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Antisemitism in the United States

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Jewish Americans have flourished in the United States, enjoying freedom and opportunity that have not been afforded to them in other countries. However, like other minorities, Jewish Americans have also suffered prejudice and oppression, especially during times of economic hardship or war. During World War I and the Great Depression, Jews were often targeted as scapegoats.

Antisemitism in the United States has always been less prevalent and less severe than its counterpart in Europe. Moreover, its occurrence has been on a generally decreasing trend since the end of World War II. However, antisemitism continues to exist among a minority of the American populace (about 14%).

In the United States, most Jewish community relations agencies draw a distinction between antisemitism which is measured in terms of attitudes and behaviors and the security and status of American Jews which is measured by specific incidents. While antisemitic attitudes and behaviors have been on a general downward trend, there has been an upward spike in antisemitic incidents, a trend which has been disturbing to Jewish community relations agencies. In addition, some scholars have commented on a perception that has grown during the past decade that there is a greater expression of both behavioral and attitudinal antisemitism than is reflected in the data collected and assessed by experts in the field.

American attitudes towards Jews

Polls and studies over the past two decades point to a steady decrease in antisemitic attitudes, beliefs, and manifestations among the American public. A 1992 survey by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith showed that 20 percent of Americans—between 30 to 40 million adults—held antisemitic views, as against 29 percent in 1964. However, another survey by the same organization concerning antisemitic incidents shows that the curve has risen without interruption since 1986.

The number of Americans holding antisemitic views declined markedly six years later when another ADL study classified only 12 percent of the population—between 20 to 25 million adults—as "most anti-Semitic." Confirming the findings of previous surveys, both studies also found that African Americans were significantly more likely than whites to hold anti-Semitic views, with 34 percent of blacks classified as "most anti-Semitic," compared to 9 percent of whites in 1998.

The 2005 Survey of American Attitudes Towards Jews in America, a national poll of 1,600 American adults conducted in March 2005, found that 14 % of Americans - or nearly 35 million adults - hold views about Jews that are "unquestionably anti-Semitic," compared to 17% in 2002, Previous ADL surveys over the last decade had indicated that anti-Semitism was in decline. In 1998, the number of Americans with hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs had dropped to 12% from 20 % in 1992.

"What concerns us is that many of the gains we had seen in building a more tolerant and accepting America seem not to have taken hold as firmly as we had hoped," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "While there are many factors at play, the findings suggest that anti-Semitic beliefs endure and resonate with a substantial segment of the population, nearly 35 million people."

The 2005 survey found "35 percent of foreign-born Hispanics"36 percent of African-Americans hold strong antisemitic beliefs, four times more than the 9 percent for whites".[1]

The 2005 Anti-Defamation League survey includes data on Hispanic attitudes, with 29% being most antisemitic (vs. 9% for whites and 36% for blacks); being born in the United States helped alleviate this attitude: 35% of foreign-born Hispanics, but only 19% of those born in the US.[1]

The survey findings come at a time of increased anti-Semitic activity in America. The 2004 ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents reported that anti-Semitic incidents reached their highest level in nine years. A total of 1,821 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in 2004, an increase of 17 percent over the 1,557 incidents reported during 2003.[2]

A 2009 study entitled "Modern Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Attitudes", published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009, tested new theoretical model of anti-Semitism among Americans in the Greater New York area with 3 experiments. The research team's theoretical model proposed that mortality salience (reminding people that they will someday die) increases anti-Semitism and that anti-Semitism is often expressed as anti-Israel attitudes. The first experiment showed that mortality salience led to higher levels of anti-Semitism and lower levels of support for Israel. The study’s methodology was designed to tease out anti-Semitic attitudes that are concealed by polite people . The second experiment showed that mortality salience caused people to perceive Israel as very important, but did not cause them to perceive any other country this way. The third experiment showed that mortality salience led to a desire to punish Israel for human rights violations but not to a desire to punish Russia or India for identical human rights violations. According to the researchers, their results “suggest that Jews constitute a unique cultural threat to many people’s worldviews, that anti-Semitism causes hostility to Israel, and that hostility to Israel may feed back to increase anti-Semitism.” Furthermore, "those claiming that there is no connection between antisemitism and hostility toward Israel are wrong."[3]

Antisemitic incidents

However, another survey by the Anti-Defamation League showed that the number of antisemitic incidents has risen continuously since 1986 with only one decline in 1992. One explanation for the seeming contradiction between the two sets of data is, on the one hand, an increase in the rate of general violence in the United States and the emergence of groups such as the skinheads, and, on the other hand, an intensification of anti-Jewish hostility among African Americans.

