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Thursday, May 14, 2009

News: Anti-semitism is alive and well

Because I am related to a number of people that worry a lot about anti-semitism (and use it as part of a defense of policies in Israel that I think are indefensible), I am probably too dismissive about claims of anti-semitism.  Unless it is self-serving: I assume that all the students who hate me in their student evaluations are probably anti-semites.  In any case, I really found myself quite disturbed by survey results reported very recently in the Boston Review.  Some choice bits:

In order to assess explicit prejudice toward Jews, we directly asked respondents “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” with responses falling under five categories: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. Among non-Jewish respondents, a strikingly high 24.6 percent of Americans blamed “the Jews” a moderate amount or more, and 38.4 percent attributed at least some level of blame to the group.

Interestingly, Democrats were especially prone to blaming Jews: while 32 percent of Democrats accorded at least moderate blame, only 18.4 percent of Republicans did so (a statistically significant difference). This difference is somewhat surprising given the presumed higher degree of racial tolerance among liberals and the fact that Jews are a central part of the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition. Are Democrats simply more likely to “blame everything” thus casting doubt on whether the anti-Jewish attitudes are real? Not at all. We also asked how much “individuals who took out loans and mortgages they could not afford” were to blame on the same five-point scale. In this case, Democrats were less likely than Republicans to assign moderate or greater blame.

Oy.  The good news: Since most of my students are Democrats and only a small percentage tend to hate me as a teacher, I think I have found the source of the resistance to my pedogogical methods.

UPDATE:  I want to emphasize that I think the Boston Review article is serious and requires a certain seriousness in thinking about what to make of it.  That I drafted this post to be entertaining for readers should not be taken as any indication that I take the findings lightly. 

I should also probably apologize for bringing Middle East politics into the discussion at all, since we can surely talk about anti-semitism outside of a discussion about Israel, which always gets heated.  But I allude to Israel here both to give you a bit of biography (because of my upbringing, I am routinely exposed to people linking the two conversations all the time, which has led me to be less open to unsupported claims about anti-semitism) and to suggest that they can be spoken of together, without embracing or supporting illiberal policies.  Most importantly, I think you should read the article; my asides are really beside the point and I wouldn't want them to distract readers. 

Posted by Ethan Leib on May 14, 2009 at 11:59 AM | Permalink


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"Because I am related to a number of people that worry a lot about anti-semitism (and use it as part of a defense of policies in Israel that I think are indefensible. . . ."


Hope all is well,

Posted by: Liz Glazer | May 15, 2009 3:37:56 PM

It sounds like this survey could also attract anti-Semites. I suspect that many people who were not inclined to blame "the Jews," in general, for anything, would not deign to participate in such a survey.

Posted by: anon | May 14, 2009 7:02:42 PM


See the article, the beginning of which reads:

"The media coverage of the Bernard Madoff scandal made extensive reference to Madoff’s ethnic and religious background and his prominent role in the Jewish community. Because the scandal broke at a time of great public outcry against financial institutions, some, including Brad Greenberg in The Christian Science Monitor and Mark Seal in Vanity Fair, have reported on its potential to generate a wave of anti-Semitism."

And the relevant historical backdrop:

"Financial scandals are widely regarded as contributors to the rise of anti-Semitism in European history. Famously, the Panama Scandal—often described as the biggest case of monetary corruption of the nineteenth century—led to the downfall of Clemenceau’s government in France and involved bribes to many cabinet members and hundreds of parliament members. Nonetheless, the public’s fury centered on two Jewish men who were in charge of distributing corporate bribe money to the politicians. In her classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt described the Panama Scandal as a key event in the development of French anti-Semitism. The Stavisky Affair, in which the Jewish financier Alexandre Stavisky embezzled millions of francs through fraudulent municipal bonds, broke out 40 years later and had a similar effect of nourishing the accusation that the Jews were behind the corruption in financial dealings."

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | May 14, 2009 1:12:42 PM

Interesting. I wonder how many of the "blame the Jews" crowd are thinking primarily of Bernard Madoff, or at least assimilating his crimes to "the financial crisis". They happened at around the same time, and are perhaps not totally unrelated, but of course he didn't cause it. I can see how casual news watchers who don't know much about the situation, but know that he's Jewish and that lots of Jewish organizations were hurt by him might mistakenly come to the conclusion that "the Jews" are "moderately to blame" for the financial crisis. It's still an unsettling set of findings, but might then at least be more understandable.

Posted by: Matt | May 14, 2009 12:43:39 PM

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