A new national study shows a massive split between Jews and the general American public when it comes to views of antisemitism in this country.
The American Jewish Committee’s State of Antisemitism in America 2020 report found that Jews and non-Jews disagree significantly on whether antisemitism has increased, nearly half of Americans are unknowledgeable about antisemitism, and non-Jews don’t believe that Jews’ views should be taken into account when it comes to considering something anti-Semitic.
“This survey shows that American Jews view antisemitism as a clear and present danger. A single fix isn’t sufficient,” said Jacob Millner, the director of AJC Minneapolis-St. Paul. “We, Jews and non-Jews, need to employ a multi-pronged response to combat rising antisemitism in the United States.”
The AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2020 report is made up of two surveys: one of American Jews and one of the general public. The Jewish survey is the second annual comprehensive poll of American Jews on their perceptions and experiences of antisemitism in the United States. The survey of the general public is the first conducted by AJC on the subject.
While eight in ten American Jews (82 percent) say antisemitism has increased in the past five years, only four in ten members of the general public (43 percent) believe it has escalated.
Seven out of ten Americans (72 percent) said if a Jewish person or organization considered a statement or idea to be antisemitic, it would either not make a difference (65 percent) or actually make them less likely (7 percent) to consider it antisemitic.
“What American Jews and the general public are saying in these surveys, for us, is a clarion call for a stepped-up, multi-pronged response to rising antisemitism in the United States,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “That nearly half of the American population does not even seem to know what antisemitism is can only increase American Jews’ concern about their own security and well-being.”
Unfamiliarity With Anti-Semitism
Twenty-one percent of Americans have never heard the term antisemitism and 25 percent saying that while they have heard it, they are not sure what it means – compared to just over half of the population who have heard of it and know what it means.
The survey found that familiarity with the term antisemitism is linked to education levels. Seventy-nine percent of college graduates know what it means, compared with 58 percent of those with some college experience, and just 27 percent of those with a high school diploma or less education. Those who say they never heard the word antisemitism are 36 percent of respondents who have a high school diploma or less education, 14 percent of those with some college education, and 9 percent of college graduates.
Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) American Jews think antisemitism is a problem in the United States, 63 percent of the general public agrees.
Looking back over the past five years, more than four out of every five Jewish respondents (82 percent) say antisemitism has increased during that period, compared to only 43 percent of U.S. adults who say so, with 14 percent of Jews and 39 percent of U.S. adults saying it has stayed the same.
The number of American Jews who say they have avoided certain places or events out of concern for their safety as Jews increased to one in three (31 percent) from one in four (25 percent) in the 2019 AJC survey. Fifty-five percent of Orthodox, 43 percent of Conservative, 33 percent of Reform, 32 percent of Reconstructionist, and 24 percent of Secular Jews answered yes in the 2020 survey to taking such preventative measures.
Twenty-four percent of American Jews say they have avoided publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying items that might identify them as Jews since the Tree of Life shooting in October 2018.
More than one in three American Jews (37 percent) reported being the target of an antisemitic incident, such as a physical attack or an antisemitic remark online or in person, by mail, or by phone, in the past five years. But, as in 2019, three-fourths of the Jewish respondents who were targeted (76 percent in 2020, 75 percent in 2019) did not report the incident. More than four in ten (43 percent) Jewish young people between the ages of 18 and 29 say they have either personally experienced antisemitism on a college campus or know someone who has.
Overall, 52 percent of American Jews say the status of Jews in the U.S. is about the same as it was a year ago, while 43 percent say it is less secure, and only 4 percent say it is more secure. The view of Jewish security is consistent among the various denominations of Judaism. Forty-five percent of Orthodox, 46 percent of Conservative, 43 percent of Reform, 48 percent of Reconstructionist, and 42 percent of Secular Jews say they are less secure, while 53 percent of Orthodox, 45 percent of Conservative, 50 percent of Reform, 51 percent of Reconstructionist, and 54 percent of Secular say the status of Jews is about the same as a year ago.
The AJC surveys found a large discrepancy between Jews and the general U.S. population in viewing what constitutes acts of antisemitism. While nearly half (48 percent) of U.S. adults say they have witnessed at least one antisemitic incident in the past five years, their evaluation of what is and is not antisemitic does not appear to be influenced by Jewish organizations or individuals.
Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of U.S. adults said it would make no difference in their opinion of a given statement or idea if a Jewish individual or an organization considered it to be antisemitic. Only 25 percent said that this would make them more likely to consider that idea or statement antisemitic.
Respondents to both surveys were read three statements related to Israel and asked to indicate it they thought the statement was antisemitic or not.
- 85 percent of the American Jews and 74 percent of the general public agreed that the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic, indicating that large majorities of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans believe anti-Zionism—the belief that Israel has no right to exist—to be a form of Jew-hatred.
- 84 percent of the Jewish and 55 percent of the general respondents said the statement “the government only supports Israel because of Jewish money” is antisemitic.
- 76 percent of Jews and 50 percent of U.S. adults said the statement “American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America” is antisemitic.
Three-quarters of U.S. adults (76 percent) report they know a lot (37 percent) or something (38 percent) about the Holocaust, while 24 percent say they don’t know much or know nothing at all. In contrast, 84 percent of American Jews know a lot about the Holocaust, and 15 percent say they know at least something.
Teaching about the Holocaust is favored by both groups, though to differing degrees. 91 percent of American Jews and 68 percent of U.S. adults say it is very important to teach middle and high school students the history of the Holocaust.
Results from both surveys indicate more Americans attribute antisemitic views to the Republican Party than attribute them to the Democratic Party. Majorities of respondents in both surveys say the Republican Party holds a lot or some antisemitic views. More than two-thirds of American Jews (69 percent) and over half of U.S. adults (52 percent) say the Republican Party holds at least some antisemitic views, compared to 37 percent of American Jews and 42 percent of the general public who say the same about the Democratic Party.
The results of the two separate surveys are based on telephone interviews conducted by the research company SSRS; the survey of American Jews had a national sample of 1,334 Jews, and the general public survey had a national sample of 1,010 people. The margins of error is plus or minus 4/2 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.