Escalating hate crimes targeting Jews and other minority groups prompted passage of the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990 and spurred 41 state legislatures, as of 1998, to enact a patchwork of laws providing for police training about bias crimes, stiffer jail terms for perpetrators, and mandatory hate-crimes data collection by law enforcement. From 1979 to 1989 the ADL recorded more than 9,617 anti-Semitic incidents, including 6,400 cases of vandalism, bombings and attempted bombings, arsons and attempted arsons, and cemetery desecrations. The tally peaked at 2,066 in 1994, but declined over the next three years, consistent with the downward trend in national crime statistics. According to 1996 Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, of 8,759 hate crimes recorded that year, 13 percent were anti-Semitic.

Holocaust denial

One of the most pernicious new forms of anti-Semitism is the denial of the facts of the Holocaust by revisionist historians and neo-Nazis.[4] Holocaust denial serves as a powerful conspiracy theory uniting otherwise disparate fringe groups (e.g., Liberty Lobby, various Klan factions, neo-Nazis, the Aryan Nations and other Identity groups, racist skinheads, etc.).

Antisemitic organizations

There are a number of antisemitic organizations in the United States, some of them violent, that emphasize Aryan white supremacy. These include the Christian Identity Churches, the Aryan-White Resistance, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazis, and gangs of skinheads. Several fundamentalist churches also preach antisemitic messages.

The 1998 ADL survey also found a correlation between anti-Semitism and sympathy for right-wing antigovernment groups. Although anti-Semitism has declined over the past 35 years, the activities of some anti-Semitic groups have intensified. From 1974 to 1979, membership in the Ku Klux Klan rose from a historic all-time low of 1,500 to 11,500, and throughout the 1980s various Klan factions allied themselves with more explicitly neo-Nazi groups like the Aryan Nations (see neo-Nazi movements).

The founding (1979) of the California-based Institute for Holocaust Review helped popularize the anti-Semitic notion that the Holocaust was a hoax. During the mid-1980s, groups like the Posse Comitatus (organization) espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric. From 1986 to 1991 the numbers of neo-Nazi skinheads grew tenfold, reaching approximately 3,500 distributed among more than 35 cities. And the mid-1990s saw the formation of paramilitary citizens' "militias" (see militia movement), many of which were accused of circulating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and preaching religious bigotry.

Organized hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi organizations remain unremitting sources of anti-Jewish hostility and significant factors in assessing the intensity of anti-Semitism in America today.

There are instances in which hate group members and associates engage in violence or vandalism to fulfill the aims of the hate groups themselves. Relative to the total number of incidents committed in America, such examples are rare. In addition, there is the potential for hate group propaganda-particularly the most vicious and incendiary examples-to inspire unaffiliated individuals to commit acts of terror in pursuit of their own aims. Such acts are also relatively rare. However, the propaganda produced by the myriad of American hate groups can potentially affect the impressionable young, the disaffected, and those looking for a scapegoat to explain away their problems. Thus, a culture of hate, shielded by First Amendment protections, exists on the fringes of American society.

African-American community

In spite of the strong Jewish participation in the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Black power movement introduced considerable friction into African American-Jewish relations, especially when a native form of Islam attracted African Americans in search of an identity, while part of the Muslim world was at war with the Jewish state.

