Paris, 2015: How safe are American Jews?

In a recent opinion survey Britain’s Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) reports that 45% of British Jews expressed fear regarding their future in the UK, “and 58% were concerned [that Jews] have no long-term future in Europe.” Since British and American Jewry regard themselves “most secure” in the Diaspora, if British Jewry today are concerned are American Jews justified in their continuing assertion of security?

Comparing polling results from each community may suggest an answer. The recent UK poll was conducted over nineteen days, from December 23 to January 11. The period included the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher, the Jewish supermarket (January 7-9). The most recent ADL survey of antisemitism was published in 2011 in which antisemitism was described as holding “a vice grip on a small but not insubstantial segment of America.”

The British poll, generally represented in the press as a single survey, actually comprised two separate studies. One, directly by the CAA describes Jewish attitudes regarding their security (see opening sentence to this blog); the second survey was conducted by YouGov, a British polling company and surveyed non-Jews regarding antisemitic beliefs. To my knowledge ADL limits its polling to non-Jewish attitudes regarding antisemitism and so no polling data on American Jewish attitudes regarding their security is available to compare to the CAA findings for the UK.

Regarding non-Jews attitudes to Jews what follows compares the recent YouGov survey and ADL’s most recent survey from 2011.

The Surveys Compared: 

Two factors not discussed in recent press reports are: 1. the British surveys spanned nineteen days and if a spike is assumed to have influenced the results it would reflect the studies last four days, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre on January 7, and; 2. the YouGov survey describes as “antisemitic” a respondent who acknowledges a single anti-Jewish stereotype while ADL, generally limits “antisemitic” to persons who acknowledge three or more anti-Jewish stereotypes. The reader may judge whether this represents “minimizing” the threat to American Jews by ADL.

YouGov: A quarter of those polled believed Jewish people chase money more than other British people.

ADL: 19% of Americans believe that “Jews have too much control/influence on Wall Street”

YouGov: 17% thought Jews had too much power in the media

ADL: 14% agreed with the statement that “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today

YouGov: 13% said Jews talked about the Holocaust to get sympathy.

ADL: One-quarter of Americans believe Jews “still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.”

And while YouGov did not ask what historically has been the central question describing the true depth of cultural antipathy and potential for overt antisemitism, ADL reports that 31% of Americans believe that “Jews were responsible for the death of Christ.”


If events taking place today in France and Belgium raise concern among British Jewry,  those events seem not to similarly impact their American cousins. Which raises the question: Is American Jewish complacency justified in believing itself insulated from events occurring in Europe? Some suggest that the difference is explained by the relatively small Muslim community in the US compared to most European countries. Outside of ADL assurances regarding the relatively benign expression of antisemitism in the US, on what does this sense of American Jewish security rest? The latest report of hate crimes released by the FBI coves the years 2001 to 2012 should inspire doubt among even the most resistant. That the next nearest target population after American Jews was American Muslims having experience just 1/5th the number of attacks aimed at Jews might suggest more than mere “doubt” since the years covered by that report begin with the Islamist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a decade of war against two Muslim nations. Not even the Islamophobia among Americans inspired hate crimes against Muslims nearly comparable to that against America’s Jews. Is there consolation that the 66% hate crimes against Jews in 2012 reflects a drop from the FBI’s previous report of 78.6%? Is it comforting that our assailants are not Islamists terrorizing Europe’s Jews today?

And who is terrorizing America’s Jews today? Follows a very short list of “recent” and more “spectacular” anti-Jewish hate crimes that attracted  the national press:

2009, white supremacist opened fire inside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum killing a security guard.

2009, in Massachusetts a white supremacist killed two black immigrants and told police that he was planning to go to a local synagogue that evening to kill as many Jews as possible.

2011, after a multi-state killing spree by two white supremacists after their arrest the couple admitted they were headed to Sacramento, California, to “kill more Jews.”

2014, a white supremacist went on a shooting spree targeting victims at two Jewish institutions resulting in three fatalities. A Missouri mayor later said that he ‘Kind of’ Agrees with Killer’s Views.

2014, days before the start of the Jewish High Holy Days Rabbi Joseph Raksin was gunned down near a Miami Beach synagogue. The synagogue was defaced with Nazi and other antisemitic graffiti and an automobile was defaced at the rabbis funeral.


What might explain the difference between Jewish attitudes in the US and UK? Both have long been considered, at least within each community, as the most secure in the Diaspora. Is there a basis for American Jewry’s confidence in their “exceptionality”? 

Afterword: Writing this blog coincided with my community’s annual Jewish Food Festival. As the local klezmer band played Yiddish and Israeli folk songs and the audience sang along with “Tsena” little notice was taken of the police cars ringing the JCC, the significance that as in Paris this gathering of Jews was overseen by police. In fact a police presence been posted outside synagogues during services for years without attracting attention or comment. So what makes a police presence in American Jewish communities less comment-worthy than in Sweden, Germany or, for that matter in France before Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher? And what does this describe regarding Jewish security in post-Holocaust America?

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.