviet or other peoples, 87 percent could not name one, but Adolf Hitler showed up as sixth on the list of those named.

The survey, conducted last October by the Moscow-based Soviet Center for Public Opinion and Market Research and headed by scholar Tatyana Zaslavskaya, employed face-to-face interviews, a method that David Singer, AJCommittee’s director of research and publicaitons, said was unlikely to have resulted in less honest answers.

Referring to an earlier study conducted by Zaslavskaya on Soviet views of President Mikhail Gorbachev, Singer said respondents were more than willing to make negative comments, despite the use of face-to-face interviews.


“Soviet citizens, far from being shy, are delighted to have the opportunity to tell you what they think,” Singer said Thursday during a news conference at AJCommittee headquarters.

The survey polled people in 10 of the 15 Soviet republics, excluding those five with negligible numbers of Jews. The republics, ranked from greatest to least hostility expressed toward Jews included: Byelorussia, Moldavia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaidzhan, Russia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Lithuania.

The findings, broken down also by age, educational status, sex, occupation and religion, found that negative attitudes toward Jews are most frequently held by the elderly, those with low educational and occupational status, and those living in rural areas.

But Singer cautioned that even among highly educated professionals in urban areas, a certain anti-Semitic view was more prevalent than among people with only a secondary education.

“Indeed, such respondents constitute an actual majority of those who fall into the extreme anti-Semitic category: they are ideological anti-Semites with an intellectual bent,” according to the AJCommittee report on the survey.

The survey also found that a large majority, 83 percent, agree that Jews have the right to decide whether or not they want to stay in the Soviet Union.


Most respondents also exhibited neutral or sympathetic attitudes on why Jews were seeking to emigrate.

For example, 31 percent believe it is because Jews “want a better future for their children”; 24 percent picked “because of the economic crisis and high crime rate”; and 15 percent responded “because their national dignity is insulted and they are persecuted and threatened.”

But 36 percent believe such emigration weakens the national economy, 28 percent see it as undermining the country’s prestige and 28 percent think it encourages others to leave.

The survey also found that Jews are not the only ones seeking to leave: 16 percent of those interviewed expressed the desire to leave permanently — which translates into 45 million of the Soviet Union’s 280 million citizens.

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