In a 1967 New York Times Magazine article entitled "Negroes are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White," the famous African-American author James Baldwin sought to explain the prevalence of black antisemitism.[5] Recent data, however, suggest that the phenomenon is more complex and not necessarily that well understood. As with the broader public, the overall level of antisemitism among blacks has declined over the last three decades, but the decline has been slower among blacks than among whites. And, although the 1998 ADL survey found a strong correlation between education level and antisemitism among African Americans, blacks at all education levels were still more likely than whites to accept anti-Jewish stereotypes. These have figured prominently in the rhetoric of some black leaders, most notably the influential Louis Farrakhan.

According to Anti-Defamation League surveys begun in 1964, African Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to hold antisemitic beliefs, although there is a strong correlation between education level and the rejection of antisemitic stereotypes for all races. However, black Americans of all education levels are nevertheless significantly more likely than whites of the same education level to be antisemitic. In the 1998 survey, blacks (34%) were nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to fall into the most antisemitic category (those agreeing with at least 6 of 11 statements that were potentially or clearly antisemitic). Among blacks with no college education, 43% fell into the most antisemitic group (vs. 18% for the general population), which fell to 27% among blacks with some college education, and 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree (vs. 5% for the general population).[6]

Nation of Islam

A number of Jewish organizations, Christian organizations, Muslim organizations, and academics consider the Nation of Islam to be antisemitic. Specifically, they claim that the Nation Of Islam has engaged in revisionist and antisemitic interpretations of the Holocaust and exaggerates the role of Jews in the African slave trade.[7] The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) alleges that NOI Health Minister, Abdul Alim Muhammad, has accused Jewish doctors of injecting Blacks with the AIDS virus,[8] an allegation that Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad has denied.

The Nation of Islam has repeatedly denied charges of antisemitism,[9] and NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan has stated, "The ADL... uses the term 'anti-Semitism' to stifle all criticism of Zionism and the Zionist policies of the State of Israel and also to stifle all legitimate criticism of the errant behavior of some Jewish people toward the non-Jewish population of the earth."[10]


David Duke

One politician who has promoted himself by pandering to the antisemitic feelings of the public is David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member who was elected to the Louisiana state legislature in 1989 and, in 1992, offered his candidacy for the governorship of Louisiana and the Presidency of the United States. In the gubernatorial elections, Duke obtained a majority of the white vote in Louisiana but a minority of the total vote. In the 1992 Republican presidential primaries, he performed poorly and quickly dropped out of the race.

College campuses

On April 3, 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced its finding that incidents of antisemitism are a "serious problem" on college campuses throughout the United States. The Commission recommended that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights protect college students from antisemitism through vigorous enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and further recommended that Congress clarify that Title VI applies to discrimination against Jewish students.[11] According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, political activity focused on the Middle East on American college campuses "is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state."[12]

New antisemitism

In recent years some scholars have advanced the concept of New antisemitism, coming simultaneously from the Far Left, the far right, and radical Islam, which tends to focus on opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel, and argue that the language of Anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are used to attack the Jews more broadly. In this view, the proponents of the new concept believe that criticisms of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, and attribute this to antisemitism.[13]

In the context of the "Global War on Terrorism" there have been statements by both the Democrat Ernest Hollings and the Republican Pat Buchanan that suggest that the George W. Bush administration went to war in order to win Jewish supporters. Some note these statements echo Lindberg’s 1941 claim before the US entered World War II that a Jewish minority was pushing America into a war against its interests.[14] During 2004, a number of prominent public figures accused Jewish members of the Bush administration of tricking America into war against Saddam Hussein to help Israel. U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina) claimed that the US action against Saddam was undertaken 'to secure Israel.' Television talk show host Pat Buchanan said a 'cabal' had managed 'to snare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests.'" [15] Hollings wrote an editorial in the May 6, 2004 Charleston Post and Courier, where he argued that Bush invaded Iraq possibly because "spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats."

