In an era when acceptance of Jews in virtually every facet of society in the United States is universal, discussions about anti-Semitism are often understandably shelved in favor of those about prejudice about other, less successful minority groups. But when one looks around the globe, it’s clear that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. Any doubts about that were removed by what may have been the most ambitious effort ever to quantify levels of prejudice. The international survey of attitudes toward Jews by the Anti-Defamation League published today has removed any doubt about the virulence of anti-Semitism.
The ADL Global 100 Index of Anti-Semitism is based on polls of adults in 101 countries plus the Palestinian territories. It contains few surprises, but confirms what has already been widely understood to be true about the persistence of bias against Jews. That 26 percent of all respondents across the globe agreed with at least six out of a list of 11 anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews is hardly remarkable. Nor is the fact that this hate is largely concentrated, but not exclusive to the Middle East and North Africa, where 74 percent hold such views, and is most prevalent among Muslims (49 percent worldwide and 75 percent in the Middle East and Africa), who are, ironically, held in even lower esteem by those polled than the Jews.
The survey did not directly establish whether the persistence and widespread nature of anti-Semitic attitudes could be directly linked to hostility to Israel. Indeed, some of the results may point in another direction since the people of Holland have one of the lowest indexes of anti-Semitic attitudes (5 percent) in the world while also harboring great hostility to Israel. Similarly, Iran has become Israel’s most virulent and potentially dangerous foe in the Middle East while actually having the lowest level of anti-Semitic views in the region, albeit a still alarmingly high rate of 56 percent.
Yet despite these anomalies (which can perhaps be explained by other factors), it is hardly possible to look at the map that charts these numbers without coming to the conclusion that the willingness to single out the one Jewish state on the planet for discriminatory treatment and to think it–alone of all nation states–deserves to be eliminated without understanding the strong link between levels of anti-Semitism and the war on Israel and the vital need to preserve that bulwark of Jewish existence against those who seek its destruction.
Among the fascinating details to be gleaned from this is the fact that 70 percent of those who hold anti-Semitic views have never met a Jew, most wildly overestimate the number of Jews in the world (instead of the fraction of a percent they invariably guess it to be vastly greater), and that more young people doubt the Holocaust while harboring fewer anti-Semitic views.
While the survey centered on several basic canards about Jews, such as Jewish power (including control over the media, finance, the U.S. government or starting wars) and those who hold such vile views generally do so without personal knowledge of Jews, Jewish history, or the Holocaust. Nor is it possible to draw a direct correlation between bad economies and hate since while a depressed Greece has the highest anti-Semitic rating in Europe at 69 percent, the generally prosperous people of South Korea (almost all of whom have never had any contact with Jews) have an ominous rating of 53 percent.
But while a deep dive into the numbers provides a fascinating look at the way the world thinks with often perplexing results, there is no doubt about one hard and fast conclusion: the grip of anti-Semitism on the inhabitants of Planet Earth 70 years after the Holocaust remains powerful and perhaps impervious to reason.
Why single out one of the world’s tiniest populations for such hatred? To that question, the survey offers no answer, as ADL head Abe Foxman admitted to the Wall Street Journal. Like traditional staples of anti-Semitism such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the justification for these noxious attitudes come from a variety of often contradictory frames of reference about Jewish activity, most of which are rooted in myth rather than reality.
Anti-Semitism has survived the death of European theocracies, Nazism, and Communism and metastasized into a belief system embraced by Muslims and Arabs, and remains a deadly force. Though some might claim that the existence of Israel and allegations about its behavior has become the single greatest motivating factor for anti-Semitism (judging by the survey, the Palestinians are the most anti-Semitic people on Earth), that assertion must be placed up against the fact that the attitudes that indicate hostility to Jews long predate the birth of the Jewish state or its coming into possession of the West Bank in 1967. Seen in that perspective, it’s clear that Israel is just the latest, albeit a vicious, excuse for Jew hatred. If not all those who hate Israel also embrace the full roster of anti-Semitic stereotypes, their willingness to embrace the war against the Jewish state demonstrates the way Jews remain the planet’s boogeyman and the objects of unthinking bias and potential violence.
Many Jews will look at these numbers and, no doubt, wonder how they can change the minds of the haters or adopt behaviors that will undercut the stereotypes. But whatever else it tells us, the survey is a reminder that anti-Semitism is about the minds of the anti-Semites and their desire to seek out a small group for hostility, not what the Jews do. Those who will seek to blame Israel or Jewish power for these numbers are deceiving both themselves and others. Anti-Semitism is an ancient belief system that can adapt itself to any set of circumstances or locale.
While the ADL and others will continue their work of seeking to educate the world against hate, until that seemingly futile task succeeds, Jews would do well to redouble their support for the Jewish state and to stand ready to defend it. There was no ADL survey in 1933 to tell us what we already knew about anti-Semitism as there is today. But all these years after the Holocaust and the subsequent rebirth of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, the necessity of the existence of Israel—a place where Jews can defend themselves against the haters and shelter those in need—is no less an imperative for being the obvious verdict of history.