Is There a Double Standard for Antisemitism on the Left?

By Jacob Dennen

In case you weren’t aware, the “Holocaust was just white on white crime.” At least that’s what students at Oberlin College, a school known for being progressive, have reported to have said. These students are supposed to be aware and sensitive of all forms of racism and hatred. These are students who are known for their social activism and efforts to fight for social justice. Is there an antisemitism of the left?

This is not just limited to students at Oberlin. In October, Bari Weiss tweeted about the New York Times’ inability to mention the extensive antisemitic history of Louis Farrakhan in an op-ed about The Million Man March. In order to correct for their oversight, Weiss detailed some of his history, concluding that the Times failed to do so themselves because they had developed “a worldview in which Jew hate does not count.” In response, the author of the article, Natalie Hopkinson, tweeted that “ppl who have become white should not be lecturing Black ppl about oppression.” In other words, Jews should not be lecturing Black people about antisemitism because they have “become white.”

These two instances give examples of the anti-racism movement either completely ignoring antisemitism and its extensive history and/or being blatantly hypocritical. In order to be anti-racist, Cornelius Minor argues that white people “need [to] listen to the things that people of color have been telling them for years.” Unfortunately, to many progressives and people on the Left, this logic doesn’t apply to Jews and antisemitism. People attack the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism for “undermining free speech.” Others claim that Jews are misusing antisemitism for their own political gain.

Seeing these things makes one wonder, is this double standard towards antisemitism widespread among all Americans, or are they advanced by the “vocal minority,” a small group of people who is simply louder than the rest? If there is a double standard, why does it exist? Is it because these people themselves are antisemitic or for some other reason?

Here’s how I did my research

In the last week of October, I, along with a few others, surveyed 1,704 people recruited by Qualtrics Panels. We used a set of quotas so that the final sample resembled the nation, and relied on a weight variable to correct remaining imbalances.

I used an experiment to determine whether people downplay the importance of fighting antisemitism, and thus demonstrate a bias against Jews. The experiment consisted of randomly presenting the two statements below to half of the sample (with response options yes, no, and not sure – I combined the latter two):

1. Should the government be doing more to fight discrimination against all groups?

2. Should the government be doing more to fight discrimination, like antisemitism?

To measure antisemitism, I borrowed eight items from surveys conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a non-profit dedicated to fighting hatred. These included asking respondents whether they believed in such common antisemitic stereotypes as whether Jews have dual loyalties (to Israel and the US), whether they have too much power in the world, and whether Jews killed Christ. The average survey respondent agreed with 2.6 of them; 24 percent agreed with five or more.

Several ideological groups hold antisemitism to a double standard

Overall in the sample, the portion supportive of greater efforts to fight discrimination did not vary – 57 percent said yes in response to both statements. But not every group provided a unified response against discrimination. Looking at the graph below, we can see that people for almost every ideological group supported the general (control) statement more than the statement with antisemitism. In fact, the only two ideological groups who actually support the antisemitism statement more are conservatives (59.9% to 50.7%) and socialists (64.3% to 62.2%). But let’s focus on progressives and liberals as they are the ones most commonly associated with the anti-racism movement. The vast majority agree with both statements. In fact, they agree with each statement much more than the other ideological groups (the next closest are socialists at 10% lower). But when antisemitism is used as an example of discrimination that ought to be fought, there is a significant drop-off. People who identify as both progressive and liberal have the largest drop at 15% (the same as libertarians, which is a significant difference), people who only identify as progressive have a 12% drop, and liberals have a drop of 5%.

What explains the drop off? Much of it can be attributed to antisemitic sentiment. The graph below shows the effect that belief in antisemitic tropes has on the drop off in support for fighting antisemitism among the Left broken up by ideology. The black line represents the group’s level of support in the control statement and the dots represent the difference in the support for the two statements – dots to the left show a drop off in support when antisemitism is mentioned. We can see for almost each group that as people become more antisemitic, the drop off in support becomes greater (and statistically significant in many cases). In other words, as people become more antisemitic, the amount they support fighting antisemitism decreases relative to the control statement.

