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2017 Annual Assessment

JPPI’s Annual Assessment this year addresses the tension between nationalism and globalization. In the Assessment’s various chapters, we have examined the implications of the nationalist backlash in the economic, geopolitical, and cultural arenas.

Although still a marginal phenomenon of the conservative backlash, the so called alt-right is a noteworthy cause of Jewish concern. One primary question and two secondary ones have fueled debate:

  1. Is the emergence of the alt-right a transitory fringe phenomenon or the beginning of a cultural backlash that will imperil 70 years of Jewish prosperity and successful social integration in America?
  2. Can the white supremacists imprint their anti-Semitic rhetoric on the white, blue-collar disenfranchised masses who view themselves as having suffered from economic globalization and may be susceptible to scapegoating the Jews and other minority groups?
  3. Is President Trump’s relatively complaisant attitude toward this movement a sign of support, or only lip service to one of his most ardent bases of political support?

The events in Charlottesville on August 12 were symptomatic of a century-long cultural war that pits two visions of America against each other – the vision of the immigrant friendly “melting pot” with its attending notions of equality and tolerance versus the nativist ideal of an America free from foreign entanglements abroad and foreign influences domestically. It will not be easily resolved, and no one currently knows the answer to the three questions asked above. Unable to determine absolutely the validity of differing views concerning these questions, our role will be to provide a similar integrated methodology for measuring American anti-Semitism. Given the inherent differences from European anti-Semitism, we will keep these analyses separate and provide Jewish professionals and organizational leaders with a tool to assist their decision-making.

The JPPI integrated anti-Semitism index relates as mentioned to three dimensions:
Dimension 1: Public opinion and attitudes toward Jews.

Dimension 2: Anti-Semitic incidents of different sorts (extreme violence, assault, vandalism and desecration of Jewish property, threats, abusive behavior, literature), including harassment in the cyber sphere.

Dimension 3: Anti-Semitism as perceived by Jews.

Data exist for both the first dimension (ADL and Pew reports) and the second one. Systematic data for the third dimension, which relates to the degree of anxiety about anti-Semitism among American Jews, is definitively lacking. We will, therefore, utilize indirect information sources and our key recommendation will be to produce systematic data, possibly inspired by the work of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

Dimension 1: Public opinion toward Jews

According to ADL findings, 9 percent of American adults in 2014 and 10 percent in 2015 harbored anti-Semitic attitudes. According to the Pew Research Center (2014), half of U.S. adults rate Jews “very warmly” (over 67 percent on the Pew “feeling thermometer”). Only 9 percent of U.S. adults rate Jews “very coldly” (under 33 percent on the Pew thermometer). Assuredly, the Pew data and the ADL data converge.13

Dimension 2: Anti-Semitic incidents

Data from an ADL audit show that Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged in 2016-17.14

Dimension 3: Anti-Semitism as perceived by Jews

We cite below findings from an AJC poll conducted late this summer. It seems likely that poll responses reflect the perceptionamong Jews that after years of total unacceptability ofanti-Semitism in the public discourse, a new space, how ever marginal it may be, has opened to countenance it.This concern has become heightened in the wake of the polarization that emerged following the U.S. presidential election. The events in Charlottesville with the media storm of torch bearing neo-Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us,”fomented aspike ofdisquiet.

AJC’s August 2017 Survey of American Jewish Opinion included two questions related to the issue.15 To the question: “Is anti-Semitism currently a problem in the United States?” 84 percent of respondents answered affirmatively (it is a very serious problem [41 percent]; or somewhat of a problem [43 percent]).

To the question: “Is anti-Semitism currently a problem on in the American college campus?” 69 percent of respondents answered affirmatively (it is a very serious problem [29 percent] or somewhat of a problem [40 percent]). In the survey of August 2015, there was no general question about anti-Semitism in the United States (the fact that a general question was added in 2016 and 2017 may indicate that the anxiety is on the rise), but it did include the question regarding campuses as well as two questions about anti-Semitism in Europe. In 2016 the anti-Semitism on the American college campus question was answered affirmatively (23 percent said it was a serious problem, and 34 percent that it was somewhat of a problem, for a total of 57 percent). In 2015, the total was 74.2 percent (53.8 and 20.4 percent respectively). As this counterintuitive decrease (from 74.2 in 2015 to 57 percent in 2016) occurred without any noticeable structural change, we may suppose that the more concrete emergence of alt-right anti-Semitism eclipsed the campus issue. In 2015, anti-Semitism was a less acute issue for American Jews, addressed through the wide-angle campus lens, and through the telephoto lens trained on distant Europe. Indeed, in 2015, 89.9 percent of respondents were worried about developing anti-Semitism on the old continent.16 As the main anti-Semitism on campuses has traditionally been attributed to a relatively small number of activists on the political left and from the BDS movement, the decrease may indicate that the greater visibility of alt-right anti-Semitism worries respondents more than the familiar leftist anti-Semitism.

The integrated index illustrates the fact that both anti-Semitic incidents and anxiety among American Jews about anti-Semitism seem to be on the rise. As we will follow the evolution of the index and obtain reliable data on anti-Semitism as perceived by American Jews, we hope to be able to elaborate concrete directions for action.