Antisemitism in America: How antisemitic are Americans?


They own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is.”



Introduction: The earliest political poll taken in the United States was, to the best of my knowledge, by Gallup in 1935. The earliest polling of antisemitism in America appears to have been taken in 1939. And while I referred previously to polls taken of American public opinion before and during the Holocaust, for context I return to the 1939 Roper poll that found that,


“thirty-nine percent of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people [so the vast majority, 61%, felt Jews should not be treated like other people!]. Fifty-three percent believed that ‘Jews are different and should be restricted’ and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported [this just months after Krystallnacht]. Several surveys taken from 1940 to 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.”



The "Berkeley Studies" Five-Year Study of Antisemitism in the United States: The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Berkeley Studies appears to have been the first comprehensive look at antisemitism in America. It resulted in seven volumes, each dedicated to an area of American antisemitism, the first focusing on Christian Beliefs and anti-Semitism; along with Reuther’s “Faith and Fratricide,” this study is basic to understanding this blogstream. The final volume, Anti-Semitism in America, summarizes the six study areas.


Volume seven describes the distribution of antisemitic attitudes among non-Jewish Americans as, 31% “least,” 32% “moderate,” and 37%, “intensive.” While these results indicate that the majority is not “intensively” antisemitic, they also indicate that all surveyed hold “some” antisemitic stereotypes.” For perspective, this study was conducted twenty years after the end of the war, a period during which antisemitism was described as on the wane. And while we cannot attribute “behavior” to abstract categories, it is instructive that at this point, according to the study, sixty-nine percent of non-Jewish Americans were rated moderately to intensely antisemitic, with the largest category being “intensive,” at thirty-seven percent.


Twenty years later ADL’s 1992 survey concluded that 20% of Americans (+/- 35 million) are “antisemitic,” a figure significantly lower than the Berkeley result of “intensive;” but no easy comparison is possible between these results since there is no effort at consistency in referents between these and other ADL: studies.


The number of Americans holding antisemitic views declined markedly six years later [after 1992] when another ADL study classified only 12 percent of the population—between 20 to 25 million adults—as ‘most anti-Semitic.’”


Because of this problem I will focus only on the upper, most extremist on the antisemitism scales across the studies. At this end, at least, there is a degree of consistency over time.



According to that 1939 Roper survey, “10% believed that Jews should be deported,” and this number I designate our “extreme” baseline. According to the 1965 Berkeley Study 37% of respondents were “Intensive.” But this classification ranged from respondents one response over the “Moderate” classification up to the most extremist. Limiting this class to respondents agreeing with the most blatant antisemitic stereotypes and we again arrive at 10%. This perhaps won’t stand the test of “science,” but may yet improve upon the multiplicity of ADL classifications over time.


In 1998, the number of Americans with hardcore [!] anti-Semitic beliefs had dropped to 12% from 20 % in 1992... March 2005, found that 14% of Americans - or nearly 35 million adults - hold views about Jews that are "unquestionably anti-Semitic," [!] compared to 17% in 2002.”


In 2011 ADL’s survey (.pdf) “found that 15 percent of Americans – nearly 35 million adults – hold deeply [!] anti-Semitic views, an increase of 3 percent from a similar poll conducted in 2009.”


Slippery as the categories are from study to study on the positive side studies regarding how other Americans view Jews demonstrate a relationship between antisemitism and current social stress, provide a gauge of general and immediate risk. But even here the usefulness as “warning” is confusing and limited due to multiple descriptors for apparently the same levels of threat. At least the old Homeland Security scale of red, yellow and green conveyed some way to distinguish threat and response. Still, better some indicator than none.


On the negative, such statistics are highly misleading, feed denial of threat. If, for example, 15% of the population are “unquestionably antisemitic” then by implication 85% are not. Yet even successive ADL polls indicate most or all non-Jewish Americans to some degree agree with antisemitic stereotypes, confirming antisemitism as deeply rooted in Western, and this includes the United States, society and culture. But this implication is obscured by the use of vague terms such as, “unquestionably antisemitic.” The relatively small percentages associated with them minimize the potential for threat. If the US threat is represented as only “15%” then we are reassured since what threat by only 15% of Americans? But how many “unquestionably antisemitic” Germans were there in 1930?





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: why are any Americans antisemitic; why did a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “know, the banks in this country, the newspapers” are owned by the Jews; why did Germany attempt a Final Solution; and what is the Jewish Problem Europe was so determined to solve, while the rest of Christendom stood aside in mute silence? What, indeed, is meant by “the Jewish Problem”?


This question, of course, is the theme of our this series, the perpetual victimhood of the Jewish people in Christian society. At a fundamentalist religious level the picture above provides the reason for traditional anti-Judaism, the assertion of eternal Jewish guilt beginning with the gospels and refined through centuries of evolving Christian theology. And the resulting stereotypes based on those myths are so ingrained in Western culture as to often remain in the substratum of society, the cultural “subconscious.”


Christian scripture condemning the Jews; subconscious cultural stereotypes describing the Jews: these represent the bedrock of antisemitism. Both exist beyond the reach of “education”, a continuing dream of 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, the Jewish need to belong, to be accepted in our Diaspora homelands by our Christian neighbors, by Christian secular society, 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 redefine Zionism to make room for an American “exception.” Jabotinsky crisscrossed Poland crying 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 recognize that the Holocaust was neither “exceptional” nor “mysterious,” but the obvious next and future step in a centuries-long and continuing process?


Polling and statistics provide abstract information. History provides the context through which to interpret the abstract. In the early years of National Socialism German Jewry described their country as “exceptional.” 


It may in the end be that intentional ignorance, Denial of our history is too powerful an obstacle to psychologically overcome. Still, the effort must be made.



Recent writings in this Series:


1. Antisemitism in American politics, part 3: the Pollard Show Trial

2. Antisemitism in American politics, part 2: the Rosenberg Show Trial

3. Post-Holocaust Antisemitism in American politics, Part 1: A Congressional Witch Hunt

4. Antisemitism in America: the societal limits of “Exceptionality”