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Survey: Jews Fear Anti-semitism More Than They Do Intermarriage

December 19, 2001
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A decreasing number of American Jews views anti-Semitism as a “very serious problem” in the United States, but more continue to see anti-Semitism as a greater threat to Jewish life than intermarriage.

The findings are part of an annual opinion survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee. The survey has been conducted every year since 1997.

The study, with a margin of error of three percentage points, explores Jews’ political and social attitudes about a range of issues.

Among the highlights on anti-Semitism:

The number of Jews who view anti-Semitism as a “very serious problem” has declined to 26 percent from 32 percent last year and 40 percent in 1997. But 67 percent view it as “somewhat of a problem.”

Those who agree that “virtually all positions of influence in the United States are open to Jews” is growing, 59 percent, compared to 51 percent last year and in 1997.

Only 7 percent of American Jews say anti-Semitism is “not a problem at all,” a number consistent with previous findings.

Thirty-nine percent of Jews surveyed continue to expect anti-Semitism to increase in the United States in the coming years. Slightly under half expect it to remain the same. Those numbers echo previous AJCommittee survey findings.

Jews believe that Muslims, the religious right and Arabs are the American groups most likely to be anti- Semitic. Forty-four percent of Jews said most or many Muslims are anti-Semitic, while 46 percent said most or many Religious Right and 43 percent said most or many Arabs are anti-Semitic.

Only 5 percent believe most or many Asians are anti-Semitic and 19 percent believe most or many blacks are anti-Semitic.

When it comes to Jewish identity, the percentage of Jews for whom being Jewish is “very important” is declining somewhat, 48 percent, down from 59 percent last year.

This was the first year the number had dropped — in the past four years, the number had increased from 55 percent to 59 percent.

Another 38 percent said being Jewish is “fairly important.”

The survey also found with regard to Jewish identity:

Although only 5 percent of Jews listed support for Israel as the most important aspect of their Jewish identity, 72 percent agreed with the statement that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew” and 96 percent said they feel close to Israel.

While there were few dramatic changes in the denominations with which Jews identified, “Just Jewish” — with 33 percent — has become the largest category, and the only one that is growing. Both Conservative and Reform have hovered around 30 percent for the past five years, while Orthodoxy has fluctuated between 7 and 10 percent. The number identifying as Orthodox was 7 percent this year.

Some Jewish sociologists are cautioning against reading too much into changes in the survey’s findings this year, because they have fluctuated considerably from year to year.

Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research, said, “What’s important is not so much what’s going up or down by a few percent but the consistency of certain values.”

According to Tobin, the survey has shown two major themes in the past five years when it comes to identity and anti-Semitism: Jews feel close to Israel and it’s part of their identity, and “anti-Semitism is on the minds of American Jews.”

“In these questions you see typical Jewish anxiety,” he said.

David Singer, director of research for the AJCommittee, agreed.

“There’s an interesting split between the perceptions within the Jewish community at large and the overwhelming consensus of scholarly opinion,” Singer said.

“If you went to most scholars, they would say historically there has been a significant decline in anti-Semitism in the United States and Jews have entered the mainstream fully, but that is not the perception among American Jews at large.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said American Jews consistently report in surveys that while they believe conditions for Jews are improving in the United States, they “do not feel it’s secure.”

“After Sept. 11 and after Durban, Jews feel more vulnerable than they felt in a long time,” he said, referring to the United Nations racism conference earlier this year, where Israel was singled out as racist.

Indeed, a growing number of Jews see anti-Semitism as a greater threat than intermarriage.

Sixty-nine percent view anti-Semitism as the greater threat, whereas 27 percent view intermarriage as the greater threat. In 1997, 61 percent said anti-Semitism was the greater threat, while 32 percent saw intermarriage as the greater threat.

The numbers may indicate what appears to be a declining concern among rank and file Jews about intermarriage.

Indeed, last year’s AJCommittee survey found little opposition to intermarriage, with 78 percent of respondents saying rabbis should officiate at weddings between Jews and non-Jews.

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