Polling of American opinion taken in the mid-1930’s, soon after Krystallnacht, found that “fifty-three percent believed that ‘Jews are different and should be restricted and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported…Another poll found that, 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign [the existing model being Nazi Germany]… 23 percent of respondents in one 1945 survey [said] they would vote for a congressional candidate if the candidate declared "himself as being against the Jews" [another 35% said] it would not affect their vote.”
Introduction: Until now focus has mostly been on official acts of antisemitism. The series of Congressional legislative efforts (beginning in late 19th century) finally expressed as the antisemitic Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 trapping Europe’s Jews to their fate in Auschwitz. Roosevelt Administration hands-off policy beginning in 1933 regarding Germany’s persecution of its Jews, even after it became daily news that the intention was extermination of each and every living Jew, Europe and beyond.
And following the Holocaust, the targeting by US administrations and congress of individual Jews (the Rosenbergs charged for crimes the FBI knew they were innocent of followed twenty years later by the Pollards: show trials by any understanding of the term. And, concurrent with the Rosenberg trial Congress’s House Un-American Activities Committee set about its own antisemitic rant in Hollywood.
Were these just examples of governmental excesses, actions otherwise out of character for American democracy and justice? Was the government acting contrary to the much vaunted “will of the people,” or supported by the American public? As surveys of popular opinion quoted above begin to demonstrate government policy was consistent with public opinion.
Generations of American Jews have maintained that our country of birth and home departs from European history in its acceptance of Jews and Judaism. German Jewry before the Holocaust maintained that their country was, “exceptional” also in its acceptance of Jews and Judaism. I suggest that, when it comes to Diaspora Jews, as the following surveys demonstrate, there are no Exceptions.
Although I have made selective use of public surveys in the past, in this discussion I will tie statistical polling together as a measure of American public antisemitism over the years since its inception in 1938.
Gallup may have been the first to apply scientific polling to determine American public opinion. In 1939, Roper may have been the first to apply systematic survey methods to test the American public for antisemitism. According to such surveys taken from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties,
“35-40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign… 41 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had "too much power in the United States," (rose to 58 percent by 1945).
That Roper survey of 1939 found that antisemitism was widespread in American society with sixty-one percent of Americans agree that Jews should not be treated like other people. According to other surveys,
“Fifty-three percent [of the American public] believed that "Jews are different and should be restricted" and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported [recall that this poll was taken immediately following the Krystallnacht pogrom, when “deported” had a particularly onerous meaning]. Several surveys taken between 1940 and 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat [all emphases mine] to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.”
All of these surveys reflecting widespread antipathy towards American Jews were taken before, during and following the Holocaust and against a backdrop of media coverage describing Germany’s actions in first restricting (1933), then isolating (1935) and finally murdering the Jews (1939-45): Krystallnach; the mass shootings of Polish and Eastern European Jewry by Heydrich’s einzatsgruppen; the horrors of Ford’s assembly line applied to industrial murder at Auschwitz. And throughout popular antisemitism intensified in the United States, continued unabated following the Holocaust (the Rosenberg show trial; Jew-baiting and persecution by Congress’ House Un-American Activities Committee; continuing even twenty years after the Rosenbergs were electrocuted with the Pollard show trial and Jonathan Pollard remaining in prison 28 years later. America’s anti-Jewish adrenalin rush only began to dissipate decades after the orgy of hate resulting in the extermination of European Jewry.
The "Berkeley Studies" Five-Year Study of Antisemitism in the United States: The Anti-Defamation League was born in 1913, a response by B’nai Brith for the lynching of its Georgia director, Leo Frank. ADL’s Berkeley Studies appears to have been the first such comprehensive survey of antisemitism in the United States. By its conclusion the Study published seven volumes, each highlighting a facet of American antisemitism, the first focusing on Christian Beliefs and anti-Semitism. This volume, alongside Catholic theologian Rosemary Reuther’s Faith and Fratricide, is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in understanding Christianity and its Jewish Problem; by itself there is no better statistical introduction to antisemitism in the United States. For context, the Study commenced twenty years following the liberation of Auschwitz.
Volume seven, summarizing the earlier six, describes the distribution of antisemitic attitudes among non-Jewish Americans as, 31% “least,” 32% “moderate,” and 37%, “intensive.” If we remove the “31% “least” category we are still left with 69% of Americans definably “antisemitic” according to ADL’s definitions. Whatever consolation one may take away from the fact that “only” 37% of Americans were, by ADL’s measure, “intensely antisemitic,” not even ADL’s “least” category represents “antisemitism-free” since it includes persons who likely admitted to one antisemitic stereotype.
A longitudinal timeline of antisemitism according to serial ADL surveys appears as: 1964, 29% of respondents were classified “most antisemitic. By 1992 the number dropped to 20%. By 1998 it was down to 12 %; 2002: 17%; 2005: 14%; 2007: 14%; 2009: 12%; and in its latest survey, 2011: 15% (see ADL’s Executive Summary for 2011). Perhaps a comparison to the chart at the foot of a hospital bed is appropriate with antisemitic attitude replacing patient temperature, and “normal” encompassing some 50 million Americans as “most antisemitic”! And how would this have compared to Germany before Hitler?
Summarizing ADL’s Executive Summary:
“Anti-Semitic propensities have increased since 2009; reaching totals from 2005 and 2007, but falling short of those in 2002, the highest number recorded in the past decade. Using the ADL Index, 15 percent of Americans fall in the most anti‐Semitic cohort [roughly 50 million individuals].
