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Large majorities of Americans say antisemitism is a serious problem

Large majorities of Americans — both Jews and non-Jews — say antisemitism in the U.S. is a serious problem, according to a new report out Tuesday from the American Jewish Committee.

The study, called "The State of Antisemitism in America," found that 93% of Jews and 74% of U.S. adults surveyed say antisemitism is a "very serious problem" or "somewhat serious problem."

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) commissioned the study, which was carried out in October and November of last year.

The survey also found that American Jews are uncertain about their place in American society. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents say that the status of Jews in the U.S. is less secure than one year ago. That's up dramatically over recent years.

"The number one reason given was because of the Israel-Hamas war and the aftermath and effects of that," says Holly Huffnagle, the AJC's director for combating antisemitism.

The just-released study comes in two parts. The "Survey of American Jewish Attitudes about Antisemitism" collected data from more than 1,500 U.S. adults of Jewish religion or background. The "Survey of Attitudes about Antisemitism: U.S. and Jewish Adults" collected data from more than 1,200 U.S. adults of both Jewish and non-Jewish religion or background.

Nearly half (46%) of Jewish respondents say they've changed their behavior due to fear.

Those changes include "avoiding publicly wearing, displaying things that might help people identify them as Jewish," says Huffnagle. Such items might include a Star of David or a yarmulke.

Other changes include avoiding certain places, events or situations out of concern for their safety or comfort. Many also said they've avoided posting material online that would identify them as a Jew or reveal their views on Jewish issues.

Antisemitism affects American freedom of religion

The American Jewish Committee's CEO, Ted Deutch, says the rise in antisemitism is deeply troubling, as is the belief that American Jews need to act differently in public to avoid violence or the threat of violence.

"In a country where freedom of religion is of paramount importance," he says, "to find ourselves in a situation when nearly half of all people are afraid, that should be unacceptable to everybody."

Last month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released data that shows that from October to December of last year, bias complaints related to Islamophobia were up 178% over the same period the previous year.

CAIR calls those numbers "staggering."

FBI data released in October 2023, covering crimes reported in 2022, shows that about 55% of all religion-based hate crimes were driven by anti-Jewish bias. About 9% involved anti-Sikh bias, and about 8% involved anti-Muslim bias.

Deutch says many Jews are feeling abandoned right now, especially on college campuses. He points out that Jewish students have stood in solidarity with groups calling for racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights and immigration reform, but those same Jewish allies are now the focus of antisemitic rhetoric because of how the Israeli government is responding to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which left more than 1,200 people dead.

He says there is something that anyone can do to help American Jews feel less alone: "It means a lot to just reach out and to ask how they can be supportive."

Deutch describes the situation this way: For decades, anti-Jewish bias was a slow burn and far less apparent to many Jews as well as to the public in general. But in recent years — and especially since Oct. 7 — antisemitism has exploded.

"We've now seen this turn into a five-alarm fire."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.