December 14, 2018

Worried about anti-Semitism in America? You are probably a liberal!

Last week, the American Jewish Committee published its annual survey of U.S. Jewish opinion. The survey found, among other things, that Jews “overwhelmingly disapprove” of President Donald Trump — and this was the main headline most media outlets chose as they reported on the findings.

But this survey contains much more than the quite-obvious truths about the current political tendencies of American Jews. It is one of the few surveys that ask Jews questions every year and, hence, provide us with a chance to look beyond obvious headlines. It gives us an opportunity to look at trends and to dig a little deeper.

The AJC generously provided me with some of the data that was not included in the basic presentation that appears on its website, and I will try to explain what it means. My main concern will be anti-Semitism in America.


The survey found that 41 percent of U.S. Jews believe that anti-Semitism is currently a “very serious problem” in the United States, and 43 percent believe it is “somewhat of a problem.” The combined 84 percent is 11 points higher than the number last year. But more significantly, the “very serious problem” camp is now more than three times larger than what it was in 2013, when 14 percent of Jews believed anti-Semitism is a “very serious problem.” There are now twice as many as there were in 2015, when 21 percent of Jews believed anti-Semitism is a “very serious problem.”

Look at this graph based on AJC surveys and note the following things:

– 2017 is dramatically different from all previous years since 1998.

– The trend line of the last 20 years is downward – and again, it makes 2017 unique.

– Only five years ago (in both 2011, 2013) “very serious” concern about anti-Semitism was at its lowest point. So, the least concerned and the most concerned Jews both appear since the beginning of this decade.


Of course, Jews are not all alike, and their assessment of anti-Semitism varies.

It varies by age, as you can see in the following graph. Note the following things:

– The youngest cohort is the one in which the least number of Jews say anti-Semitism is a very serious problem.

– The youngest cohort is also the one in which more people (albeit not many, 7%) say there is no problem of anti-Semitism.

What does it mean that younger Jews are less concerned about anti-Semitism than older Jews? Before we begin to speculate about the reasons, it is worth noting that this is not the first time younger Jews are less concerned than older Jews about anti-Semitism. For example, in 1998 the belief that anti-Semitism is a “very serious problem” in the United States was also “more prevalent among those who are older.” So maybe it is the inclination of older people — more concerned about the future, more aware of the past — to be more sensitive to anti-Semitism.


The AJC survey provides proof that perception of anti-Semitism is greatly impacted by political affiliation. Broadly speaking, liberal Jews see more anti-Semitism around. Conservative Jews are much less worried. Among the “lean-conservative” group, a significant 40% think that anti-Semitism is “not much of a problem” or “not at all a problem” in the U.S. (note: to simplify the picture, the graph below only includes the liberal and conservative groups and does not include lean liberal, moderate and lean conservative. I include the full data at the end of this post).

What is the reason for such differentiation? Again, speculation is possible, but we need to note, again, that this is not the first survey in which liberals seem more concerned about anti-Semitism than conservatives. On the other hand, it is also not always the case that liberal Jews are more concerned about anti-Semitism. For example, in 2003, 35 percent of liberal Jews thought that anti-Semitism is a “very serious problem” compared with a similar 34 percent among conservatives. Or another example, in a study of Jewish students, the more hawkish “AIPAC supporters” reported a higher level of anti-Semitism compared to the more liberal “J Street” supporters.”

Why, then, are liberals the more concerned group this year? A few options:

– Liberals are more integrated into the general American society and hence have a more first-hand experience of anti-Semitic phenomena.

– Liberals are more inclined to expect that anti-Semitism will be eliminated in the U.S., and hence are more disappointed by its persistence.

– Liberals connect anti-Semitism with their general disappointment with the recent election and see a connection between the two.


In several previous articles, I warned against “Politicizing the fight against anti-Semitism.” And, of course, I was hardly the only writer to do that.

Does the AJC data prove that the fight is politicized? It does not. But it does prove that the temptation to politicize it, the opportunity to politicize it and possibly the tendency to politicize it is there. It calls for caution, and sober assessment of the actual state of anti-Semitism in America.


One last word on anti-Semitism: I invite you to read my recent New York Times column on Israel’s response to anti-Semitism in America. It was published late last week.


Full table: ideological leaning and seeing anti-Semitism in the U.S. as a problem: