At a time of growing concern about right-wing extremism in the United States, a new survey paints a troubling portrait of Jewish Americans’ experiences with anti-Semitism.
The survey, released Wednesday by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a prominent Jewish civil rights group based in the U.S., said 63% of American Jews had experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism over the past five years — a marked increase from the 53% of respondents who expressed the same view in last year’s ADL survey.
At the same time, 59% of the respondents in this year’s survey said they felt Jews were less safe in the U.S. today than they were a decade ago, while 49% expressed fear of a violent attack at a synagogue.
Impact clearly felt
“What this [report] does is it gives a very broad photograph of what the American Jewish experience is like today. And it is clearly one that is affected pretty profoundly by various forms of anti-Semitism or the expressions of anti-Semitism,” said Jessica Reaves, editorial director at ADL’s Center on Extremism.
The survey was conducted January 7-15 and collected responses from 503 Jewish Americans 18 years and older. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.
About 4.2 million American adults identify as Jewish “by religion,” representing 1.8% of the U.S. adult population, according to a 2013 Pew Research estimate. A more inclusive estimate by the American Jewish Year Book 2019 put the number at 6.9 million. Most live in major metropolitan areas that account for the bulk of anti-Jewish hate crimes.
Cities report declines
The new findings came as major U.S. cities reported sharp declines in the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2020 after experiencing historically high levels in 2019, when Jews were the No. 1 target of hate crimes in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Last year’s decline in anti-Jewish hate crimes came as social distancing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic reduced opportunities for in-person encounters, according to experts.
As a result, much of the anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish Americans took place online, with 36% of the ADL survey respondents saying they had encountered some form of online harassment. Yet only 29% reported threats and harassment to social media platforms, down from 43% in 2020, Reaves noted.
“I think that's incredibly important, because it reflects, we believe, in some ways this resignation about tech companies’ refusal to deal head-on with the rise of bigotry, the rise of racism and anti-Semitism online,” Reaves said.
Social media's response
Facebook, Twitter and other mainstream social media sites say they do not allow harassment and threats on their platforms and encourage users to report them.
Anti-Semitism stirs up much of America’s far-right movement, with many right-wing extremists often viewing Jews as the villain.
American white supremacists have long blamed Jews for orchestrating “white genocide,” the notion that the white race is dying, as nonwhites and immigrants grow in number.
In recent years, the QAnon movement has repurposed age-old anti-Semitic tropes to promote conspiracy theories about a world-dominating Jewish cabal.
"We see this resurfacing over and over again in a lot of the right-wing commentary that has become so much a part of the American political landscape these days,” Reaves said.