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The Shortcomings of the ADL’s “Largest Survey Ever on Anti-Semitic Attitudes”


Cross-posted from TikkunDaily

By Dylan Kaufman-Obstler

Last week the Anti-Defamation League came out with a report on anti-semitism conducted in 100 different countries, calling it “The largest survey ever of anti-semitic attitudes.” In the survey, participants were given 11 statements of Jewish stereotypes and were then asked whether they were “probably true” or “probably false.” Participants who answered “probably true” to 6 or more of the stereotypes were categorized as harboring anti-semitic attitudes. Of the 11 statements, the study found that the one most widely believed is that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries in which they live.

This finding raises an interesting question: why does the ADL treat the belief that Jews are more loyal to Israel as an anti-semitic stereotype when the ADL has worked so hard to promote pro-Israel sentiment in Jews living outside Israel?

The mission of the ADL prioritizes Israel advocacy as its weapon of choice in the fight against anti-semitism. The ADL monitors what it calls the “anti-Israel movement” and “anti-Israel groups,” essentially using criticism of Israel as the litmus test to determine whether an organization or individual is anti-semitic. This is especially apparent when it comes to Jewish organizations that disapprove of Israeli policies. In the page on the ADL’s website devoted to Jewish Voice for Peace – an organization that calls for the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctioning of Israel (BDS) – the ADL states, “JVP, like other prominent Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and groups, uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility.”A central aspect of the ADL’s work is to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism and discredit any Jewish organizing that criticizes the state of Israel, naming their Jewish identity as a “shield” rather than a legitimate basis for their criticisms.

The ADL survey’s findings are not surprising given that impressing feelings of loyalty towards Israel is a primary interest for many Jewish organizations and institutions. One example of this is the high proportion of funds in American Jewish philanthropy directed towards Israel-focused initiatives. According to the 2012 annual report from the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Endowment Fund, of its over $24 million granted to Jewish agencies and programs, 34% was spent on “Israel and Overseas.” This does not account for the 56% spent on its “Local” or “National” funding, which includes programs such as “Israel at 65,” “Israel Engagement,” “Israel Quest,” “Masa Israel Journey,” and “Birthright Israel.” Positioning loyalty towards Israel as an essential aspect of Jewish identity has been a well-funded and unrelenting campaign within Jewish institutional life.

This issue of “loyalty” – and anti-semitic attitudes that question Jewish loyalty to their nations of residence–has particular relevance to the history of the Zionist movement and its presentation of a Jewish nation-state as the solution to anti-semitism. A foundational ethos behind the making of a Jewish state was the belief that Jews will never be fully accepted as citizens in their own countries, and therefore must place Jewish political and national loyalty in a Jewish state. Once the State of Israel was established, Jewish institutions around the world mobilized to make the State of Israel a primary concern for Jewish communities. Today we are able to see the affects of political Zionism’s logic in both the results of the ADL’s survey as well as the way the ADL puts Israel at the center of its work against anti-semitism.

The long history of contentious debate on whether Zionism would be an effective or appropriate solution for anti-semitism in Europe has seemingly been forgotten as contemporary Jewish communities become evermore fixated on anti-semitism as a way of legitimizing and necessitating the existence of a Jewish state. This view is unsustainable and harmful to Jewish communities. The ADL is not incorrect in naming the assumption of Jewish loyalty towards Israel is an anti-semitic attitude. The Jewish community’s Israel obsession, and its role shaping Jewish institutional life, is indeed a product of anti-semitism.