Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: Are they related?

Are Jews rich? Does smoking tobacco cause bad health? Is antisemitism related to antizionism? These questions have something in common. They touch on very different aspects of the reality yet they share the style of inquiry, which is: is X related to Y? Does being Jewish go together with material affluence? Does smoking go together with disease? Do classic old-fashioned negative attitudes towards Jews, known as antisemitism, go together with the more novel negativity towards Israel and Israelis, known as antizionism? ‘Go together’ are key terms here, and when the question is asked in this way, the answer to it requires a method known in the social scientific  jargon as analysis of correlations. How exactly this is done is a marginal point in this case, but there is a precondition for any such attempt: in order to find out whether X and Y are linked, large-scale statistical data on X and Y should be collected. Nothing else would do.

All this is hardly controversial. Yet polemical pieces that do not rely on the conventional social scientific methods are often published, and they deserve a response. Take a recent feature published by The Forward,Debunking the Myth that Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitic’, by Peter Beinart. ‘Anti-Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic — and claiming it is uses Jewish suffering to erase the Palestinian experience’-says Peter Beinart. Let us deal with the first part of his statement – the part that can be addressed scientifically. How does Peter Beinart know that antizionism and antisemitism are not the same? Antisemitism, he says, is a form of bigotry, but many antizionist attitudes known to me, he says, are not at all bigoted. For Peter Beinart it means that they are not antisemitic, the examples of antizionist attitudes of his choice are not the examples of bigotry, in his view. ‘In his view’-this is important to remember. His view does not rely on the external criteria of truth, an external test, if you wish. To agree with them means to accept Beinart’ logic and his gut feeling. That is it. He goes a little further: not all antizionists are antisemitic, says Beinart. That may be, but how many are? And how many should be there so that one could legitimately claim that antizionism and antisemitism are linked? For that statistical evidence is required which Beinart does not discuss. Let me do so now.

Over decades, the use of statistical methods in social sciences repaid greatly. Going back to the questions posed in the beginning of this essay: are Jews rich? Today we know that in most countries of the West, Jews are more educated than the general population, and by a very significant factor: in Europe, for example, the proportion of Jews in possession of a university degree is 1.5-3 times higher than the same proportion in the general population. And having advanced education goes with wealth. Incidentally, Jews are not lonely at the top, In Britain and the USA they are very close to Hindus, for example. We also know that smoking causes bad health because, rather consistently, rates of ill health and death among the smokers are about two times higher than among the non-smokers, and for some diseases the smokers’ disadvantage is even greater. Both insights are of critical importance if one is expected to understand the society as it is. Without them, it would not be clear to us that some ethnic and religious groups achieve better outcomes in schooling and the labour market, on average, and – the other side of the coin- that some, on average, underachieve. The question of what should be done about these differences is neither here nor there at the moment; in the absence of data it will not even be discussable. The same applies to smoking and health, without establishing the connection between them we would live in the world where lifestyle consultants can legitimately recommend smoking as a relaxation technique.

What does all this have to do with antizionism and antisemitism? It is a different subject but the same story in essentials. The link between antizionism and antisemitism exists. As simple as that. People with antizionist attitudes are also more prone to having classic antisemitic attitudes, and vice versa. This statement is supported by the research on the subject. The research relies on the large-scale data collection exercises that had been purposefully designed to reveal the link between antizionism and antisemitism. The most recent research of this kind was conducted in 2017 in the United Kingdom, by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR). In 2017 JPR conducted a large-scale survey of British attitudes to Jews and Israel. In the survey, some of which was online and some of which was face-to-face, the members of the British public were presented with two sets of statements: the first set showed to the respondents the classic antisemitic tropes and the respondents were then asked to agree or disagree with each of them. Examples include statements such as: ‘Jews get rich at the expense of others’ and ‘Jews have too much power’. None of these statements mentioned Israel once. The respondents were also presented with the second set of statements, in a slightly different place of the same survey, and these statements all related to Israel, typically expressing harsh criticism of Israel’s or Israelis’ behaviour, they can be called antizionist, as a shorthand. Examples? ‘Israel is committing mass murder in Palestine’. Again, the respondents were asked to agree or disagree with each of the statements. None of the statements in the second set mentioned Jews, just Israel or Israelis. At the analytical stage each respondent in the survey was assigned two separate scores summarizing their level of agreement with antisemitic statements, and, separately, with the antizionist statements. Doing so made it possible to test whether there is a correlation between the antizionist attitudes and the classic antisemitic attitudes.