“Perceptions of disproportionate Jewish power in the U.S. continue to dominate the views of the most anti‐Semitic.
“In America, 31 percent believe Jews are responsible for the death of Christ, a number that has remained steady through the past decade.
“Remarkably, since 1964, approximately 30 percent of Americans have consistently believed that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America, even though the makeup of the U.S. population has changed dramatically.”
Among other findings,
• Fourteen percent (14%) agreed with the statement that "Jews have too much power in the U.S. today," an increase from 13 percent in 2009.
• Fifteen percent (15 %) agreed that Jews are "more willing to use shady practices," up slightly from 2009.
• Sixteen percent (16%) agreed that Jewish "business people are so shrewd, others don''t have a chance," up from 13 percent in 2009.
• Nearly half of all respondents agreed with the statement that Jews "stick together more than other Americans, and 33 percent said they believe Jews "always like to be at the head of things."
• One-quarter of Americans believe that Jews "still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust."
Westboro church picketing a Holocaust Museum, (Wikipedia)
The What of antisemitism in everyday America was well described in the 1965-70 Berkeley Study. Where it failed, outside of the original segment, Christian Beliefs and anti-Semitism, was in describing the Why: How explain antisemitism in the United States or, for that matter, anywhere in Christendom? How explain 2000 years of anti-Jewish prejudice and persecution? And this points to the fundamental weakness of ADL’s interpretation of their own polling. Generations of Jews have concluded that “ignorance” is the explanation for Jew hatred. And if that is the case then ADL’s and generations of Jewish thinkers prior efforts at educating our neighbors out of their prejudices would make sense. Problem is that while surveys do indicate a correlation between education and prejudice, tolerance goes by the boards when social stress increases. So while a correlation exists between “education” and “tolerance” antisemitism, by this model, must be an “independent variable” explainable by something beyond “ignorance.”
Martin Buber would have agreed with ADL even as German Jewry’s educated and cultured neighbors were prepared to stand idly by as their Jewish neighbors and family members were dragged off to their fate. And is antisemitism’s dramatic rise in Europe today a matter of a decline in education and culture? Not yet seventy years after Auschwitz and political parties are again emerging with an antisemitism program, street rallies again shouting death to the Jews?
And still we cling to time-worn and demonstrably-wrong explanations, deny the obvious, the reality, the meaning of two-thousand years of anti-Jewish prejudice and persecution!
One need not be a scientist to appreciate that if the theory is wrong so also will be the “solution” sought. If we believe the world flat the only thing lost is time involved in transiting the globe. But what is discussed here is literally a matter of life and death for the Jewish people.
What we Jews should be asking is, “Why did Germany attempt a Final Solution”? And what is Christendom’s Jewish Problem that demands any solution, let alone a final one?
This question, of course, is what this year-long “blog” is discussing, a discussion of the roots of Christianity’s Jewish Problem and its evolution into what historians today refer to as “lethal” and “annihilative” antisemitism (yes, modern experience demands new terms to describe it). As the picture of that otherwise “normal-appearing” Westboro woman above suggests, at a fundamentalist religious level the reason for traditional anti-Judaism is a matter of eternal Jewish guilt: its “gospel truth.” First century gospel accusations became, in the Middle Ages superstition-fed stereotypes to a population seemingly under constant danger by forces beyond control such as weather and the Black Plague. Those stereotypes did not disappear with the Age of Reason but were absorbed and remain part of Western society’s cultural “subconscious,” its historical inheritance. One recent example might serve:
“Rep. Dennis Johnson used the word "Jew" in the context of negotiating a lower price for an item while discussing a bill to modify a current law… ‘I’m almost 60 years old, and it’s a phrase that was used when I was kid, and it was used often…It was just something that came out from the wrinkles of my brain. [my emphasis].’”
Christian scripture condemning the Jews; subconscious cultural stereotypes describing the Jews: these represent the bedrock of antisemitism. Both exist beyond the reach of “education”, our continuing dream by generations of Jewish idealists and Christian “liberals.” But how educate that Christian scripture, the “inerrant word of God,” demands revision to expunge its obvious anti-Judaism?
Anti-Jewish stereotypes are too deeply ingrained in the psyche of the West, its cultural consciousness, to be simply expurgated from common thought and language by “education.” Yet, and this particularly since the Holocaust, expresses a millennial Jewish yearning, the need to belong, to be accepted in our Diaspora homelands. This yearning is so powerful as to overwhelm even the clearest presentation of fact-based warning.
Pinsker and Herzl raised the alarm decades before the Holocaust, only to see American Jewry domesticate Zionism to make room for an American “exception.” Jabotinsky crisscrossed Poland shouting warning on the very threshold of the Holocaust; and failed to convince. And today, the Age of the Survivors (for we are, all Jews, “survivors” since the intent was, after all, a final solution); even today barely seven decades after Auschwitz: where in the world, including Israel, do Jews as a community appreciate even begin to understand that the Holocaust was neither “exceptional” nor “mysterious” but the obvious next and future step in a centuries-long and continuing historical process?
Polling and statistics provide abstract information. History provides the context through which to interpret the abstract.
It may in the end be that intentional ignorance, Denial of our history, is too powerful an obstacle for us to psychologically overcome.
In which case we will have failed to arrive at a Jewish solution to Christendom’s millennial Jewish Problem, and the tragic consequences that involves.
Recent writings in this Series: