Just How Many Anti-Semites Are There?

An ambitious survey shows that 26 percent of the world's adult population are anti-Semites. If you add in other forms of bigotry, however, the picture will be much scarier.
Well, this Iranian guy makes one ... Photographer: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

It's hard to believe that in 2014, 26 percent of the world's population is anti-Semitic. That, however, is one of the findings of a poll the Anti-Defamation League conducted among 53,100 people in 102 countries, who were asked if they agreed with 11 anti-Semitic statements, including nuggets like, "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust"; "Jews think they are better than other people"; and "People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave." To be counted among the 26 percent, one had to accept six of the 11.

The general finding is, however, a simplistic reflection of a highly varied global picture of ethnic and religious prejudice. The ADL study, the first one conducted on such a wide scale, picked up indications of anti-Semitism's antipode, Islamophobia, and other related forms of bigotry, but did not go into too much detail on them. I suspect that if it had, global bigotry levels would have evened out at a higher number than 26 percent.

Predictably, North Africa and the Middle East were found to be the world's most anti-Semitic region, with an average of 74 percent of people agreeing with anti-Jewish statements. Muslims in general are more anti-Semitic than Christians. Moreover, the more years of education a Muslim has, the higher the anti-Semitism level. With Christians, it's the opposite. So what else is new: Media propaganda and indoctrination matter.

At the same time, ADL found that Jews are viewed unfavorably by 21 percent of those surveyed, while 24 percent felt negatively about Muslims. Hindus are disliked by 18 percent of the world's population. Surely some people carry all these bigotry viruses: a dedicated supporter of Greece's popular neofascist Golden Dawn party is an all-around xenophobe. In Greece, 69 percent of those surveyed turned out to be anti-Semites, and 81 percent said they believe that Jews have too much influence in the business world; other forms of xenophobia should be equally widespread there, considering the unprecedented economic hardship of recent years. People often blame outsiders for such calamities.

Anti-Semitism levels are low in the English-speaking world -- 8 percent in the U.K., 9 percent in the U.S., 14 percent in Australia -- so to these countries' population this form of bigotry is especially preposterous. Different cultures, however, may consider other forms a greater sin.

In a 2012 paper, British anthropologist Pnina Werbner wrote of three archetypal demonic figures imagined by all types of bigots: the Slave (downtrodden, but wild and physically strong -- "the hewer of wood and carrier of water" embodied in the dark-skinned street mugger), the Witch ("the hidden, disguised, malevolent stranger") and the Grand Inquisitor (the religious fanatic, "upfront, morally superior, openly aggressive, denying the promiscuous society and the validity of other cultures").

Werbner noted that, as the Middle Eastern conflict develops, Jews are increasingly seen as the Grand Inquisitor types in parts of the Western world, while Muslims have now become the secret conspirators because of Sept. 11 and subsequent terrorist attacks. "Events in Europe, America and the Middle East have raised the possibility of a convergence between the Jewish and Muslim folk devils," Werbner wrote.

In addition to this role reversal and convergence, in many countries Muslims (though not Jews) fit into the "Slave" stereotype. That is the case in France, where immigrants from North Africa are a noticeable minority trying to rise out of poverty and the drudgery of menial jobs. The ADL study gives France a 37 percent anti-Semitism score, one of the highest in Western Europe, but given the fact that the extreme right National Front may well win the European Parliament election there this month, the Islamophobia level might well be as high or higher. Last fall, a poll showed that 59 percent of the French believe discrimination against Mulsims has been on the rise in their country for the last 20 years.

Similarly, in Russia, with its 30 percent anti-Semitism level -- low considering the country's history, which produced the internationally understood term "pogrom" -- prejudice against Central Asian immigrants doing low-paid work in the big cities is probably by far the most popular form of bigotry. According to a 2013poll, 35 percent of Russians believe that immigrants are disgustingly dirty and 52 percent believe a tight visa regime to restrict their entry would be a good idea.

It is troubling that so many of our neighbors are anti-Semites and that 35 percent of the world's adult population have never heard of the Holocaust, as the ADL study shows. The overall bigotry level, however, is potentially much scarier. The sponsors of the anti-Semitism report said they had already been contacted by the Greek government, which is interested in rectifying the situation. Perhaps the ADL or some other organization with the necessary resources will undertake a more general study of xenophobic prejudice, and the governments of countries with low anti-Semitism levels will be surprised to find out their citizens are in need of some tolerance training, too.

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