Ten Comments on ADL’s Global Survey of anti-Semitism (It’s Not All Bad)

The most infuriating findings? That 62% of Poles, 61% of Lithuanians and 52% of Austrians(!) think Jews 'talk too much about the Holocaust.' Seriously.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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ADL head Abraham Foxman, speaking during the awarding ceremony of the Joseph Prize For Human Rights to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on March 19, 2014.
ADL head Abraham Foxman, speaking during the awarding ceremony of the Joseph Prize For Human Rights to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on March 19, 2014.Credit: AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

1. The ADL poll of 53,100 adults in 102 countries is the largest, broadest and deepest survey of global anti-Semitic attitudes in history. It found that 26% of the surveyed population, representing over a billion people worldwide, “harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.”

The survey provides a veritable treasure chest of information on how people around the world view the Jews. It will serve as a benchmark for future discussions of anti-Semitism, but is also bound to elicit criticism and create controversy.

2. Love it or loathe it, the survey is another crowning achievement for outgoing National Director Abe Foxman, who is slated to leave office in the summer of 2015. Foxman casts a giant shadow over the ADL in particular and the American Jewish world in general: His shoes are so big that his successor will have a hard time struggling to be noticed, let alone fit.

3. Greece is the number one country standing in the dock of the accused. True, it has a lower “Anti-Semitism Index” than any Middle Eastern country (except for Iran, another surprise) but compared to other countries – especially those that have a long history with the Jews – its performance is dismal all across the board. 85% of Greeks believe that “Jews have too much power in the business world,” for example, and close to 70% that Jews have too much influence over global affairs, the financial markets and the U.S. government. It is testament, among other things, to people’s tendency to blame their economic woes on the most convenient scapegoat, especially when goaded to do so by race-baiting politicians and especially when the targets are the time-tested Jews, who have been filling the same role for the Greeks for over two millennia.

Apprehensive of the damage that the finding might cause to Greece’s good name, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has already scheduled a meeting with Foxman and other ADL executives.

4. Iran, on the other hand, not only emerges unscathed from the survey but actually stands out for the positive. It has the lowest “Anti-Semitic Index” (56%) of all Middle East countries. It is a finding sure to confound hasbara people and one that can be attributed, among other things, to the relative sophistication of the Iranian people, to the continued existence of the local Jewish community – unlike in most Arab countries – and to the Iranian leadership’s ongoing protection, for its own reasons, of Iranian Jews.

5. In fact, the ADL poll more or less upsets the apple cart altogether in disestablishing the causal connection between anti-Jewish and what are widely perceived as anti-Israeli sentiments. Sweden – Sweden, for God’s sake – a hotbed of anti-Israeli agitation that is routinely labeled as anti-Semitic is the LEAST anti-Semitic country in Western Europe, according to this survey, along with its Nordic neighbors – Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

On the other hand, Eastern European countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and Ukraine, whose governments are rock solid supporters of Israel, harbor large segments of anti-Semitic feelings. The outliers are the Czechs, god bless them, who have always felt themselves more Western than Eastern European anyway. And what can you say about South Korea, a country with excellent diplomatic and commercial ties to Israel whose population – 53%, by ADL’s standards - has very questionable views of Jews.

6. Kudos to Laos, now officially defined as the least anti-Semitic country in the world, with an infinitesimal index of 0.2%. Of course, Laos has no known history with the Jews and less than ten permanent Jewish residents, which begs the anti-Semitic observation that this scarcity is the reason for the benevolent Laotian attitude. But as the survey makes clear, the opposite is apparently true: countries with more than 10,000 Jews tend to hold fewer anti-Semitic views than those with no Jewish population whatsoever.

7. The worst anti-Semitism, by ADL’s definition, was measured in the Middle East and North Africa, from the West Bank and Gaza (93%) and Iraq (92%) to Saudi Arabia (74%) Turkey (69%) and Iran (56%). No surprise there, really, given that in most Middle Eastern countries the media freely engages in anti-Jewish agitation, with governments either sitting idly by or actively taking part.

Nonetheless, it is an open question whether anti-Jewish sentiment in a region in which a. there are hardly any Jews and b. sees itself at war with the Jewish state and/or as the usurpers and oppressors of the Palestinians should really be included in the same rankings as all the rest, or whether Muslim anti-Semitism isn’t a category all to itself.

At the press conference in New York on Tuesday, someone asked half-jokingly why the survey did not gauge anti-Semitic attitudes in Israel and how Israelis would fare if asked similar questions about Muslims. Better than some, probably, but just as bad as most, if not worse.

8. The inclusion of the benchmark of “dual loyalty” perceptions is also problematic. It is one thing for people in the United States or Western Europe to maintain that Jews are “more loyal to Israel than to their host countries” but something completely different when someone in Malaysia believes so. In many countries with no sizeable Jewish population, people’s sole exposure to news about Jews is through media reports on AIPAC, the ADL and others. Ignorance is no excuse, but it may explain why this question is the number one marker of anti-Semites (41% believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel).

Foxman, however, dismisses these reservations. For him, seeing Jews as more loyal to Israel is another chapter in centuries-old allegations that Jews can’t be trusted or that they are subservient to a foreign power. “That’s the way the Nazis started,” Foxman said, “by accusing the Jews of selling out Germany.”

9. The findings on the Holocaust are understandable or at least explainable, but nonetheless depressing. Only 33% of those polled have both heard of the Holocaust and believe it has been accurately described by history. And Holocaust awareness decreases with age, which bodes badly for the future.

For me, though, the most infuriating finding of the entire survey is the list of countries that believe that Jews “talk too much about the Holocaust”: These include Lithuania (65%), Poland (62%), Hungary (61%) and Austria (52%). Sort of makes you wonder if their real gripe isn’t that the Nazis simply weren’t thorough enough.

10. And of course, there is always the danger of mixing animosity with admiration. When 42% of the Chinese, for example, say that Jews “think they’re better than other people” is that anti-Semitic? Don’t most Chinese think they’re better than other people? And, for that matter – don’t most Americans?

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