Moving Away from Nationalism and Towards Liberation:

The Shortcomings of the ADL’s “Largest Survey Ever on Anti-Semitic Attitudes”

Last week the Anti-Defamation League came out with a report on anti-semitism conducted in 100 different countries, calling it “The largest survey ever of anti-semitic attitudes.” In the survey, participants were given 11 statements of Jewish stereotypes and were then asked whether they were “probably true” or “probably false.” Participants who answered “probably true” to 6 or more of the stereotypes were categorized as harboring anti-semitic attitudes. Of the 11 statements, the study found that the one most widely believed is that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries in which they live.

This finding raises an interesting question: why does the ADL treat the belief that Jews are more loyal to Israel as an anti-semitic stereotype when the ADL has worked so hard to promote pro-Israel sentiment in Jews living outside Israel?

The mission of the ADL prioritizes Israel advocacy as its weapon of choice in the fight against anti-semitism. The ADL monitors what it calls the “anti-Israel movement” and “anti-Israel groups,” essentially using criticism of Israel as the litmus test to determine whether an organization or individual is anti-semitic. This is especially apparent when it comes to Jewish organizations that disapprove of Israeli policies. In the page on the ADL’s website devoted to Jewish Voice for Peace – an organization that calls for the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctioning of Israel (BDS) – the ADL states, “JVP, like other prominent Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and groups, uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility.”A central aspect of the ADL’s work is to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism and discredit any Jewish organizing that criticizes the state of Israel, naming their Jewish identity as a “shield” rather than a legitimate basis for their criticisms.

The ADL survey’s findings are not surprising given that impressing feelings of loyalty towards Israel is a primary interest for many Jewish organizations and institutions. One example of this is the high proportion of funds in American Jewish philanthropy directed towards Israel-focused initiatives. According to the 2012 annual report from the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Endowment Fund, of its over $24 million granted to Jewish agencies and programs, 34% was spent on “Israel and Overseas.” This does not account for the 56% spent on its “Local” or “National” funding, which includes programs such as “Israel at 65,” “Israel Engagement,” “Israel Quest,” “Masa Israel Journey,” and “Birthright Israel.” Positioning loyalty towards Israel as an essential aspect of Jewish identity has been a well-funded and unrelenting campaign within Jewish institutional life.

This issue of “loyalty” – and anti-semitic attitudes that question Jewish loyalty to their nations of residence–has particular relevance to the history of the Zionist movement and its presentation of a Jewish nation-state as the solution to anti-semitism. A foundational ethos behind the making of a Jewish state was the belief that Jews will never be fully accepted as citizens in their own countries, and therefore must place Jewish political and national loyalty in a Jewish state. Once the State of Israel was established, Jewish institutions around the world mobilized to make the State of Israel a primary concern for Jewish communities. Today we are able to see the affects of political Zionism’s logic in both the results of the ADL’s survey as well as the way the ADL puts Israel at the center of its work against anti-semitism.

The long history of contentious debate on whether Zionism would be an effective or appropriate solution for anti-semitism in Europe has seemingly been forgotten as contemporary Jewish communities become evermore fixated on anti-semitism as a way of legitimizing and necessitating the existence of a Jewish state. This view is unsustainable and harmful to Jewish communities. The ADL is not incorrect in naming the assumption of Jewish loyalty towards Israel is an anti-semitic attitude. The Jewish community’s Israel obsession, and its role shaping Jewish institutional life, is indeed a product of anti-semitism.

What this finding in the ADL survey tells us, however, is that the work of Jewish liberation from anti-semitism is larger than Israel. Jewish liberation cannot be found in the nation-state, nor can anti-semitism be solved or mitigated through a Jewish nation-state. We must rather move towards a vision of a post-national Jewish Liberation: the idea that Jewish liberation is tied in with the struggles of all those whom are oppressed, and that true liberation is found in the work we do on both personal and collective levels.

While the ADL claims its mission is to “combat hate,” it has used its survey to further propagate stereotypes. When ADL’s National Director, Abraham Foxman, spoke at a press conference upon the survey’s release, he stated that “Muslims overall have more highly anti-semitic attitudes than other religions.” The ADL’s survey in its naming of other groups as the agents of anti-semitism, focuses on anti-semitism as an external issue. While the ADL survey was certainly the most extensive of its kind, it does not address the most pressing effect of anti-semitism today: the anti-semitism Jews have internalized and how it is affecting Jewish communities. We see this most strikingly in the way Jewish institutions and organizations, such as the ADL, censor discussion about Zionism and the State of Israel. The effects of anti-semitism – the manifestation of paranoia and sense of isolation, have perpetuated McCarthyist attitudes towards Israel criticism and created toxic dynamics within our own institutions.

While naming anti-semitism is important, the work of healing our communities compels us to look towards a different framework that does not further entrench suspicious and bigoted attitudes. Anti-semitism is an internal issue as much as an external one, and it will not transform or fade by proving any kind of national loyalty. “Combating hate” does not look like conducting a survey and naming other religious and ethnic groups as the problem; it is thinking more deeply about the impacts of oppression on the health of our communities. The misuse of anti-semitism by Jewish nationalist interests is itself a propagator of anti-semitism and is the greatest stumbling block for Jewish liberation.


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