Hate crimes

Escalating hate crimes targeting Jews and other minority groups prompted passage of the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990 and spurred 41 state legislatures, as of 1998, to enact a patchwork of laws providing for police training about bias crimes, stiffer jail terms for perpetrators, and mandatory hate-crimes data collection by law enforcement. From 1979 to 1989 the ADL recorded more than 9,617 anti-Semitic incidents, including 6,400 cases of vandalism, bombings and attempted bombings, arsons and attempted arsons, and cemetery desecrations. The tally peaked at 2,066 in 1994, but declined over the next three years, consistent with the downward trend in national crime statistics. According to 1996 Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, of 8,759 hate crimes recorded that year, 13 percent were antisemitic.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "ADL Survey: Anti-Semitism In America Remains Constant; 14 Percent Of Americans Hold 'Strong' Anti-Semitic Beliefs". 
  2. "ADL Audit: Anti-Semitic Incidents At Highest Level in Nine Years". 
  3. Modern Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Attitudes, Florette Cohen, Department of Psychology, The College of Staten Island, City University New York; Lee Jussim, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick; Kent D. Harber, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, Newark; Gautam Bhasin, Department of Counseling, Columbia Teacher’s College, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2009, Vol. 97, No. 2, 290–306 [1]
  4. Antisemitism In The Contemporary World. Edited by Michael Curtis. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1986, 333 pp., $42.50. ISBN 0-81330157-2.
  5. "To what degree does Anti-Semitism among African Americans simply reflect Anti-White sentiment?". 
  6. "Anti-Semitism and Prejudice in America: Highlights from an ADL Survey - November 1998", Anti-Defamation League, accessed March 12, 2006.
  7. H-Antisemitism Occasional Papers, NO. 1M
  8. Nation of Islam
  9. Farrakhan and the Jewish Rift; A Historic Reference
  10. The Final Call, February 16, 1994
  11. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Findings and Recommendations Regarding Campus AntisemitismPDF (19.3 KiB). April 3, 2006
  12. On Campus: The Pro-Palestinian's Real Agenda, March 24, Khaled Abu Toameh, []
  13. Sources for the following are:
  14. "The echoes of Lindbergh's 1941 speech charging 'the Jews' with dragging America into war can be heard in our own time.
  15. Rafael Medoff, President Lindbergh? Roth's New Novel Raises Questions About Antisemitism in the 1940s--and Today, David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, September 2004. Retrieved June 20, 2007.

Further reading

  • Buckley, William F. In Search of Anti-Semitism New York: Continuum, 1992.
  • Carr, Steven Alan. Hollywood and anti-Semitism: A cultural history up to World War II, Cambridge University Press 2001.
  • Dershowitz, Alan M. Chutzpah 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown, c1991.
  • Dinnerstein, Leonard. Antisemitism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Dinnerstein, Leonard. Uneasy at Home: Antisemitism and the American Jewish Experience. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
  • Dolan, Edward F. Anti-Semitism. New York: F. Watts, 1985.
  • Extremism on the Right: A Handbook. New revised edition. New York: Anti Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1988.
  • Flynn, Kevin J. and Gary Gerhardt. The Silent Brotherhood: Inside America's Racist Underground. New York: Free Press ; London : Collier Macmillan, c1989.
  • Ginsberg, Benjamin. The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c1993.
  • Hate Groups in America: a Record of Bigotry and Violence. New rev. ed. New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, c1988.
  • Hirsch, Herbert and Jack D. Spiro, eds. Persistent Prejudice: Perspectives on Anti-Semitism. Fairfax, Va.: George Mason University Press; Lanham, MD: Distributed by arrangement with University Pub. Associates, c1988.
  • Jaher, Frederic Cople. A Scapegoat in the Wilderness: The Origins and Rise of Anti-Semitism in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.
  • Lang, Susan S. Extremist Groups in America. New York: F. Watts, 1990. Lee, Albert. Henry Ford and the Jews. New York: Stein and Day, 1980.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah E.Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Free Press; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, c1993.
  • Rausch, David A. Fundamentalist-evangelicals and Anti-semitism. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1993.
  • Ridgeway, James. Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads and the Rise of a New White Culture. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990.
  • Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America, 2004
  • Tobin, Gary A. and Sharon L. Sassler. Jewish Perceptions of Antisemitism. New York: Plenum Press, c1988.
  • Volkman, Ernest. A Legacy of Hate: Anti-Semitism in America. New York: F. Watts, 1982.

External links

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