U.S. anti-Semitism drops, but still high among blacks

NEW YORK — Americans' attitudes toward Jews are improving overall, but African-Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to hold anti-Jewish beliefs, a new survey has found.

A survey released Monday by the Anti-Defamation League indicates that the number of American adults with strongly anti-Jewish views has dropped from 20 percent to 12 percent since 1992, when the agency last conducted a survey of such attitudes.

And the number of respondents who do not hold anti-Semitic views has increased from 39 percent in 1992 to a present majority of 53 percent.

The study measured only attitudes, rather than actual acts of anti-Semitic violence.

Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, attributed the improvement in attitudes to education and advocacy by groups such as the ADL and the American Jewish Committee, though he said there was no "exact science of cause and effect."

He also credited mass communication with promoting "a greater openness of people interacting" and commended the efforts of political leaders who have spoken out against hate, including anti-Semitism.

The last reason, Foxman said, "here in the kishke of history, is good times. Americans are doing well, and when they're doing well, there is less of a need to scapegoat.

"When it comes to scapegoating, Jews are the top of the hit parade," he added.

The survey, conducted in October by the Boston firm of Marttila Communications/Kiley & Co., confirms trends over the last three decades in which the number of Americans in the "most anti-Semitic" segment of the population has dropped steadily.

Age and education were seen as the most important indicators of anti-Semitic attitudes, with those over 65 and those with only a high school education more likely to harbor anti-Jewish feeling.

But African-Americans at all educational levels were more likely to hold such views.

The ADL's survey of 999 Americans over the age of 18 was based on an "index of anti-Semitic belief" developed in 1964 by U.C. researchers for the ADL's baseline study of American anti-Semitism and prejudice.

The index groups respondents in one of three categories of increasing anti-Jewish feeling, based on responses to 11 key questions concerning perceptions of American Jews with regard to business ethics and influence on Wall Street, Jewish loyalties and Jewish power.

Fewer Americans today answered that Jews have "too much control" on either Wall Street or the American news media.

But there was a slight increase, to 24 percent from 21 percent, in Americans who said that "the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jewish executives."

A solid majority of respondents believe that "the people who run the TV networks and major movie studios do not share the moral and religious beliefs of most Americans" — but they did not "think the programming decisions of network executives are influenced by the fact that they might be Jewish," according to the report.

The survey, whose margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percent, highlighted black-Jewish relations as an area of lingering concern, despite improvements.

It found that 34 percent of black Americans fall into the most anti-Semitic category, compared to 9 percent for white Americans.

Foxman pointed to the anti-Semitic rhetoric of African-American leaders — such as the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan and Million Youth March organizer Khalid Muhammad — as having fostered virulently anti-Semitic stereotyping among African-Americans.

In addition to the original population sample, researchers surveyed 331 African-Americans to increase the reliability of the results for that group.

Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, said that despite the slow pace in which African Americans have relinquished their anti-Jewish beliefs, "the direction is one that I'm encouraged by."

He cited coalitions between black groups like the Urban League with Jewish defense agencies and other ethnic advocacy groups as one sign of improvement.

Foxman noted improved relations "on the ground," but called for a more "vigorous effort" in combating anti-Semitism among African-Americans, "so it doesn't become a chronic disease."

Responding to those who would suggest that America is moving toward a time when anti-Semitism is largely eradicated and the ADL's work will be done, Foxman suggested that the trend may not last.

"We live in a society today that has a great deal more health, a greater longevity, but that doesn't mean that people have stopped taking out life insurance," he said.