More Than A Billion Anti-Semites?

Andrew Sullivan —  May 14 2014 @ 6:37pm

Bershidsky looks at a new survey:

It’s hard to believe that in 2014, 26 percent of the world’s population is anti-Semitic. That, however, is one of the findings of a poll the Anti-Defamation League conducted among 53,100 people in 102 countries, who were asked if they agreed with 11 anti-Semitic statements, including nuggets like, “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”; “Jews think they are better than other people”; and “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” To be counted among the 26 percent, one had to accept six of the 11.

The general finding is, however, a simplistic reflection of a highly varied global picture of ethnic and religious prejudice. The ADL study, the first one conducted on such a wide scale, picked up indications of anti-Semitism’s antipode, Islamophobia, and other related forms of bigotry, but did not go into too much detail on them. I suspect that if it had, global bigotry levels would have evened out at a higher number than 26 percent.

Jonathan Tobin calls the headline number “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.

But Jesse Singal points out some major flaws in the survey:

According to Ryan D. Enos, a political scientist at Harvard who studies inter-group relations, this sort of binary system is problematic. It “creates strange claims, such as a person that expresses these attitudes on five questions about Jewish stereotypes is okay, but a person that answers six affirmatively is an anti-Semite, same as a person that answers affirmatively on 11,” he wrote in an email. “Most people would think that is [a] strange way to label the people holding those attitudes.” Moreover, he argued, “researchers don’t tend to believe that people can usefully be split into people that simply either do or do not have prejudice against another group.” Prejudice “operates on a continuum, not [as] a yes or no.”

Jeni Kubota, an NYU researcher who studies stereotypes and prejudice (and who praised the report for the impressively large swath of the world it covered), pointed out that researchers generally allow for a range of responses on these sorts of questions so as to build a more nuanced view of respondents’ beliefs. “[A]n individual might STRONGLY support two of these statements,” she said in an email. “Would a score of 2 out of 11 mean that the individual was not anti-Semitic? I would argue no.” That makes it hard to interpret some of the results of the ADL study, she argued.