Who is more antisemitic, the far left or far right? A new survey provides an answer

A US survey challenges the popular perception that antisemitic views are equally likely to be found at both ends of the left-right spectrum.

By Adam KovacJune 1, 2023

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

A new study is casting doubt on the idea, held by some but not most American Jews, that antisemitism is just as prevalent on the far left as it is on the far right. Though far more American Jews consider the far right as the greater antisemitic threat, some academics and Jewish leaders have embraced horseshoe theory — the idea the opposite ends of an ideological spectrum are similar — and applied it to antisemitism.

Though the Anti-Defamation League, for example, has identified the far right as far more threatening to American Jews, its leader, Jonathan Greenblatt, has compared far-left critics of Israel as the “photo inverse” of the extreme right.

While antisemitism on the right tends to focus on conspiracy theories about Jews being disloyal to white people or rejecting conservative values, on the left it’s often tied to blaming Jews for actions undertaken by Israel.

A paper published in June in the journal Political Research Quarterly found that anti-Jewish beliefs are far more popular in right-wing circles, particularly among young people. 

The results show that “there’s a problem on the young right,” said study author Eitan Hersh, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University. “It’s very interesting and, I think, concerning that we have this rare form of prejudice that is more common among young people and old people. It’s kind of shocking because if you look at other forms of prejudice, like racism, sexism, anti-gay attitudes, they’re just way higher among older people than younger people.”

For the study, a survey was sent to 3,500 American adults, 2,500 of them between the ages of 18 and 30. Respondents were asked to reply to a series of questions, such as whether they believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than the U.S.; if it’s appropriate to boycott Jewish-owned businesses to protest Israeli policies, and whether Jews have too much power. They were also asked questions to test for a double standard. For instance, one question would ask whether Jews who want to participate in activism must first denounce Israeli actions against Palestinians, and then a similar question was posed about Muslims denouncing a Muslim country’s actions. 

Hersh said he was surprised by the results. Those on the left were less likely than even political moderates to believe Jews were more loyal to Israel. They were also less likely than moderates to think Jews have too much power or that boycotting Jewish businesses to protest Israel was acceptable. Young adults who held the most conservative views were almost five times more likely to say it was acceptable to boycott Jewish businesses than those on the farthest left and almost 10 times more likely to say Jews had too much power. 

And while those who held these views of Jews also held the most extreme right-wing views, Hersh cautioned that this was not some tiny minority but rather a portion of the population that is “pretty significant” and is being radicalized by an online discourse that has little use for political correctness or tolerance.

He noted that antisemitic attitudes in young people were more prevalent in those who identify as Catholic, which could be a reflection of the growing “tradcath” or traditionalist Catholic movement, which openly condemns liberal reforms adopted by the Catholic Church and contains splinter groups that are often antisemitic

“These are young people raised in a generation conditioned by social media to essentially say things that are gonna get attention,” said Hersh. “The older generation of conservatives is more dominated by evangelicals and the evangelical community has a much stronger relationship to Israel.”

Some groups often lumped into leftist demographics, such as Blacks and Hispanics, also have a tendency to hold more antisemitic views. But Hersh said those groups in actuality tend to be split politically. “The finding is that if you are Black or Hispanic and you identify as conservative, that is the population that has the highest, by far, rate of agreement with the antisemitic statements. If you are Black or Hispanic on the left, it’s much higher than white people on the left, but it’s still low relative to the right.”

While the survey did reveal much about the attitudes of the far left and far right about Jews, it was not aimed at describing how those attitudes manifest in the real world. A prior survey conducted by Hersh indicated that Jews on college campuses “pay a social cost if they support the existence of the State of Israel, or for participating in Jewish life on campus.” That rejection of Jews, he said, often comes from those who align with progressive groups. But far-right extremists have also been responsible for acts of violence, including the attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 people dead — the deadliest antisemitic incident in American history. 

Hersh said his hope is that this new data can be used to construct better, more efficient strategies for combating antisemitism.

“What do I want people to do? I want to say, ‘Here’s what the survey did show, now what is the next step?’” he said. “How do we address antisemitism in these communities? What’s the source of it in these communities? And where do we go from there, informed by data?”

This article was originally published on the Forward.

RELATED STORIES 

How US conservatives use BDS boycott laws to target other progressive causes (Haaretz)
The film Boycott reveals how anti-BDS laws are increasingly being used as a template to rein in opponents of the gun industry and other conservative issues. “It’s a recognition that they’re losing the debate and can’t prevent people from seeing reality,” says director Julia Bacha.

As Jewish leaders debate community’s future in Europe, their kids are already leaving (Time of Israel)
Antisemitism and the dwindling of European Jewry are eroding the hopes of some devoted activists to raise families in the communities they run.

Porto Jews decry ‘Soviet-style antisemitism’ as lucrative citizenship vetting probed (Times of Israel)
Jewish community in coastal Portugal city has flourished, but is now being torn by decision to attack investigation into handling of citizenship process for Jews deemed Sephardic.

Football must finally take a stand against antisemitism (Guardian)
The game’s stakeholders must meet with Jewish bodies to take guidance and spell out the penalties for discriminating against my community.

Photo: Neo-Nazis and white supremacists at a march the night before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in  2017 (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)