US anti-Semitism at all-time low, or simply morphing?

Harvard professor finds Judaism tops the list; American attitudes toward Jews ‘better than ever.’

December 24, 2010 06:04
3 minute read.
Pro-Israel supporters.

zionists. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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“The stereotype in America now is that Jews are rich, smart and funny – so what’s there not to like?” sociologist Robert Putnam said on Thursday, based on a study he conducted with David E. Campbell and featured in their book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.

According to the research, Judaism was on average ranked in first place by 3,000 respondents of all faiths representing a cross-section of the American population.

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“There are still anti-Semitic sentiments and attacks in America,” the Jewish Harvard scholar added. “But they are much, much, much less prevalent than they were 25 or 50 years ago, and even the Anti- Defamation League agree anti- Semitism is at an all-time low.”

But that’s not entirely true, according to Anti-Defamation League President Abe Foxman, who was interviewed the day before regarding Putnam and Campbell’s findings.

Foxman acknowledged Putnam’s findings and agreed there were fewer attacks on Jews than in the past. Doors which used to be shut to Jews are now wide open. But in some aspects, according to Foxman, Jews are worse off than they’ve ever been.

“It’s always a balance, it’s both,” Foxman said. “There are fewer people getting up in the morning and asking: How am I going to hurt the Jews? “Look at the media and the people who got themselves in trouble. These are nice people who made careers. The Rick Sanchezs are still out there, the Helen Thomases. I don’t get up in the morning wondering who’s going to get me. I get up in the morning trying to get the good people to go after the bad guys.

“Today there’s more anti- Semitic discourse than there’s ever been. The statistics have changed, but does that mean we’re going to close shop?” Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier admitted Jews today were better off and more secure than in the past, also giving a nod to Putnam and Campbell’s research.

“Presidents nowadays have Hanukka parties for which they invited 400 people to the White House,” he said. “Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it was four Jewish leaders.

I don’t think the secretary of state today would say what Henry Kissinger said back then [that putting Jews in gas chambers was not an American issue]. Even Kissinger, who rose to secretary of state, still carried that burden with him.”

But Hier also said some forms of anti-Semitism were growing.

“Even before the Holocaust, everybody knew where Hitler, Stalin stood. But we didn’t expect CNN anchors and Hollywood actors to have such opinions,” he said, referring to Rick Sanchez’s remark about Jews controlling the media and Mel Gibson’s slurs.

Putnam is aware of the sensitivity surrounding the issue, but he seems to have a different, more optimistic take than Foxman and Hier’s.

“It’s clear, Jews over centuries have experienced enormous persecution, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “Therefore Jews and Jewish leaders have every right to be really cautious and really even skeptical [about] someone who’s claiming that anti-Semitism is declining. I have never said anti-Semitism is a thing of the past...

“Anti-Semitic attitudes among American people are much less than they were 30 or 40 years ago. I’m not saying it can’t change in the future – but, honestly, it’s hard for me to see what would trigger that in America.”

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