European Anti-Semitism versus Measuring European Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism in Europe is a given — but the ways of measuring it are not.

The most recent survey of anti-Semitism in Europe by the Anti-Defamation League does not properly assess anti-Semitism.  The magnitude of anti-Semitism in Europe is alarming, according to the survey, and the magnitude of anti-Semitism in Europe is no doubt alarming — but not because the survey accurately measured it.

The survey covered Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.  Respondents were asked whether or not they thought the following four statements were “probably true” or “probably false.”

1) Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country.

2) Jews have too much power in the business world.

3) Jews have too much power in international financial markets.

4) Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.

Respondents were also asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement that “Jews are responsible for the death of Christ.”

Finally, respondents were asked if their opinion of Jews was influenced by actions taken by the State of Israel and whether they believed the violence directed against European Jews was a result of anti-Jewish feelings or anti-Israel sentiment.

It is difficult to measure bigotry because bigots will hide their bigotry when surveyed.  The only possible way to account for bigots hiding bigotry is to ask indirect questions that assess less controversial attitudes.  The survey did not do this.  For example, the survey could ask “are you acquainted with any Jews?”  And then, if no, “would you wish to be?”  If yes they are acquainted with Jews, then the survey would assess attitudes toward these people.

The first question — “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” — may or may not assess anti-Semitism.  A respondent answering “yes” may simply believe that Jews consider Israel the homeland for Jews, that it is a besieged homeland, and that preservation of that homeland is more important than any self-preservation issue confronting “this country.”  That respondent may or may not be anti-Semitic.  Moreover, a respondent answering “no” may well believe Jews are more loyal to “this country,” but still be anti-Semitic.

The second and third questions, concerning Jewish power in business and finance, test very tired stereotypes.  Indeed, one of the silliest notions about Jews is their disproportionate financial power.  An anti-Semitic respondent could easily answer “no,” simply because the notions are silly.  (The fact that over half the respondents in Hungary, Poland, and Spain nevertheless answered “yes” is pretty much all you need to know about European anti-Semitism.)

The fourth question — Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust — has little to do with anti-Semitism.  About the Holocaust, some Jews speak and some Jews are silent.  The person answering this question may live next to the Jew who is silent or who speaks.  There is no reliable measure of anti-Semitism from speaking, or not speaking, about the Holocaust.

The issue is Holocaust denial.  The survey should have nothing to do with “talking” about the Holocaust, and everything to do questioning the Holocaust.  “Jewish claims about the Holocaust are probably overstated,” for example.  Test that.  The very real modern indicia of anti-Semitism is Holocaust denial.

The fifth question — “Jews are responsible for the death of Christ” — is a frankly stupid question.  It surely touches upon a historical basis for anti-Semitism, but ineptly.

1. It begs the question, for some, whether there ever was a “Christ” (as opposed to a historical Jesus, or Yeshua bar-Josef).  Some will say “No,” simply because they object to the term “Christ,” even though they might be anti-Semitic for other reasons.

2. Strictly speaking, according to the Biblical narrative, certain Jews were responsible for persuading Pontius Pilate to order the death of Jesus.  Thus, some who are not anti-Semitic in any respect and may be ardent supporters of Israel may answer “Yes” to this question based upon fidelity to their scriptural text.

3. For many Christians, of course, “Christ” did not die, or stay dead.  Some may therefore answer “No” simply because they object to the notion that “Christ” (as opposed to Jesus) ever died.  They may or may not be anti-Semitic.

In probing anti-Semitism, the question is not whether Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, but whether “Jews are appropriately to blame for being Christ-killers.”  This framing tests modern attitudes about collective guilt for deicide.  It wouldn’t do to ask whether Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, because according to the dominant Christian narrative, yes, certain Jews were.  It is not anti-Semitic to say that certain Jews persuaded Pontius Pilate to order the crucifixion of Jesus (and that certain Jews objected, that certain Jews were horrified, that certain Jews were disciples and many others loyal to Jesus, etc.).

The sixth and final question concerns Israel and Jews — and gives any bigot an obvious out to blame hostility toward Jews on Israel.  This query gets the real question precisely backwards.  Hostility toward Israel is sometimes anti-Semitic.  It might be useful to probe that question, but it is not useful to ask whether violence against Jews has more to do with Jews or Israel.

We can be confident, unfortunately, that anti-Semitism in Europe is robust.  We cannot be confident that it has been measured well.

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