How we combat hate may need to be reevaluated after a new study found that educated people may actually in some ways be more antisemitic than less educated people, despite largely accepted views supporting the contrary, according to an article by the researchers behind the study in Tablet magazine.
The common view of the relationship between antisemitism and education is that higher education leads to less antisemitism, with education seen as an important tool in combating hate of all kinds and antisemitism in particular. The Anti-Defamation League's Global 100 survey of antisemitism around the world found that "among Christians and the non-observant, higher education levels lead to fewer antisemitic attitudes."
Researchers decided to conduct the study after realizing that previous studies were built in a way that would allow educated people to realize what the "wrong" answers were, meaning they may answer in ways that wouldn't necessarily reflect more nuanced antisemitism.
For example, a survey conducted to evaluate antisemitism on college campuses was based on respondents' level of agreement with statements like "Jews have too much power in international financial markets," which more educated respondents may be able to detect as less socially acceptable to agree with, according to Tablet.
To try and detect more nuanced antisemitism, the researchers developed a new survey based on the idea of the double standard, with two versions of the same question asking respondents to apply a principle to a Jewish example and then to a non-Jewish example.
Subjects were randomly assigned the versions of the questions so that each respondent would only see one version of the question, meaning that educated respondents would have no way of knowing that the survey was meant to measure their sentiment toward Jews.
Over 1,800 people took part in the study and the results presented a widely different picture than the largely held belief that more education means less antisemitism.
Respondents were asked about 29 topics covering political issues and controversies and demographic and background information, with seven pairs of items asking respondents to apply a principle to either a Jewish or non-Jewish example. The study oversampled K-12 teachers and higher education professors in order to provide additional backing to draw conclusions about people with higher education levels.
The study found that more highly educated people were actually more likely than less educated people to apply principles more harshly to Jewish examples, with researchers writing that more-highly educated people in the US tend to have greater antipathy towards Jews than less educated people.
The researchers added that education not only does not seem to protect people from antisemitism, but may even provide a license for it by providing people with more sophisticated and socially acceptable ways to express and support it, according to Tablet.
The study focused on four of the seven items relating to double standards with Jews to generate a measure of antisemitism. The firs question asked respondents whether the "government should set minimum requirements for what is taught in private schools," with Orthodox Jewish or Mentessori schools given as the illustrating example depending on which version the respondent received.
The second question asked whether "a person's attachment to another country creates a conflict of interest when advocating in support of certain US foreign policy positions," with Israel or Mexico offered as illustrating examples. The third question asked whether "the US military should be allowed to forbid" religious head coverings, with a yarmulke or Sikh turban offered as examples. The fourth question asked whether public gathering during the coronavirus pandemic "posed a threat to public health and should have been prevented," with Orthodox Jewish funerals or Black Lives Matter protests offered as examples.
The situations in these questions were similar enough that respondents should have answered them similarly on average, regardless of how they feel about the general issues themselves. For example, someone against public gatherings during the pandemic should be against both BLM protests and Jewish funerals if they do not hold a double standard, according to Tablet.
The other three items with Jewish and non-Jewish examples were different enough that a person could answer differently without necessarily reflecting antipathy or favoritism, including a question about whether scholars from Israel or China should be subject to academic boycotts "to protest human rights violations by those countries’ governments."
Concerning the four items which were used to measure antisemitism levels, subjects with college degrees were 5% more likely to apply a principle more harshly to Jews than to non-Jews. The likelihood increased among subjects with advanced degrees who were 15% more likely to apply principles more harshly to Jews than to non-Jews.
In general, respondents with higher education levels were more unfavorable to Jews for three of the questions and expressed no difference for one of the questions. Concerning government regulation of private schools, more highly educated people favored more government regulation, but did not apply that principle differently if the illustrating example was Jewish or Montessori, according to Tablet.
When it comes to opposition to public gatherings during the pandemic, those with a degree were 11% more likely to oppose Jewish funerals than BLM protests and those with advanced degrees were 36% more likely to oppose Jewish funerals as well.
The researchers wrote that the results were concerning for a number of reasons, first of which is that Jews may be mistaken about where antisemitic threats predominate. Well-educated people also tend to have greater influence, which could mean greater harm from their views.
Strategies for fighting intolerance and antisemitism also tend to revolve around the idea that hatred is caused by ignorance that more education can help; however, if more highly educated people are more antipathic to Jews, then higher education levels could possibly increase prejudice.
"Addressing antisemitism and prejudice more generally may require the cultivation of virtue," wrote the researchers in Tablet. "Specifically, it requires the formation of a kind of character that is not only familiar with other outgroups and democratic norms, but also has the integrity to behave in ways that demonstrate consideration of their interests and restraint in the use of political power in the pursuit of personal interests."
"Countering the antisemitism of the well-educated will be a political and moral struggle, not one that can be addressed by conventional approaches and conceptions of education," added the researchers.