Police tape hangs in front of gravestones at the Hebrew Cemetery in Fall River, Massachusetts, where markers were vandalized, on March 19, 2019. Police said approximately 25 gravestones were defaced with anti-Semitic phrases and drawings of swastikas, and others were knocked over. (Barry Chin/The Boston Globe)
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, the American Jewish Committee, undertook the largest and most comprehensive survey of American Jews ever on the topic of anti-Semitism 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 also all people of conscience.
Some 88% of American Jews believe anti-Semitism is a problem in America today, and 84% say it has gotten worse over the past five years. A plurality — 43% — think it has increased a lot.
More than 1 in 3 American Jews (35%) say they have personally been the targets of anti-Semitism over the past five years. A similar number, 31%, avoid publicly wearing, carrying or displaying things that might identify them as Jews, and 25% at least sometimes avoid certain places or events out of concern for their safety as Jews.
American Jews do not believe that anti-Semitism comes from a single source. Eight-nine percent believe the extreme political right wing represents a threat to Jews in the U.S., 85% say the same of extremism in the name of Islam and 64% say so about the extreme political left wing.
Finally, American Jews see a connection between undue criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, with 84% of respondents saying the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is anti-Semitic. The belief that rejecting Israel’s existence is anti-Semitic 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 anti-Semitic, and 73% 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 anti-Semitism, but they are an important one. Government officials, opinion shapers and civil society leaders who wish to be allies in the fight against anti-Semitism 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.
There are many ways to address this, including adopting a concrete definition of anti-Semitism, increasing education on the issue, protecting Jewish institutions and publicly condemning anti-Semitism, 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 anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism is a real problem in the United States, 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 and is based in Chicago.