On Using 'Anti-Semitism' to Promote a Political Agenda in America

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Fifteen years ago, on a dirt road in rural Missouri, I was followed by two men in a beat-up Ford pickup for three miles, their middle fingers raised and their faces strained, screaming words I could not hear – words I did not need to hear.
This was during my yarmulke-wearing days. I was a visible, lone Jew out in the country bird watching. A Jew who suddenly found himself being tracked by two men whose hate-fueled rage inspired them to try running me off the road. As sport.
Of course, anti-Semitism exists in America and remains a dangerous, global prejudice which reverberates strongly in the Holocaust’s wake. I’ve experienced it on several occasions in multiple countries, as have family and friends. Which is why it’s troubling to witness individuals and organizations in America make false ‘anti-Semitism’ claims not to point out this real prejudice, but in the service of propaganda intended to demonize Middle-Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular.
This week was a big moment for this phenomenon, as much attention was focused on a shocking global survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The survey of over 50,000 respondents claims to reveal that over a billion people – 26 percent of the global population – harbor predominantly anti-Semitic views, with Muslims being the most anti-Semitic religious group and Palestinians the most anti-Semitic nationality. (According to the survey, 49 percent of Muslims worldwide are anti-Semitic, as are 75 percent of Middle-Eastern Muslims and 93 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.)
Those numbers certainly appear shocking.
However, the survey’s problematic metrics reveal this quantitative survey to be less about measuring actual anti-Semitism as defined by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and more about an occasion to demonize Middle Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular, in the service of ‘pro-Israel’ and anti-Palestinian efforts.

Here’s how the survey worked: respondents were read 11 statements representing Jewish stereotypes, and those who answered “probably true” to six of them were categorized as anti-Semitic. Here are those 11 statements:

Now, imagine that you are a Palestinian living under a decades-old Israeli military occupation in the West Bank or hermetically sealed within Gaza’s blockaded borders. You regularly witness or experience indefinite detentions, home raids, restrictions on movement, settlement expansions, bombing campaigns, land appropriations, the denial of basic human rights …
You are read the following statement: Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind. Answering “probably true” gets marked in the anti-Semitic column. The same applies for similarly responding to the statement, Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country (meaning settlers living in the West Bank).
Do such “probably true” responses measure actual anti-Semitism, or do they reflect the perspectives of those suffering through an asymmetrical, long-term political conflict? To me, the answer is clear, for these are leading questions with predictable answers, not measurements of definitional anti-Semitism.
Writing for The Guardian, Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark make a similar observation:

The most striking example of a leading question undergirds the ADL’s claim that the highest percentage of anti-Semitism is among Palestinians who live in the occupied territories. The ADL asked a group of people for whom the movement of goods, money and labor is controlled by Israel, “Do Jews have too much power in the business world?”. Were they really to be expected to answer anything but “yes”?
The ADL report comes out on the heels of a Pew research study showing that, for instance, bias against Roma and Muslim people exceeds that against Jews in Europe. We believe the goals of a group that calls itself the Anti-Defamation League would be better served if it allied itself with other targeted groups to combat all dangerous prejudices – instead of just using anti-Semitism as a propaganda tool to advance a decidedly political agenda.

Now, as a quantitative survey, the ADL’s work certainly reveals the existence of those who still hold fast to anti-Semitic stereotypes, which is a surprise to nobody and certainly troubling. And if one peruses the ADL’s presentation, it won’t appear on the surface as though there is an agenda to typecast Muslims. In fact, the presentation makes clear that region – living in the Middle East, for example – seems to matter more when it comes to harboring anti-Semitic views than religion.
However, this is precisely one of the survey’s goals: to propose that Middle-Eastern Muslims, particularly Palestinians, are the world’s most virulent people. This agenda becomes clear in its press release to journalists, which highlights the “shocking” levels of anti-Semitism amongst Palestinians and those in the Middle East.
A sound quantitative or qualitative study on prejudice in the world would not have the same results as the ADL’s global survey, nor would it leave open the potential for political, anti-Israel sentiment to be confused for anti-Semitism, as does the ADL survey.
At best, this potential for confusion seems to be the result of clumsily-constructed questions. At worst, such ambiguity was intentional so that the survey could, upon being reported, function as a propaganda tool, demonizing Palestinians in a zero-sum game. It shouldn’t be surprising that this is predictably occurring, with anything but the truth being served.
As one who has both been the target of anti-Semitism and falsely called anti-Semitic for my political views, it is troubling to see this real prejudice be manipulated and diluted in this way.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.