October 23, 2019
This piece originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
There is an old expression to describe the Jewish love for debate that goes something like this: where you have two Jews, you have three opinions.
Yet when my organization, American Jewish Committee (AJC), undertook the largest and most comprehensive survey of American Jews ever on the topic of antisemitism in the United States, we discovered amazing agreement across Jews of different ages, political affiliations, and religious orientations. What we found should alarm not only Jews, but all people of conscience.
Eighty-eight percent of American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in America today and 84 percent say it has gotten worse over the past five years. A plurality—43 percent—think it has increased a lot.
More than one in three American Jews (35 percent) say they have personally been the targets of antisemitism over the past five years. A similar number, 31 percent, avoid publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying things that might identify them as Jews and 25 percent at least sometimes avoid certain places or events out of concern for their safety as Jews.
American Jews do not believe that antisemitism comes from a single source. Eighty-nine percent of American Jews believe the extreme political right-wing represents a threat to Jews in the U.S., 85 percent say the same of extremism in the name of Islam, and 64 percent say so about the extreme political left-wing.
Finally, American Jews see a connection between undue criticism of Israel and antisemitism. Eighty-four percent of respondents said the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic. The belief that rejecting Israel’s existence is antisemitic cuts across differences of party affiliation, age, and religious identity. Eighty percent of respondents said the statement “The U.S. government only supports Israel because of Jewish money” is antisemitic and 73 percent said so about the statement “American Jews are more loyal to Israel than America.”
Of course, the opinions of American Jews are not the only barometer of antisemitism, but they are an important one. Government officials, opinion shapers, and civil society leaders who wish to be allies in the fight against antisemitism should listen closely to these views.
Aside from the State of Israel, there is no nation that has proven to be a better home for Jews than America. By any possible objective metric, few communities in any country can match the success of the American Jewish community. Nevertheless, the fact that such a significant percentage of American Jews believe that hatred against them is on the rise must not pass without notice.
What must be done? There are many answers, including adopting a concrete definition of antisemitism, increasing education on the issue, protecting Jewish institutions, and publicly condemning antisemitism, even when politically inconvenient.
Yet, the first step may be as simple as listening. When a swastika is spray painted on a building, don’t dismiss it as mere vandalism. When Jews object to the language of a politician or leader you admire or support, do not dismiss these charges of antisemitism out of hand. When Israel is demonized or singled out for criticism, ask yourself if the same thing could be said about any other country.
The overwhelming majority of American Jews believe that antisemitism is a real problem in the U.S. and that it’s getting worse. The question now should be: what is the rest of America going to do about it?
Daniel Elbaum is the American Jewish Committee’s Chief Advocacy Officer