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September 29, 2016 / 26 Elul, 5776
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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.

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Abraham Foxman,  retiring national director of the Anti-Defamation League

Abraham Foxman, retiring 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.

Sydney Ross Singer

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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