A real problem deserves a better gauge

A real problem deserves a better gauge

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The study just released by the Anti-Defamation League on anti-Semitism around the world raises many concerns about the pervasiveness and persistence of hatred toward the Jewish people almost 70 years after the death of Adolf Hitler. 

The study appears to corroborate what all thinking Jews and civilized people throughout the world have feared: the anti-Israel movement — nurtured and encouraged by the widespread boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement in Europe and now in the United States — has returned an element of acceptability to forces which foster increased anti-Semitism. 

For some time the BDS movement has developed traction in Europe and to some degree in the United States, especially among university students. Anti-Semitism appears to have been repressed or quiet for several decades, except when it emerges as an expression for anti-Israel feeling. Today, encouraged even by self-hating Jews, Israel and Jews throughout the world are facing attacks, often verbal, sometimes physical. In Paris, a Jewish mother with a child in a baby carriage was attacked; in Greece, Jews were blamed for the severe economic downturn; in Hungary, the rise of that nation’s far-right Jobbik party and attacks on Jewish cemeteries have alarmed its Jewish community. 

Church-based hostility against Jews persists, despite Pope Francis’s beatification of two recent popes — John XXIII and John Paul II — who did more to change the conversation of the Church toward Jews than any other Catholic leader. With Pope Francis himself now in the Holy Land, Catholics have had a number of leaders who have made considerable efforts to improve relations with Jews, more so than had been done for centuries. 

This progress has not reached all leaders of the Catholic Church, nor does it counter continuing — even growing — anti-Israel feeling among mainline Protestant denominations. While their hostility is not immediately based on the “Christ-killing” theme so prevalent throughout history, it suggests an embrace of the Palestinian narrative. The problem here is that a political clash is being expressed in classic anti-Semitic terms by radical Islamists throughout the Middle East, led largely by the Iranian mullahs. These diatribes help feed anti-imperialist and anti-colonial attacks against Israel, which obtain a strong hearing in many parts of the West, especially among academics and intellectual leaders. 

These developments justify the ADL study, which in turn has received wide coverage and created intense anxiety within some segments of the Jewish community. ADL has persistently been the leader in documenting this phenomenon. However, ADL’s work also encourages and indirectly supports those hardline elements in the Netanyahu-led Israeli government — including the prime minister himself — who link anti-Semitism and anti-Israel politics in order to justify a lukewarm approach — at best — to peace-making with its neighbors. 

While one can agree or disagree with this approach, the ADL study itself is a flawed instrument to gauge global attitudes.

As Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School pointed out in a scathing attack last week in Bloomberg View, the ADL study used an outdated survey model that “stacked the deck in favor of anti-Semitic answers.” “A poll consisting of nothing but a series of anti-Semitic propositions” — as, Feldman explains, the 11-question ADL survey does — “runs the risk of becoming a cascade that the respondent will feel drawn to join”; that is, the poll itself may plant anti-Semitic ideas that weren’t there in the first place. Feldman also suggests that ADL survey is self-serving, in that it justifies continued contributions to the organization. 

Anti-Semitism is certainly well and alive and probably growing, as is anti-Israel feeling; however, there is a very clear need to study and evaluate the current situation with far more accurate measures than those employed in this ADL report.

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