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Volokh Conspiracy

There is No Epidemic of Antisemitism in the United States

Despite the constant refrain from both the left and right (blaming each other), a new ADL survey shows that antisemitism in the U.S. has not risen.


Over the last several years, concern about a purported dramatic increase in antisemitism in the United States has gripped the American Jewish community. There was a particular spike in such concern when Donald Trump got elected, manifested in particular in near-hysteria over a series of bomb threats in 2017 to Jewish institutions that turned out to the product of a disturbed Israeli-American teenager. Murders by right-wing antisemites in Pittsburgh and and Poway further galvanized those concerned that Trump had enabled a massive rise in right-wing antisemitism.

Meanwhile, many Jewish Americans also expressed concern with what they saw as growing antisemitism on the left, manifested in harassment of Jewish students on college campuses for their real or perceived ties to Israel, antisemitism among the leaders the Women's March, the left's embrace of figures with a history of antisemitic statements such as Linda Sarsour, and a seeming revival of Louis Farrakhan's public prominence, including his exchange of pleasantries with a variety of Democratic VIPs at Aretha Franklin's funeral, where he had a seat of honor. Recent antisemitic murders of Jews in the New York area by African-American extremists, along with a more general spike of violence against Orthodox Jews in New York, added to the concern about rising antisemitism from the far left.

As I explained in November 2018, concerns about rising manifestations of antisemitism have been reasonable, as people with strong antisemitic views have become more active, more visible, and more willing to express their views publicly:

More Active
On the right, the internet has given anti-Semites a way of much more easily coordinating than they had in the days of handprinted newsletters and secretive meetings in Days Inn conference rooms. On the left, the rise of hostility to Israel as a major issue for the left has given anti-Semites an opportunity to spread anti-Semitism in the guise of "anti-Zionism".

More Visible
Not too long ago, expression of anti-Semitic sentiments was suppressed by media gatekeepers; mainstream news organizations wouldn't publish anti-Semites, nor would respectable journals of opinion. But now the gatekeepers are in a free-for-all market, and they can't control what is said on blogs, websites, etc., and their own editorial standards have declined. Twitter gives an easy public forum for anti-Semites. And the comments sections of most sites are unmoderated, providing a forum for anti-Semites regardless of the editorial perspective of the site. You won't find a site with more philo-Semitic site than Instapundit, for example, but you will still see some anti-Semitism in the comments. Even this blog, written mostly by Jews, attracts its share of anti-Semitic commentators, more so when it was hosted by the Washington Post.

More Willing to Express their Views Publicly
In our polarized times, the left and right are much less willing to police their "own," focusing instead only on the sins of the other side. The result, for example, is that Harvard and University Chicago professors can publish an entire book that is essentially a long anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, without any damage to their careers or reputation, because the book served the purposes of the political left. Donald Trump can retweet anti-Semitic imagery, not apologize for doing so, and not have any political consequences. Another factor is immigration from the Middle East. Middle Eastern immigrants are arriving from societies in which anti-Semitism is widely accepted, so it's not surprising that Middle Eastern university students who, for example, join Students for Justice in Palestine, are sometimes not embarrassed to engage in openly anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Nevertheless, I have consistently noted the absence of evidence that, despite the rhetoric of an "epidemic" of antisemitism, that there has been any actual increase in antisemitic attitudes among the general public. I've consistently challenged those who claim that Trump, or the far left, or anyone else has caused a spike in societal antisemitism to provide me with any study showing any such thing. No one has provided any. (It wasn't that I knew for sure there wasn't; I just wanted actual social science data, not anecdote and supposition.)

The ADL just released a new study on antisemitic attitudes among Americans. While belief in stereotypes about Jews remains widespread, the ADL found that only 11 percent of American adults believed in six or more of the 11 stereotypes tested, which is tied for the lowest percentage ever. By contrast, the first year the ADL undertook this study, the figure was 29 percent. So much for the constant refrain from the ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt and others that we are living through "the worst period of antisemitism in the United States since the 1930s."

Now, I admit that ADL methodology is far from perfect, but it does provide a basis for comparison, and there has been no spike, or even an increase, in antisemitism because of Donald Trump or anyone else. The problem of antisemitism in the United States is a problem of the far left and far right fringes, and the way social media, technology, partisanship, and the decline of media gatekeepers has allowed them to have a much louder voice. These fringes need to be isolated; the Trump administration shouldn't be giving discretionary media credentials for far-right antisemites, and Bernie Sanders shouldn't be allying with Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib, and company. And of course better security and preemptive work by law enforcement is needed to stop what does appear to be a spike in antisemitic violence. But for those who thought that the U.S. was heading toward the sort of commonplace, mainstream antisemitism prevalent in some European countries, you can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now.