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2019 Annual Assessment

As they are few available data about the perceptions of the anti-Semitism among the US Jews (In Table 2 above, the results of the few questions on the subject from the American Jewish committee 2018 survey are shown), JPPI has decided to launch a short had-hoc survey among a selected group of rabbis and community leaders to collect their perceptions of the developments of a possible anti-Jewish sentiment among non-Jews in their specific neighborhood, to assess their worries about possible negative developments (harassment, violence, physical attacks) and their assessment of the impact of the increased anti-Semitism (including the recent deadly shootings) to the participation to the communal life. Altogether, some 180 respondents answered the survey and we are presenting below some of the results.

The survey was administered to a broad group of Jewish lay leaders (N=136) and then to a group of 44 rabbis in addition. The desire for a rapid response to immediate events militated against designing a survey that would yield clinically rigorous statistical output. Nevertheless, the results do reflect several broad areas of shared sentiment. There is a clear sense that something has changed in North America compared to five years ago. The responses were weighted toward the choices indicating that these changes have been considerable and not just a perceptible shift from prior patterns. Several phenomena ranging from anti-Semitic graffiti, desecrations, vandalism to hostile expressions were claimed to have been directly observed by 20-55 percent of respondents. More than half of both survey respondents observed what they considered to be anti-Semitic expression in the traditional media. Numbers were higher when asked about political life or internet and social media. However, in the US, anti-Israel sentiment may not be as much of a driver or cover for anti-Semitic expression as appears to be the case in Europe. When asked whether “the Arab-Israeli conflict affect[s] how safe you feel as a Jewish person”, three-quarters of all respondents answered either “Not at all” or “A little”. An even higher share answered “Never” or “Occasionally” to the question, “Do you ever feel that people accuse or blame you for actions of the Israeli government because you are Jewish?” (as opposed to the other choices of “Frequently” or “All the time.”)

Another difference from what the perceptions within some European Jewish communities is that there is a strong feeling among the laity and the religious establishment that local governments “[respond] adequately to the security needs of Jewish communities.” More than half of the general sample and 75 percent of the rabbis answer this question “Yes, definitely”. They are less certain that these local governments, mostly city and county, are capable of combatting antisemitism effectively. This may well reflect that these jurisdictions have really not needed to confront the attendant issues for a half century and more and did not by and large consider the phenomenon as a societal problem before that. The biggest divergence in views among the laity and rabbis is in characterizing the primal cause for the recent increase in attacks and mass killings in churches, synagogues and mosques. The laity puts more weight on explanations resting at least in part on a rise in antisemitism while over 60 percent of the rabbis (responding to a slightly different set of choices)25 lay the blame on the general increase in mass murder in the US.

What may be considered the bottom line finding, perhaps reflective of the perceived trust in the authorities’ ability and willingness to prevent physical harm, is that among the laity two-thirds are either “Not at all worried” or “Not very worried” that “in the next 12 months [they] or a person close to [them] will be the victim of harassment or physical attack because they are Jewish”. Despite the changes in perception of threat attested to in the survey responses, more than 80 percent of the laity and an even larger share of rabbis “never avoid certain places or locations…because [they] don’t feel safe there as a Jew.” And while a third of the laity worries about a possible “decrease in the number of participants [in Jewish communal life] in the coming year for fear of a possible anti-Jewish incident,” only one respondent among the 44 rabbis answered yes with three-quarters responding “No.”. These may be the key indicators to be scrutinized most closely over the coming years to gauge the changing sentiments of North American Jews.

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