New Survey Data Offer Hope for Jewish Students

New data from the Survey Center on American Life show a nation that is increasingly aware of the antisemitism and discrimination faced by Jews.
July 26, 2023
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As a professor, a week rarely goes by when I do not try to comfort Jewish students who fear for their safety on campus. Their concerns are not unfounded. Antisemitism is rampant nationwide and there is seemingly unending hate toward Jews on countless fronts. It is hard to ignore comments from Robert Kennedy Jr., who recently made claims about Jews and bio-viruses, or the regular threats of and actual violence against Jews. On campus, Jewish students have to confront powerful and vocal antisemitic professors and regular acts of hate and trauma, such as the commencement address at the City College of New York, which was infused with anti-Israel hatred. There is continued messaging in allyship with Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, and pro-LGBTQA+ groups, but noticeably minimal support for Jewish students and often silence when support is needed.

New survey data from the Survey Center on American Life gives signs of hope for Jewish students that are imperative to share. First, the data show a nation that is increasingly aware of the antisemitism and discrimination Jews face regularly in the county. For instance, about 82 percent of Jews report that there is “a lot of discrimination” against the community. Nationally, about 54 percent agree, but this figure is the highest that it’s been in the past decade. In 2020, the Public Religion Research Institute found that almost a majority of Americans (49 percent) thought that Jews were heavily discriminated against, up from 32 percent a decade ago in 2013.

The increases can be explained by Americans witnessing more cases of antisemitism, as culture exposes the violence against Jews as well as the habitual and dangerous stereotyping that is all too common nationwide. While this is obviously traumatic and difficult for Jewish Americans and my students, the increased work by various groups such as Stand Up to Jewish Hate and JewBelong may also be having an impact on amplifying awareness and may benefit the safety and security of Jewish community.

The second point of hope is that despite the problems that the Jewish community faces, Jews in the United States remain remarkably positive about life today. For instance, on the question of the American Dream, Jews are more optimistic than the rest of the nation. When asked if one thinks that they will realize the American Dream in their lifetime, almost half of the Jews in the survey (48 percent) believe that they have already reached the American Dream compared to just a third (32 percent) of the nation. Conversely, only 14 percent of Jews believe that they will not achieve the Dream in their lifetime, while 36 percent of Americans nationally feel the same way. Jewish Americans are generally much more bullish on their future in the United States even with the current state of antisemitism.

Turning to attitudes, Jews have not soured on America or American ideas either. Even though my students are confronting real difficulties for being Jewish, it will be valuable to remind them that the collective Jewish community remains optimistic about the future of the United States. When asked about American exceptionalism, Jews are quite happy to be American. Fifty-eight percent of the national sample reports that America is the greatest nation in the world, but a far greater 70 percent of Jews feel the same way. On the question of whether or not most people can be trusted, 37 percent of Americans and 45 percent of Jews believe that most people can be trusted. Jews (78 percent) are more likely to say that diversity “makes us more tolerant and can change how we think about the world” than Americans (62 percent). Even with the intense levels of antisemitism, Jewish Americans remain committed to the United States and its unique position as a peoplehood that celebrates and promotes diversity and mobility.

Turning to attitudes, Jews have not soured on America or American ideas either

None of these points can provide immediate comfort to my students who feel unsafe and silenced on campus and are often left behind and see attempts at erasure. But, we now know that a majority of Americans recognize that Jews are facing intense discrimination, and ignoring Jews may be harder to justify going forward. We also know that the larger Jewish community continues to be positive on the American Dream and critical American ideals. Even with the problems Jews face, life is relatively good in the U.S. and large numbers within the Jewish community deeply appreciate core American values and believe these virtues are worth fighting for. The fact is that Jews have had to deal with existential threats for centuries and have shown tremendous resilience. Fortunately, while my students will sadly have to face down powerful threats once again, they can take comfort in knowing that far more in the nation are aware of the problems that they are facing and they may not have to face it alone.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

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