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Scholars Report Massive Decrease of Overt Anti-semitism in U.s.a.

October 31, 1966
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A number of the nation’s leading social scientists were disclosed today to have agreed that there has been a massive reduction of overt anti-Semitism in the United States since the end of World War II. However, they disagreed over whether widespread hostility against Jews is likely to recur in this country.

These conclusions are reported in a book-length study, “Jews in the Mind of America,” made public here at the concluding session of a three-day meeting held by the national executive board of the American Jewish Committee. Published jointly by Basic Books and the Committee’s Institute of Human Relations Press, the book includes a preface by Dr. John Slawson, the organization’s executive vice-president, who presented the study to the board.

Some of the scholars held that anti-Semitism, like other group hatreds, is virtually a closed chapter in the United States and will not happen again. Others argued that, despite the recent improvement, the attitude of the non-Jewish majority will continue to alternate between acceptance and rejection of Jews because a considerable amount of latent anti-Semitism remains among the American people.

The first of the study’s two sections, prepared by Charles H. Stember, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, with contributions by Prof. Benjamin B. Ringer of Hunter College, traced the trend of attitudes toward Jews and Judaism from 1937 to 1963, as reflected in nationwide public opinion polls sponsored by the AJ Committee and other groups. The Committee said it was the largest and most varied body of information ever assembled on the topic.

One of the main findings is that overt anti-Semitism has declined sharply since a peak in about 1944. Both hostile stereotypes and unwillingness to associate with Jews have shown a marked decline. Jews are increasingly seen as individuals rather than as a special kind of people with fixed qualities. Another conclusion is that more Americans view Jews as members of a religious group than they did a generation ago, and fewer hold the mistaken idea that Jews are a race.


Another finding is that some degree of latent and ingrained prejudice remains and could be activated by a major upheaval or crisis in American society. The study noted, however, that such postwar developments as the establishment of Israel, the Korean War, the atomic spy trials, the Sinai campaign and the intensification of the civil rights movement have failed to do this.

The second part is comprised of analytical essays on Prof. Stember’s findings by historians, sociologists and social psychologists. Prof. John Higham of the University of Michigan asserted that anti-Semitism was a passing phase in the acculturation of Jewish immigrants, a development analogous to the acculturation problems suffered by other alien newcomers. Prof. Morton Keller of Brandeis University expressed general agreement saying that the decline of anti-Semitism was “part of a general triumph of the principles and practices of cultural pluralism.”

Prof. Robin Williams Jr. of Cornell University cited a growing resemblance between Jews and other Americans and commented that when people are asked to describe Americans, “they often use the same adjectives as for the stereotype Jew: ambitious, active, industrious, aggressive, and so on.” He added that if one considered the historic stereotype of the Yankee and the Jew, and removed “the labels,” it is hard to know which is being talked about.” Among scholars who took a less optimistic view were Professors Thomas F. O’Dea of Columbia University, Dennis H. Wrong of New York University and Robert Gutman of Rutgers University.


The most pessimistic view was expressed by Prof. Ben Halpern, of Brandeis University, who contended that, in the final analysis, the United States was no different from other countries in attitudes toward Jews, and that American anti-Semitism was one example of the perennial ambivalence of Christians toward Jews — the uneasy balance of tolerance and rejection which, he declared, Christians have maintained, which has usually fallen short of acceptance on the one hand and genocide on the other. He asserted that acceptance of Judaism as an “American faith,” when voiced by Christians, frequently implies “a degree of confidence that Judaism is progressing toward submergence.”

Prof. Thomas R. Pettigrew, of Harvard University, compared prejudice against Negroes and Jews and said both categories of bias had declined steadily from a peak near the end of World War II.

The growing willingness of Americans to associate with American Jews was documented in data reported by Prof. Stember. He cited the widespread disapproval of restrictive quotas on admission of Jewish applicants to colleges, which were widely approved in the 1940’s; the steadily increasing number of respondents expressing willingness of their children to associate with Jewish children and the virtual unanimity of public readiness from the late 1940’s on, to work in association with Jews.

By the early 1960’s, “an overwhelming majority of Americans appeared ready to accept individual Jews as next-door neighbors. Another finding was that among non-Jews, sentiment against intermarriage waned between 1950 and 1962 and “acceptance of Jews as marriage partners increased at about the same rate as did acceptance of Jewish employees, fellow students and neighbors.” The data also showed that the decline of anti-Semitism seems to have been somewhat greater among women, younger people, city dwellers, Easterners, Catholics and persons of high income than among their opposite numbers.


Other major developments in the proceedings before the executive board’s annual meeting included:

An address by Morris B. Abram, president of the Committee, who called on Americans in the North to resist the “white backlash.” He declared that “the proportion of Jews who are backlashing is much smaller than that of Catholics and Protestants,” stating that the reason for this fact lies in “Jewish predisposition toward civil rights.”

An announcement by Dr. Slawson that “increasing concern of American Jews about the problem of the cities” has been reflected by the Committee’s establishment of a department of education and urban planning, headed by Irving M. Levine. For the past two years, Mr. Levine has been the AJC’s director of community relations for the New York area.

A report by Theodore Ellenoff, vice-president of the New York chapter and chairman of its civil rights committee, showing top management’s of New York City’s 50 mutual savings banks have increased the number of their Jewish trustees by one-third since the AJC had revealed a year ago that those banks were engaging in “de facto discrimination against Jews. Eight new Jewish trustees, he reported, had been added to the 22 serving a year ago. However, he noted, “the 1965 figure of less than 2,5 percent of Jewish executives among the 400 working for the city’s mutual savings banks remain the same as last year.”

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