Prominent black leaders and activists had mixed reactions this week to a new survey by the Anti-Defamation League in which African Americans were four times more likely than whites to harbor attitudes the ADL termed “most anti-Semitic.”
But one black leader — and several experts — questioned another premise of the ADL national survey: that simply believing Jews “stick together more than other Americans” and “always like to be at the head of things” puts someone in a suspect middle category of “being not completely prejudice free in their attitude toward Jews.”
“I’ve been at meetings [of African Americans] where someone will stand up and say, ‘We should be more like the Jews; they stick together’ or, ‘Jews go to the head of things,’ ” said State Sen. David Paterson, who represents Harlem. “They don’t mean it negatively. But if you answer these two questions ‘Yes,’ you’re in.”
Overall, the ADL study found that those it characterized as “most anti-Semitic” plummeted from 20 percent in 1992 to 12 percent in this year’s study.
The ADL study, a national survey the group has conducted in 1964 and 1992, asked respondents to characterize 22 descriptions of Jews as “probably true” or “probably false.” People’s responses to 11 of these were used to compile the ADL’s “anti-Semitism index.”
Those agreeing with six of the descriptions — as 12 percent overall did — were classified as “most anti-Semitic. Those who assented to from two to five of them — some 35 percent —were classified as “being not completely prejudice free in their attitude toward Jews.”
While agreement with many of the descriptions would clearly reflect a negative view of Jews, even the ADL acknowledged, “Among certain segments of the population, ‘sticking together’ is considered to be a positive attribute.” ADL officials said they used this and the other 10 as their litmus test statements because they were used in the previous two studies and provided the continuity necessary for establishing trends over time.
Many, including Paterson, agreed than those who accepted six of the statements could fairly be classified as strongly anti-Semitic. “But the threshold for the middle category, identifying people who stereotype Jews, is very low,” said Paterson.“I think he’s right,” said Ester Fuchs, director of the Center for Urban Research and Policy at Columbia University. “Those questions do not imply a negative aspect. The second question [about Jews and leadership] is also complicated, because if you think it’s good to be at the head of things, like when you’re looking for leadership in a corporate or academic setting, you’d think that’s a good thing.”
Kenneth Jacobson, the ADL’s deputy national director, conceded that the 11-question index has “never been 100 percent scientific.” But since the questions were compiled in the ADL’s original survey in 1964, he said, “We continue to use it, because it provides a baseline.”
This continuity, Jacobson said, enabled the survey to “show trends.” And he strongly defended the study’s value in identifying hard-core anti-Semites.
At a popular New York call-in radio program last week, the ADL’s survey came under fire when a number of Jewish callers said that based on their responses to the 11 key questions, they, too, could be considered anti-Semites.
One 13-year-old boy named Jeff from East Meadow told radical attorney Ron Kuby and community activist Curtis Sliwa, who co-host a WABC call-in show, that he answered yes to Jews sticking together, being more loyal to Israel and having lots of irritating faults, scoring a three.
“I feel like myself and a lot of my friends, non-Jewish and Jewish, would fail this test miserably,” the boy said.
A man from Monsey also scored in the middle by answering four of 11 questions in the affirmative, including the statement “Jews are more loyal to Israel” and “Have lots of irritating faults.”
But Egon Mayer, a professor of Jewish studies at City University of New York who specializes in surveys and demography, said “in-group” responses in such studies were much different than “out-group ones.”
“Sometimes a stereotype uttered by outsiders is much different and understood as unfavorable while those who are members mean it very differently,” he said.
Kuby charged that the purpose of the survey “is clearly to create the specter of anti-Semitism, including the big black anti-Semite. And the next day they tell people what they can do about it,” referring to a quarter-page ad in The New York Times the day after the poll was released. Kuby criticized the ad.
The ad emphasized the survey’s findings that 25 million Americans were hard-core anti-Semites without mentioning the overall drop in anti-Semitism.
“[ADL national director Abraham] Foxman knows so-called black anti-Semitism sells in New York, it generates funds,” Kuby charged. “It was a cheap, vicious, counterproductive, mendacious, cynical ploy on the part of the ADL to raise funds by portraying a false picture of black anti-Semitism.”
But Michael Meyers, director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said the survey’s findings on anti-Semitism among blacks were, if anything, understated. He disagreed with the study’s findings that more educated blacks evidence less anti-Semitism.
“The level in colleges, where students follow people like [black nationalists] Leonard Jeffries and [former Nation of Islam official] Khalid Abdul Muhammad, is truly frightening,” he said.
Foxman blamed Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan and other activists for promoting anti-Semitic attitudes in the black community.
But Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, disputed the survey results.
“I think the findings are faulty,” he told the Washington Post. “I find it very hard to believe that a third of all black people are anti-Semitic as this survey suggests.”
A spokesman for Farrakhan also rejected the contention made by Foxman that Farrakhan is to blame.
“We are not anti-Semitic, period,” said Benjamin Muhammad, a Farrakhan spokesman. “And for someone to falsely accuse us of being anti-Semitic is itself an injustice.”
Regarding ADL’s ad in the Times, one Jewish organization official warned the group appeared to be orchestrating events to raise funds. The official, who asked not to be named, noted that the ADL has a $40 million budget, but that it would be hard to continue to raise money if anti-Semitism diminishes.
“It’s playing the glass both half-full and half-empty at the same time,” said the official. It certainly is conveying a mixed message.”
But the ADL’s Jacobson countered, “That surely was not our intention. We believe the trend the study documents is heartening. The ad just stated the facts. It was not a place to do an analysis of the poll. It had a different purpose.”