An American Jewish Committee study of all survey data on prejudice against Jews in America concluded that American anti-Jewish attitudes have been declining steadily for fifty years and that Jewish integration in America has accelerated as discrimination has declined.
Paralleling this integration has been a steady increase in intermarriages.
In 1995 anti-Jewish hostility is not among the top inter-group hostilities in America. More prevalent and more serious hostility is to be found between blacks and whites, whites and blacks, blacks and Hispanics, and Hispanics and whites.
As a Jewish reader of the AJC's published study, with an extensive survey research background, I went back and examined three of the original national surveys, and read several cited references. I was led to review the research by the high level of black anti-Jewism in the press last year. This is what I found on my own.
American prejudices about Jews have indeed changed since the first fully reliable survey was conducted in 1964 and these changes are significant and positive.
From 1964, an era that was still largely 1950's Elvis and Eisenhower, when Jews were just joining exclusive clubs for the first time and Communism had Jewish/liberal overtones, about 30% of adult Americans had clearly anti-Jewish prejudices. By 1992 that figure was under 20%, a drop of one third. This ten point drop means that we now have a population of 25 million Americans who hold much more positive opinions about Jews than their predecessors a generation earlier.
1). Older prejudiced Americans died off, and the younger ones who replaced them are less rural, less southern and better educated. These trends are continuing to improve the situation.
2) The Catholic church changed its position on Jews killing Christ (partly influenced by the 1964 ADL-Glock survey data which the American bishops carried to Rome) and young Catholics are now no more anti-Jewish than other Americans. They were formerly the most anti-Jewish of any religious group.
3) Southern Baptists, who were almost as anti-Jewish as Catholics in 1964 have also had a change in theology. Television evangelists emerged in the late 1960's in this denomination and they preach a theology that favors Israel and Jews.
WHAT ABOUT AFRICAN-AMERICAN ATTITUDES?
This is the question that led me to start reading these surveys in the first place. Hymietown, Jeffries, Farakhan, Ben Chavis and the S.F. State mural sounded an alarm.
It turns out to be not as bad as I thought and definitely not as bad as most American Jews believe. What is it?
In the 1964 ADL-Glock survey, black and white Southern Baptist attitudes were hard to separate, both had high negative opinions of Jews and the overlap of these two groups kept analysts from looking deeper at the causes.
Today, twice as many black Baptists are anti-Jewish than white Baptists. This ratio is much worse than it was thirty years ago because more whites were anti-Jew back then. Black attitudes haven't improved in thirty years but white Southern Baptists, have.
CRUX OF THE MATTER
This is the crux of the matter. Anti-Jewish attitudes were high among Southern Baptists in 1964 when white and black Baptists shared the same theology on that issue. But over the past thirty years white Baptist theology has changed and black Baptist theology hasn't The blacks are still where the whites were thirty years ago. We should be grateful for the improvement among white Baptists.
PERSPECTIVE ON BLACK ANTI-JEW PREJUDICE
This issue should be put in perspective.
White Americans consider Blacks to be less patriotic than Jews (50% are hostile to blacks on this issue vs 35% toward Jews), and less worthy of being president (27% are opposed to a black vs 11% opposed to a Jew). Moreover white-black antagonism is worse both ways than black-Jewish antagonisms. Blacks are disproportionately considered dumb and lazy by whites and whites are widely considered bigoted and oppressive by blacks (Jews are whites from the black perspective --- Jews are much less antagonistic towards Blacks than other whites).
Black-Jewish antagonism is largely blacks versus Jews. These hostilities seem to focus on issues of Jewish economic and political success in America. There is also some distress about Jews 'parading the tragedy of the Holocaust' and about Jewish loyalty to Israel. I read this as pleas by blacks, who view themselves as victims, -- saying "why don't people pay more attention to our problems?" Black-Hispanic antagonism is worse than either white-black or Jewish-black antagonism.
No matter how we cut it, blacks have a much worse problem with general anti-black bigotry than Jews have with black anti-Jewism.
We should also not forget that gays and Jews comprise about the same small proportion of the U.S. population, and gays are suffering considerably more hostility from larger, more powerful and better organized forces than Jews. (I know there is a small overlap.)
Nevertheless, what can we do about black anti-Jewism?
It turns out from surveys that education does show some positive influences on Black attitudes toward Jews (albeit not much).
Improvement in economic status is also slightly positive. Middle class blacks across the country have rejected anti-Jewish bigotry. Quietly and behind the scenes they have been the counter-bigotry force in the NAACP.
But most of all, as the AJC survey data point out on this issue: "there has been surprisingly little recent empirical work on the issue of black anti-semitism." We haven't really done good research on it. We need to make as much progress with blacks as we have with Catholics and white Baptists over the past thirty years.
Michael Phillips, is the producer of the public radio program Social Thought. He has been an expert witness on statistics and survey research for the past 15 years.