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March 5, 2015 / 14 Adar , 5775
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Do ADL Surveys Cause Anti-Semitism?

The ADL's survey inadvertently reinforced prejudicial stereotypes against Jews by giving people concrete negative statements that apparently reflected public opinion and with which agreement was a clear choice.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

The Anti-Defamation League recently announced to the world the shocking results of its international survey on anti-Semitism. It seems that, despite efforts to combat the disease of prejudice against Jews, this epidemic has spread, and now infects about a quarter of the world’s population.

Clearly, it’s time to rethink the approach that has been taken in treating this social disease, including the use of surveys like the one used to test the problem, which may actually be causing more anti-Semitism. In fact, basic social psychology would suggest that the survey used by the ADL can actually reinforce and spread anti-Semitic attitudes.

According to the ADL website, the survey, which has been used repeatedly since the 1960s, focused on a series of 11 statements and respondents were asked to agree or disagree with them. Here are the statements.

Jews are more loyal to Israel than to [this country/the countries they live in].

Jews have too much power in international financial markets.

Jews have too much control over global affairs.

Jews think they are better than other people.

Jews have too much control over the global media.

Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.

Jews have too much power in the business world.

Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.

People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.

Jews have too much control over the United States government.

Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.

Note that each question is a negative statement about Jews. That is a major problem with this survey. When people hear a negative statement, it has power in their minds, even if they disagree with it. If they had no prior prejudice, this exposure to negative thoughts about Jews would be a bad first impression.

For example, imagine that someone named David wants to know what people think about him, so he hires someone to go around and ask people – even those who have no idea who David is – if they agree or disagree with statements about him. The first statement is, “David only cares about himself.” Do you agree or disagree?

Of course, you don’t know David, so you might honestly say you have no idea of the truth or falsehood of that statement. But it does give you a bad feeling about David, doesn’t it?

You are then told, “People hate David because of the way he behaves.” Do you agree or disagree? Now you’re thinking about why people hate David. So you must assume people do hate David, but since you don’t know him personally, you can’t honestly say why. But you now think David may be someone you would dislike, too.

Next you’re told, “David thinks he is better than everyone else, is responsible for causing trouble with his neighbors, and has too much power in society.” That makes you scratch your head; you don’t know David but clearly he’s some kind of character to have such negative things said about him.

And so, having been asked to agree or disagree with negative statements about David, a person whom you may never have met, you now have some ideas about David, and they’re all negative. This is how prejudice starts. You have developed anti-Davidism.

People tend to agree with the crowd. That’s a fact of social psychology. If a person is told the crowd dislikes something, that person is likely to go along with that feeling. In the ADL survey, most respondents had no exposure to actual Jewish people. They only thought what others thought. The ADL’s survey inadvertently reinforced prejudicial stereotypes against Jews by giving people concrete negative statements that apparently reflected public opinion and with which agreement was a clear choice.

About the Author: Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist and director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease in Pahoa, Hawaii.


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15 Responses to “Do ADL Surveys Cause Anti-Semitism?”

  1. Research is needed but certainly can bring out strange bed fellows too!

  2. Why couldn't we report the number of actual anti-Semitic incidents rather than give leading statements as the article suggests. Good point raised.

  3. Thought it was a spoof at first! Imagine a black/Muslim organisation doing anything remotely similar!

  4. Ricky Height says:

    A very insightful article and, from my point of view, accurate. I find that his comments and observations bring far too much fodder for greater hate than there already is. Besides which, I find some of his "Please like me comments" nothing less than kissing the asses of those who denounce us at all costs, for any reason whatsoever or even none at all! He cries about injustices to some of those in the hopes of showing himself as a kind , concerned and wonderful man. Guess what: They don't give a crap

  5. Gil Gilman says:

    Yeah…and Jeremiah's pronouncements caused the Babylonian captivity…

  6. Ryan Mount says:

    I agree with the author. This is not a way to conduct a survey on hate. Leading questions and statements such as these simply spreads hatred.

  7. John Daniel Giannone says:

    I don't know who would fall suspect for the kind of cleverness we are projecting onto this study. If you have no thoughts about a given subject, you just say so. Being asked a question about 'purple' people doesn't make me more likely to say something negative about purple people.

  8. I think these line of questions gave powerful tool to the Jew hater to spared more hate!

  9. But being asked a leading negative question about purple people can make you more likely to say something negative about them. The point of the article is that these questions asked by the ADL are negative and leading, not neutral, and can thereby create negative impressions.

  10. The ADL questions were not only asked of anti-Semites, but also to neutral people, to whom it could give a negative impression. Asking positive questions, however, can single out anti-Semites who would disagree with the positive statements, and give a positive impression to neutral people. Of course, ideally, a survey would be neutral, without leading questions. The point of the article is that, if you are going to give leading questions, they might as well be positive.

  11. Kjeld Hesselmann says:

    As a psychologist myself I will clearly recommend a whole new set of neutral questions.

  12. Joanna Krystosik says:

    The most infuriating question for me is this one: "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.". It's used to claim that everyone who says yes is a Jew hater. This is not necessarily the case. "Talk too much" is not exactly "shouldn't talk" and in some cases responders can have negative personal experiences that make them say yes, that are not connected to their anti-Semitism at all.

    Let me give you an example: I'm Polish and I know a lot about Wolhyn massacre in which Ukrainian partizans together with common folk killed 100.000 Poles in most horrible of ways, including women and toddlers, for being Polish, because they wanted to make Wolhyn "Polish-free" and create Ukrainian national state. It was a great tragedy and we should talk about it. Unfortunately, some people use it to spread hate towards Ukrainians who weren't even born at that time, calling all of them murderers. They don't want to give any kind of help to support Ukraine when they desperately need us and are mad that Ukrainian national won Polish talent show. Every time people like that bring Wolhyn up, I'm getting mad and take side of innocent Ukrainian people against Polish bigots.

    Let's get to my point: the same kind of logic was used against me just for being Polish, because Holocaust happened partially in Poland (thanks very much for that, Nazi Germany :/). It's highly offensive and it happens a lot. So you can say that someone talks too much about Holocaust when they bring it every time someone mentions Poland or finds out I'm Polish, even in the most casual conversation ever.

  13. Anonymous says:

    How about people like Pamela Geller or Debbie Schlussel who spread hate of muslims? How is one more sacred than the other? Or your rabbi Ovedia? Beitar Jerusalem football team? Rabbis' telling Jews to not rent to non-Jews? Calling africans and blacks derogatory names?

    You have very offensive people running around being destructive, I cannot see how you expect respect when such offensive people spread hate of others.

Comments are closed.

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