Anti-Semitism: The poison that won’t go away

Anti-Semitism — that toxic delusion that has created so much hatred, violence, heartache over the centuries — refuses to die. That pernicious view of Jews as all-powerful, untrustworthy and a cause of whatever ails society, sounds laughable when you hear the manufactured conspiracies and the phony facts. But it has proven deadly for many centuries.

A new global survey by the Anti-Defamation League shows how it has taken root and spread deeply in some regions, while holding on stubbornly in other places where it has done the most damage throughout history.

The bigotry and the stereotypes are so insidious, that of the 26 percent of people surveyed who believe most anti-Semitic stereotypes, 70 percent have never even met a Jewish person.

Perhaps the most stunning revelation is the sheer depth of anti-Semitism — not just anti-Israel feelings — in the Arab Middle East; more on that in a moment.

The ADL survey interviewed more than 53,000 people in 102 countries, composing a picture that covers almost 90 percent of the world. Interviewers presented respondents with a series of statements, 11 in all, reflecting traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes, ideas such as “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars,” or “Jews have too much control over global affairs.”

In the United States, 9 percent of those asked agreed with the majority of the stereotypes, in Canada 14 percent did. Researchers say they found worldwide 26 percent of people are “deeply infected with anti-Semitic attitudes.”

It’s no surprise that in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that is mostly Muslim, mostly Arab, attitudes towards Jews are less than warm. But the scores were almost off the chart. Two of every three people there agree Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars. Only about one in three have ever heard of the Holocaust, and 63 percent of those who have say it is a lie or an exaggeration.

The deepest anti-Semitism is found in the West Bank and Gaza, where more than 90 percent of the people agreed with most of the anti-Semitic statements.

Clearly, these views have an impact on prospects for peace.

Researchers asked about attitudes toward Israel separately from attitudes towards Jews. In MENA, 84 percent had negative views of Israel and 67 percent had negative views of Jews. Even the more moderate, progressive MENA states, Tunisia (86 percent), Morocco (80 percent), had extremely high percentages agreeing with the anti-Semitic statements. The survey reconfirmed that in Egypt (75 percent) and Jordan (81 percent) the two Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, popular sentiment toward Israel and the Jews remains deeply negative.

In Europe, the country with the highest percentage agreeing with most of the stereotypes was Greece, at 69 percent. The best scores came from Sweden (4 percent), the Netherlands (5 percent) the United Kingdom (8 percent). France came in with the worst score in Western Europe (excluding Greece) with 37 percent of the French agreeing with the Jewish stereotypes. Eastern Europe remains far more anti-Jewish.

In Latin America, Panama had a surprisingly high number — 52 percent -- agreeing with a majority of the stereotypes. Colombia had 41 percent, Mexico 24 percent, Brazil 16 percent.

A fundamental tenet of anti-Semitism is the belief that Jews are enormously powerful. Many of those who believe in those sinister powers would be surprised to know how few Jews actually exist. About one-third of those surveyed believe Jews account for 10 percent of the world’s population. Almost half say 1 percent of the world. They are all wrong, of course. Jews make up less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population. There are about 14 million Jews, approximately the same number as the population of Los Angeles, or Paris, or Rio de Janeiro.

Almost everywhere, education helped dissipate anti-Semitism. The more knowledgeable and educated those interviewed, the less anti-Semitic their views.

That was true everywhere except in the Middle East and North Africa, where more education correlated with more anti-Semitism, which raises the question of what, exactly, people are being taught.

The problem, as we learned many decades ago, is that when anti-Semitism becomes so widespread in the population, even the teachers teach its lies to their students. Hatred is a deadly and highly contagious virus.

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