When the correlation was tested it was tested by the same methods that led the scientific community to conclude that some groups have better education than others, and that some patterns of behaviour (eg smoking tobacco) are hazardous for health. Such analysis of correlations, in this case, led to the conclusion that having antizionist attitudes is correlated with having antisemitic attitudes. For example: among the respondents altogether free of the antizionist attitudes only 14% endorsed some antisemitic attitudes, but among the respondents possessing numerous antizionist attitudes, a majority of 67%-79% endorsed some antisemitic attitudes. This result is so stark that it hardly requires any further commentary. It only merits mentioning that JPR research is not the first of the kind to show the link between antizionism and antisemitism. In 2006 the link between the two was demonstrated by Edward Kaplan and Charles Small, in the article published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, based on their analysis of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) global surveys of attitudes towards Jews and Israel. JPR analysis is available for free for the interested readers.

Does this mean that all antizionists, and every single one of them, are antisemites? No. Deriving such a conclusion would be misunderstanding of what analysis of correlations is for. Such analysis produces the picture of the average tendencies-while not all antizionists are antisemites, being an antizionist increases the chance of having antisemitic views. Antizionists are more antisemitic, on average, and this point is now undeniable. Maintaining the distinction between the diagnosis of a societal condition and diagnosis of an individual condition is of vital importance as it goes to the heart of what social statistics is for. A certain rule that is observable at a societal level, i.e. in application to population as a whole, may or may not translate into the realities at a level of an individual. Let us go to the neutral example of Jews and education again. My great-grandmother Nehama, of blessed memory, was born in Ukraine in year 1880. It is likely that she did not have any formal schooling. She remained illiterate till the time of her death in 1960. Already in adulthood, her children taught her to write her name in Yiddish for those instances-once in a blue moon- that required her to sign a formal paper. That is an undeniable reality of her life. And there is something else: the Russian imperial Census of the population conducted in 1897 found that Jews of the Russian Empire were more literate in Russian than the population of the multinational empire as a whole and the Russians themselves! On average, that is. 24% of the Russian Jews could read Russian, while in the population as a whole, only 16% could read Russian. That is an undeniable fact of social statistics, and it is easy to see that the illiteracy of a particular Jewish individual does not, and cannot, contradict the validity of the societal rule which is that the Jews were more literate than the non-Jews. Want to understand the essential condition of my great-grandmother? She was illiterate, no amount of statistics would change that. She did not represent the condition of Jews in Russia as a whole, that is represented by the census-based calculations of Jewish versus non-Jewish literacy. That is also not going to change because of her existence.

The tremendous confusion that seems to exist concerning the link between antizionism and antisemitism stems from the insufficient familiarity of the public with the uses of social statistics. There are societal level regularities, expressed by the statistical averages – of literacy, health, attitudes – and there are individual level situations – some of them conform to the societal regularities and some deviate from them. The existence of the societal level regularities is not undermined by the existence of people whose particular situation does not conform to the regularities. There used to be a time when the link between antizionism and antisemitism was debated, and some real examples of the not antisemitic antizionists were paraded as evidence that antizionism is not antisemitism. This now belongs to history. The large-scale statistical studies have been published. And now we know the whole truth: those espousing antizionist attitudes are more antisemitic than those without such attitudes. On average.

About the Author
The author is a demographer and a statistician, born in the USSR - a world that no longer exists - and educated in Israel and Britain. The author holds a PhD in Social Statistics and Demography. To date he has served in senior analytical roles in the Central Bureau of Statistics (Israel) and RAND Europe (Cambridge, UK). He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (London, UK). He has published widely on Jewish , Israeli and European demography and social statistics. The author's favourite topics are demographic and social puzzles involving Jews and people that surround them-why do Jews live so long? why do Muslim Arabs in Israel have so many children? why do women-globally- live longer than men? Is there a link between the classic old-fashioned antisemitism and today's antizionism? These are just a few examples of questions that motivated some of his work and on which he has written extensively.