I’m sure there are many people reading this who are wondering why this is relevant – surely there aren’t any people on the Left who are actually antisemitic. Looking at the graph below we can see how inaccurate that statement really is. People who are just progressive are roughly as antisemitic as conservatives and libertarians with only the few identifying as “alt-right” (2.5% of the sample) being significantly more antisemitic. People who are both progressive and liberal and people who are only liberal hold as many antisemitic tropes as moderates, levels that are still quite a bit higher than socialists.

As the anti-racism movement continues to grow and gain ground, it is important that we all stand in solidarity and join in their efforts. The National Museum of African American History & Culture says, “To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being anti-racist in all aspects of our lives.” But being anti-racist isn’t enough. In order to truly create an equal society, we must commit to actively fighting all forms of oppression, discrimination, hatred, and prejudice.

Jacob Dennen is an undergraduate political science major at Denison University, graduating this May and is currently doing his senior research on antisemitism. You can find him on Twitter.

5 comments

  1. Very interesting findings, and frankly I’m not surprised. However, I have a bone to pick with one of the questions commonly used to “detect” antisemitism: “Did the Jews kill Jesus?” In my opinion, that is a hopelessly ambiguous and historically tricky question. First, there’s “the Jews” versus “Jews,” and then there’s the distinction between physically carrying out an execution and supporting or perhaps arranging an execution. Historically speaking, to the extent that we can reconstruct these things, it would appear that Jesus was a Jewish Messiah-figure who was executed by the Romans authorities, but at the instigation of mainstream Jewish leaders. I understand the awful history of the “Jews killed Jesus” slogan, but today, I suspect a lot of interviewees are honestly stumped by the question. Jesus was a Jew who was apparently killed, if not directly, at least at the behest of other Jews. If answered simply as a matter of the subject’s historical understanding, I don’t think it’s a good proxy for antisemitism.

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  2. A progressive colleague takes issue with your research. How would you respond to his comments on my Facebook page?

    “The author doesn’t seem to even imagine the simplest explanation which is that the distinction between the two might be generated by the fact that progressives and liberals don’t see anti-black racism (which was on the forefront of folks minds at the time the general question was asked) and anti-semitism as being entirely equivalent in scope, severity, shape, and impact. And that they have have feelings about the governments role (how the question was framed) or the favoring (by particular select mention) one ism over others.
    The question. Is very valid. In my view, this “research” doesn’t show us much of anything with certainty.”

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    • In some ways, that’s precisely the point, that some groups downplay one type of prejudice wrt others. That could be a simple statement of priorities – one is bigger and more threatening than others and more money should be spent there. That could be acceptable, of course, since we have to do that sort of thing all the time. However, downplaying the version where antisemitism is mentioned as an example is correlated with believing antisemitic tropes/stereotypes. So, it doesn’t seem like a simple result of prioritizing a bigger, more pressing problem; it appears to be the result of prejudice. Again, prejudice likely does not explain every case, but we have clear evidence that prejudice is involved.

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    • I appreciate your colleague’s response but I think that it is partly what this article is talking about and investigating. Many people in the Jewish community and people who study and write about antisemitism have discussed the Left’s denial and downplay of antisemitism. I chose to investigate this phenomenon through an empirical analysis to see if it exists and if so why. It turns out it does exist. While I am sure that some people are motivated by the explanation your colleague mentioned, I found that that is not the only motivation for this drop off. There is a clear connection between antisemitic sentiment and downplaying the statement with antisemitism. If there was no correlation, I would completely agree with your colleague, but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case.

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  3. By focusing on the gap, aren’t you measuring “is the respondent more prejudiced against Jews than against other minority groups?” This would explain why the alt-right scores low – they hate Black people as much or more than they hate Jews. Really, that one result – that the alt-right supposedly isn’t that anti-Semitic – should make you ask what you’re actually measuring here: total anti-Semitism, or amount of anti-Semitism relative to other kinds of racism.

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