Harvard sociology professor Robert Putnam has concluded that anti-Semitism in the United States is at an all-time low. He bases this view in part on a survey in which a cross-section of 3,000 Americans rated Judaism as the most popular religion (I assume respondents weren’t allowed to name their own religion). He also finds that incidents reflecting anti-Semitism are down from what they were in the past.
However, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, while acknowledging that attacks on Jews have diminished in the U.S., contend that in some respects Jews in this country are worse off than before. Hier goes so far as to say that “today there’s more anti-Semitic discourse than there’s ever been.” He cites Mel Gibson, Helen Thomas and CNN’s Rick Sanchez.
I’m not a fan of Putnam. His 2000 book “Bowling Alone” decried an alleged decline in social interaction and civic discussion just as we entered a decade that featured Facebook, internet activism, and the Tea Party.
In this case, though, I believe Putnam is right. In my lifetime, I believe I’ve seen attitudes towards Jews improve steadily (and I didn’t experience them as bad to begin with). Mel Gibson, Helen Thomas, and Rick Sanchez are trivial outliers, in my view. And if we hear more anti-Jewish sentiment expressed in public discourse, I suspect it’s because we hear so much more public discourse in these information rich days.
That said, I’m glad that Foxman, Hier, and others remain vigilant on this front. As Putnam acknowledges, given the “enormous persecution” Jews have experienced over the centuries “Jews and Jewish leaders have every right to be really cautious and really even skeptical [about] someone who’s claiming that anti-Semitism is declining.” But that vigilance should not cause Jewish leaders to under-appreciate how good we Jews have it here and how well-regarded we are by our fellow Americans.
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