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Anti-Semitism and safety fears surge among US Jews, survey finds

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Nearly two-thirds of American Jews feel less secure in the United States than they did a year ago, according to a new national survey.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), a prominent advocacy organisation, conducted the survey just as Israel’s war on Gaza began on October 7. The number of American Jews who say they feel less secure in the US jumped 22 percent since last year’s survey.

“This year’s study shows us very clearly that anti-Semitism that was really just a simmering flame is now, especially since October 7, a five-alarm fire,” Ted Deutch, CEO of AJC, told The Associated Press news agency.

The survey released on Tuesday found one-quarter of American Jews said they have been the target of anti-Semitism in the past year. Almost half of American Jews responding to the survey said they had altered their behaviour during the past year to avoid anti-Semitism – changing what they wore, what they posted online or where they went so other people would not know they were Jewish.

“I live in a rural area and my home is most likely the only Jewish home in a 30-mile radius,” a 62-year-old woman was quoted as saying in the survey report. “We don’t tell people and outside the home do not show that we are Jewish.”

That reticence is “an enormous challenge for the Jewish community,” Deutch said. “But it really represents a challenge for all of our society.”

The survey comes as Jewish and Muslim civil rights and advocacy groups have reported large increases in harassment, bias and physical attacks against their members in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

Brian Levin, founding director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said he has seen a surge in anti-Jewish and Islamophobic internet searches since last year, including “eliminationist” and homicidal language.

Levin, who is not affiliated with the AJC survey, said anti-Jewish hate crimes hit a record high last year in several big cities. “As Jews are understandably feeling more insecure, police and social science data back up why,” he said.

The AJC began its survey five years ago, after the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on American soil. Since then, most Jews and more than half of Americans say they think anti-Semitism has increased, according to the AJC.

This year’s primary survey collected data from 1,528 Jewish adults in the US, while its companion survey collected data from 1,223 American adults. The surveys, conducted by the polling firm SSRS, had margins of error of 3.5 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.

Jews aged between 18 and 29 were more likely to report being the victim of anti-Semitism. As universities grapple with anti-Semitism, about a quarter of Jewish college students or recent graduates reported hiding their Jewish identity or refraining from speaking about Israel on campus.

Most American Jews (85 percent) say the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is anti-Semitic. A 52-year-old male respondent is cited in the report as saying, “Criticising Israel’s political policies [ex: treatment of non-Jews in the country, Palestinians for example] is not anti-Semitic. Saying that Israel should not exist, as a result of these practices, is anti-Semitic.”

Most Americans who witnessed anti-Semitism saw it online or on social media, but only 5 percent said they reported it. More than one in five American Jews said an online incident made them feel physically threatened.

“So it’s not just some of the memes or jokes,” said Holly Huffnagle, the AJC’s US director for combatting anti-Semitism. “This is real, vitriolic anti-Semitism that’s affecting them, that’s making them feel physically unsafe.”

There is a growing awareness of anti-Semitism. Most American Jews and three-fourths of the general public now believe anti-Semitism is a problem in the US, according to the AJC. That number increases for non-Jews who know someone who is Jewish. About 90 percent of Americans said everyone is responsible for fighting anti-Semitism.

“That’s a good news piece,” Huffnagle said. “I think the question is, ‘How do we empower the general public who sees the problem now in ways they hadn’t four years ago?’”

Last year, the Biden administration released a national strategy to combat anti-Semitism, and the AJC is encouraging further action on those recommendations. Deutch, a former Democratic member of Congress, said they will keep working with the government to implement the national strategy.

“But ultimately,” Deutch said, “we’re really looking to our friends, our allies in other faith communities, in our places of work, in our schools, to stand with us, to understand how we feel and to work together to fight anti-Semitism and in turn to fight hatred of all kinds.”

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