Are Americans More Antisemitic Than They Were Four Decades Ago?

At the end of 1980, under the headline “Survey Finds Sharp Rise in Anti-Semitic Incidents,” The New York Times reported that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had counted “377 cases of assaults and vandalism…against properties” that year, plus “112 bodily assaults or harassments.” By comparison, the ADL had reported “129 property incidents” in 1979. But Nathan Perlmutter, then the organization’s director, “said that part of the 1980 increase might have reflected improved procedures introduced this year in collecting and evaluating information.”

That sort of caveat is conspicuously missing from this year’s ADL audit and from the Times story about it. “The number of antisemitic incidents in the United States last year was the highest since the Anti-Defamation League began keeping track in 1979,” the Times reports. But there is a difference between “the number of antisemitic incidents in the United States” and the number counted by the ADL, whose annual tally relies on reporting by “victims, law enforcement, the media and partner organizations.”

In addition to actual changes in antisemitic incidents, the ADL’s numbers are apt to be affected by changes in reporting behavior and in the organization’s efforts to collect information. Those factors don’t mean the ADL’s narrative of rising antisemitism in the United States, which is supported by recent survey data, should be dismissed out of hand. But they do complicate the picture in ways that the ADL and the Times fail to acknowledge, especially when it comes to the implicit claim that anti-Jewish bigotry is more prevalent today than it was four decades ago.

Per capita, the ADL counted more than five times as many antisemitic incidents in 2022 as it did in 1980. It does not follow that Americans are five times as likely to hate Jews as they were 43 years ago.

The ADL’s survey data do not support that inference. In 2022, it reports, 20 percent of Americans at least “somewhat” believed “six or more anti-Jewish tropes,” compared to 29 percent in 1964 and 20 percent in 1992. That number has gone up and down over the years, and it rose by 82 percent, from 11 percent to 20 percent, between 2019 and 2022.

During the same period, the number of ADL-reported antisemitic incidents rose by 75 percent, which is consistent with the premise that the organization’s tallies reflect a real trend. But these two sets of numbers do not always track each other so neatly. Between 1992 and 1998, for example, the measure of antisemitic attitudes fell by 40 percent, while the number of incidents that the ADL counted fell by just 7 percent. Between 1998 and 2002, when survey-measured antisemitism rose by 42 percent, the number of reported incidents dropped by 3 percent.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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