Many American Jews Are Deeply Worried About Rising Anti-Semitism, Survey Finds

One year after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, some Jews said they’ve downplayed their religious identity in public.

American Jews across age groups, political affiliations and religious divisions are anxious about rising anti-Semitism in their country, a new survey suggests.

About 88% of American Jews believe anti-Semitism is a problem in the U.S. today, with 38% labeling it a “very serious” problem, according to a national survey of Jewish adults commissioned by the American Jewish Committee. A plurality of respondents (43%) said they believe anti-Semitism in the U.S. has “increased a lot” over the past five years.

“American Jews could not be clearer about the reality of antisemitism in the U.S.,” David Harris, CEO of the AJC, said in a statement. “This hatred is real, comes from multiple sources, and is growing. It needs to be taken seriously and dealt with in a sustained, multi-pronged response.”

The survey was published Wednesday, as Jewish communities were preparing to mark the first anniversary of the Oct. 27, 2018, mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. With 11 killed, it was the deadliest known attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Children pay their respects at a memorial site outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, 2018.
Children pay their respects at a memorial site outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, 2018.

Nearly one year after the massacre, greater fears about anti-Semitism appear to have had significant effects on Jewish communities. Not only are Jewish institutions boosting security measures, but the AJC report also suggests that some American Jews are changing their behaviors and the way they present their religious identities in public. 

Nearly one-third of respondents said they have avoided publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items ― like a Star of David pendant or a kippah ― that might help people identify them as Jewish. Young adults between 18 and 29 were the age group most likely to say they’ve hidden their Jewishness in public, with 38% saying they’d done so. 

A quarter of respondents said they have avoided certain places, events or situations out of concern for their safety or comfort as Jews.

While most said they haven’t personally experienced a physical anti-Semitic attack, some said they have been the target of an anti-Semitic remark ― including 21% online and 23% in person, by mail or by phone. Most chose not to report the incidents to Jewish organizations or the police.

Forty-seven percent said that a Jewish institution they’re affiliated with has been targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti, attacks or threats. Even more said that a Jewish institution they’re affiliated with has hired security guards (57%) or has police posted at their location (52%).

When asked about the sources of anti-Semitism, respondents were more likely to say these threats come from the “extreme political right” (89%) than from the “extreme political left” (64%). About 85% said that extremism in the name of Islam also contributes to anti-Semitism in the U.S. today. 

American Jews, who overall tend to lean Democratic, made it clear in the AJC survey that they are not fans of President Donald Trump. About 76% said they have an unfavorable view of the job Trump is doing and 73% said they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the threat of anti-Semitism in this country. The respondents were also more likely to say that the Republican Party, rather than the Democratic Party, bears responsibility for the current level of anti-Semitism.

The AJC’s Washington director, Alan Ronkin, said in a statement that he believes the rhetoric used during the 2016 election season, as well as the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, awakened many Jews to the uptick in anti-Semitism. 

“Everything changed in 2016, at least in this town,” Ronkin said. “Charlottesville got a lot of people’s attention. It really put people on notice, and they began to see things in their own towns.”

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (center) hugs his congregants after a press conference outside the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (center) hugs his congregants after a press conference outside the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April 28, 2019. The rabbi was wounded in a shooting at his California synagogue the previous day.

This is the first comprehensive survey the AJC has conducted on American Jews’ perceptions of anti-Semitism. The questionnaire was partly modeled after surveys of European Jews conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. It included responses from people across the range of Jewish groups ― from Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Jews to those who consider themselves secular Jews.

Other Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, have reported a rise in anti-Semitic acts. The ADL recorded 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in the U.S. last year, the third-highest annual total since the organization began tracking the phenomenon in the 1970s. 

In general, the number of Americans who believe that Jews face discrimination has risen sharply since 2016. About 64% of American adults say Jews face at least some discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March.

The AJC survey of 1,283 Jewish adults was conducted using phone interviews by the research company SSRS between Sept. 11 and Oct. 6. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 4.2%.