In their study on anti-Jewish attitudes, the Anti-Defamation League surveyed a representative sample of more than 4,000 Americans from September through October of 2022.
They found that 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope (stereotypical representation), as compared to 61% in 2019. In fact, 1 in 5 respondents believes 6 or more antisemitic tropes, the most measured in decades.
Most notable among commonly believed anti-Jewish tropes are: Jews stick together more than other Americans, Jews have too much power in the business world, and Jews are more loyal to Israel than America.
Thirty-nine% of Americans believe the “dual loyalty” trope, which extends back thousands of years, generations before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This falsehood is underpinned by the belief that Jews cannot be trusted and their allegiance to Judaism takes precedence over the country in which they live.
In 1930s Germany, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories like this were used as propaganda to paint Jews as traitors and to justify Nazis initiating mass violence and, ultimately, genocide against Jews and other marginalized people.
Powerful Americans like industrialist Henry Ford had already joined Hitler’s chorus of hatred a decade earlier. Ford reprinted the antisemitic screed the “Protocols of Elders of Zion” in his newspaper the “Dearborn Independent” and in a collection, he entitled, “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem,” which was translated into 16 languages.
These publications were circulated widely and advanced the conspiracy theory that a cabal of Jews is secretly plotting to rule the world.
The modern-day white supremacist movement, backed by certain U.S. elected officials, echoes the age-old disloyalty claim which contends that Jews are covertly planning to replace white people through migration and integration. If you will recall, at the August 2017 Charlottesville, Va. “Unite the Right” rally, tiki torch-bearing neo-Nazi marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us!”
Prominent among classical antisemitic conspiracy theories that were not listed among the ADL survey tropes is Holocaust denial.
There are others that readers may not be familiar with such as: “blood libel” – the belief that Jews use the blood of Christian children for religious rituals; “deicide” – the charge that Jews crucified Christ, and “demonization” – the belief that Jews are “children of Satan.”
While a survey can provide us with a timely snapshot of critical issues, statistics alone do not offer an in-depth understanding of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of sustained bigotry and hate.
Sometimes it takes art to jump-start empathy. Now that we are in the midst of the motion picture awards season, I recommend three films (“Gentleman’s Agreement,” “Crossfire” and “School Ties”) that illustrate universal truths about antisemitism in America and can serve as a complement to a deeper understanding of the ADL survey findings.
What I admire about these films is that they portray the subtle and insidious exercise of antisemitism, in contrast to more sweeping depictions presented in Holocaust-oriented films like Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice or Judgement at Nuremberg, to name a few.
My first two recommendations are post-WWII films, produced soon after the defeat of fascism, uncovering of Nazi atrocities, and liberation of the concentration camps.
In the Academy Award-winning “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), journalist Phil Green accepts a major magazine assignment to expose antisemitism. He assumes a Jewish identity in order to experience anti-Jewish bigotry firsthand.
The film-noir classic “Crossfire” (1947) introduces us to a WWII soldier who has evil intentions against a Jewish war veteran, whom he believes did not serve in the war. The soldier violently lashes out. A detective is determined to solve the ensuing crime and expose the motive.
In “School Ties” (1992) a Jewish teenager receives a football scholarship to a highly regarded prep school in the 1950s and feels immense pressure to conceal his Jewish identity from his classmates and teachers whom he fears are anti-Jewish.
These three films offer a birds-eye view of what it is like for someone whose Jewish identity may or may not be known to those outside of their immediate orbit, to be exposed to others who hold either open or tacit antipathy against Jews.
In “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the protagonist Phil Green, a non-Jew and widower with a young son Tommy, has started to date Kathy, who is not Jewish. Kathy is aware of Phil’s magazine assignment and that it entails him assuming a Jewish identity. This leads to an uncomfortable exchange, when Tommy comes home from school one day.
Tommy: “They called me dirty Jew and a kike.”
Kathy: “It’s not true, it’s not true, you’re no more Jewish than I am!”
This leads Phil to confront Kathy, dismayed that she is trying to comfort Tommy by suggesting that the “dirty Jew” taunts are wrong because he isn’t Jewish, as opposed to addressing the intrinsic bias against Jews that blind expressions of hatred represent.
Among the more troubling findings reported in the 2022 ADL survey, is an increase in young adults ages 18-30 believing anti-Jewish tropes, as compared to earlier research. This is further affirmation that “antisemitic attitudes in the U.S. are widespread” and on the rise.
“The climate for Jews in America is changing. The temperature is rising. If you believe that this is a country for all, then you have a moral responsibility to combat anti-Jewish hate wherever it may arise,” urges Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL.
The Oct. 27, 2018 mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Congregation that took 11 lives and injured several more, represents an extreme expression of the deadly limits of antisemitism. However, it is every day exchanges like the one between Kathy, Tommy and Phil, that are most revealing of the deeply ingrained and enduring nature of anti-Jewish hate.
Lurking just beneath the surface, simmering hatred such as this too often goes unchallenged, finally leading to unthinkable violence and chronic heartache.