Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Adventures in Anti-Semitic Implicature — Crooked Timber

This is a very odd response to the study by Malhotra and Margalit about "Antisemitism and the economic crisis."

John Holbo writes:
Basically, a weirdly high number of responses to “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” were in the ‘moderate’ to ‘a great deal’ range. 32% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans ‘blame the Jews’ at least moderately for the financial crisis. I realize there is such a thing as the crazification factor. But that’s still pretty high. (I’m guessing the Republican numbers are lower in part because high numbers of them don’t actually admit there’s a crisis. They might be more willing to blame the Jews if it were made clear that they weren’t thereby committed to conceding the existence of the thing the blame is for. But that’s just an unscientific guess.)

The weird thing, of course, is that people are willing to go with ‘the Jews’ as a cohesive, mass-noun sort of designation. In part, people must be responding the way they do on the basis of a vague awareness that there are lots of Jewish names in the stories about the financial crisis. Bernie Madoff, for example. That is, they are saying: among those responsible (if we assume those at the top of the financial world are responsible) there were a number of Jews.
Has Holbo never heard of anti-semitic conspiracy theories that Jews control the banking system? Has he never heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? He writes as if it is a new thing in human history that people refer to "the Jews." Unfortunately, this has been true since about the second or third century C.E., when Christian anti-Judaism really got into swing blaming "the Jews" for the death of Jesus. How could an educated person in our day and age not be aware of such conspiracy theories?

The original article appears at the Boston Review

Here's a couple of paragraphs on the statistics:
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.

Educational attainment also correlates with variation in anti-Semitic attitudes. Whereas only 18.3 percent of respondents with at least a bachelor’s degree blamed the Jews a moderate amount or more, 27.3 percent of those lacking a 4-year degree did so. Again, we get a similar reversal when examining the blameworthiness of individuals who took out loans they could not afford.
I think that these results are entirely in concert with past experiences of rising anti-semitic attitudes during times of economic crisis. Anti-semitic beliefs are like a subclinical infection - when the immune system is robust, the person doesn't get sick, but when it weakens, the person begins to have symptoms. These are beliefs that are "out there" in the body politic that people can have recourse to explain why things are so bad for them. I would suspect that a fair number of those blaming "the Jews" at this time would normally not exhibit anti-semitic prejudices.

It's interesting to compare an ADL survey from 2005. From the press release announcing the study:
The 2005 Survey of American Attitudes Towards Jews in America, a national poll of 1,600 American adults conducted March 18 through March 25, found that 14 % of Americans - or nearly 35 million adults - hold views about Jews that are "unquestionably anti-Semitic," compared to 17% in 2002, Previous ADL surveys over the last decade had indicated that anti-Semitism was in decline. Seven years ago, in 1998, the number of Americans with hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs had dropped to 12% from 20 % in 1992.

"When it comes to Jews, old stereotypes die hard," said Mr. Foxman, "especially about loyalty, the death of Jesus, and power. For over 40 years one of the most stable and telling indicators of anti-Jewish prejudice in America has been the question of fundamental Jewish loyalty to the U.S. The survey found that 33% of Americans believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America, no change from 2002. In 1998, it was 31%; in 1992; 35%.

Thirty percent (30%) of the American people believe Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, up from 25% in 2002.

Stereotypes about "Jewish power" in the U.S. have replaced many of the classical ethnic stereotypes previously attributed to Jewish Americans. The survey revealed that while the percentage of Americans who believe Jews have too much power has diminished, Americans who hold the most anti-Semitic views are preoccupied with the perceptions of Jewish power:

"Too much power in the US"

* General population - 15%, down from 20% in 2002
* Most anti-Semitic - 70 %

"Too much power in the Business world"

* General population - 19% down from 23% in 2002
* Most anti-Semitic - 80%

"Too much control of Wall Street"

* General population - 17% down from 20% in 2002
* Most anti-Semitic- 75%
The 2005 study gives some indications of why the response to the recent study results in a higher number of Democrats responding in an anti-semitic way. It has to do with the population composition of people who identify and vote as Democrats: the fact that there is a much higher percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics in the Democratic Party than the Republican. (Let me hasten to say that this does not mean that the Republican Party is generally speaking less racist than the Democrats - the opposite is true, in my opinion).
Regarding one of the most significant and fastest growing segments of the American population, Hispanics, there continues to be an extraordinary gap between those born in the United States and those born abroad, though somewhat less than in 2002. The survey revealed that 35 % of foreign-born Hispanics hold hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs, (down from 44%) while 19 % of Hispanics born in the U.S. fall into the same category (down from 20%). The anti-Semitic propensities of Hispanics were significantly above the national average -- 29% for Hispanics; 14% for all Americans....

The number of African-Americans with strong anti-Semitic beliefs continued to remain high and stable since 1992. The 2005 survey found that 36% of African-Americans hold strong anti-Semitic beliefs, four times more than the 9% for whites. In 1992 it was 37%; 1998 – 34%; 2002- 35%.
Education and age are also important factors:
Education and age also continued to play roles in determining anti-Semitism.

Less educated Americans continue to be more likely to hold anti-Semitic views:

• Education - The more educated a person is, the less likely he or she is to hold anti-Semitic views: 35% of high school graduates hold strong anti-Semitic views, compared to 13% of college graduate and 5% of those who hold post graduate degrees.

• Age – The older a person, the more likely he or she is to hold anti-Semitic views: 24% of adults over the age of 65 hold strong anti-Semitic views, compared to 12% of those 18-29 years old and 11% of those 30-39 years old.
In a post on Crooked Timber, Malhotra and Margalit go into more detail about their methodology and how they arrived at their figures.

It would be nice if people who pontificate about anti-semitism actually knew something about it....

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