The Growing Antisemitism Among Young Americans

5 minute read
Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. He is the author of It Could Happen Here: Why America is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable

Over the course of postwar America, there has been a march of progress in which institutional and societal prejudice against minority groups—from women to African Americans, and the LGBTQ+ community—lessens and opportunities open.

This too has been the case for the Jewish community. No longer are there covenants restricting where Jewish families can live or quotas blocking admission to universities. Jews have ascended to the very heights of academia, philanthropy, business, labor, entertainment, and politics.

Unfortunately, we are backsliding—not in accomplishments, but in acceptance.

Negative attitudes about Jews, and negative experiences for Jews, by every metric, are growing, not fading. And most troubling, antisemitism—for the first time—is growing among younger generations of Americans, portending a very different and dark future for the American Jewish community.

Since 1964, ADL has regularly conducted a comprehensive study of antisemitic attitudes. And time after time, we reliably found that antisemitism was stronger among older Americans and weaker among younger. This made intuitive sense as younger people would generally be more accepting, and as they aged, antisemitism would fade.

In ADL’s most recent survey, however, we found this trend has reversed. When asked the extent to which they agree with 11 different, classic anti-Jewish tropes, Millennials now led the way, harboring the most antisemitic views, with belief in 5.37 different tropes on average, followed by members of Gen Z at 5.01. These youngest generations now outpace Gen X, at 4.19, and the Baby Boomers, at 3.06. Such tropes include allegations of dual loyalty, conspiracies about Jewish control of the media and Wall Street, or beliefs that Jews are insular or irritating. 

This upsurge in antisemitism among the younger generations is driving an overall jump in antisemitic attitudes. In 2014, our study found that only 9 percent of Americans harbored extensive antisemitic views (that is six of the 11 attitudes we tested); that jumped to 20 percent in 2022. Today, that figure stands at 24 percent. When nearly one in four hold intolerant attitudes toward Jews, antisemitism can no longer be considered a fringe belief. What we are witnessing is a normalization of antisemitism across society.

Read More: The New Antisemitism

On the right, white nationalists and other extremists are emboldened as mainstream politicians and public figures extol “great replacement” theory, which posits that Jews are orchestrated illegal immigration to replace white Americans, and bemoan the influences of “globalists” who control everything from American politics to economy and even the weather.

On the left, especially after the Hamas attacks of October 7, there has been a surge in antisemitism which its proponents claim is just “anti-Zionism.”

Indeed, ADL tracked 3,291 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. just in the three months following the October 7 attack. That’s a 361 percent increase over the same period the previous year. These include bomb threats to Jewish schools and synagogues, mobs harassing Jewish students on college campuses, and physical assaults around rallies.

This mirrors a seismic shift by the younger generations in their views on Israel. Today, 17 percent of Gen-Z agrees with the anti-Zionist idea that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be “the termination of the state of Israel,” compared to just 2 percent of Baby Boomers. Our survey also discovered that more than a quarter of Americans (and more than half of Gen Z) would find it at least somewhat acceptable for a close friend or family member to support Hamas—the terrorist group that on October 7 used rape as a weapon, murdered children in front of their parents, and carried off civilian hostages, including babies and the elderly.

Let’s be clear: anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

Anti-Zionism doesn’t mean taking issue with an action or policy of Israel’s government. It doesn’t mean support for a Palestinian state. Anti-Zionism is a belief that Jews—alone among the peoples of the world—do not equally deserve freedom and self-determination in their homeland. It is an ideology of negation and a form of discrimination that treats Jews as a people much the same way that bigots treat individual Jews. For those who believe that Israel’s existence doesn’t matter, surely Jewish lives don’t either.

Anti-Zionism subverts modern views of justice and oppression by imbuing them with classic anti-Jewish tropes. It harnesses widespread misinformation about Jewish history and deep-seated prejudices against Jews to build a simplistic framework through which antisemites can mask their hate. Anti-Zionists somehow think that it’s possible to adamantly oppose the existence of the world’s only Jewish state, in which half the world’s Jews live, yet have no problem with Jews. 

This is evident in the data. On a basic level, those who hold anti-Zionist positions are more likely to believe historic anti-Jewish tropes. Thinking that Jews do not have a right to an independent country makes one 3.7 times more likely than the average American to find themselves in the top quartile of anti-Jewish trope belief. Believing that the Israel lobby is disproportionally influential on the U.S. government makes one 7.5 times more likely than the average American to end up in the top quartile of anti-Jewish trope belief. These phenomena are not as far apart as people might have us believe. They are statistically significant correlations; they are deeply related.

To combat antisemitism, it is essential to see past abstractions like these. We need to look at antisemitism not in theory, but in practice. We must combat it whether it’s being propagated by a white nationalist marching with tiki-torches or by a fervent anti-Zionist harassing students on campus. More than that, we need to wake up to the generational shift happening, make clear that antisemitism is never acceptable, and redouble our efforts to educate them to how the virus of antisemitism can infect an entire society, hurting not just the Jewish community, but ultimately all of us.

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