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Op/ed: More Americans Believe Antisemitism Is Increasing

New UMD Critical Issues Poll Finds Space for Criticism Even Among Israel’s Supporters

By Shibley Telhami

Police tape hangs in front of gravestones

Police tape hangs in front of gravestones at the Hebrew Cemetery in Fall River, Mass., where approximately 25 gravestones were vandalized in 2019. A new UMD Critical Issues Poll found that 47% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans believe that antisemitism in the U.S. has increased over the past five years.

Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The White House recently announced important steps to confront a rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States amid a debate on what constitutes antisemitism. At the same time, President Joe Biden called Israel’s government “one of the most extreme” he’s seen, generating a debate on whether a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine remains viable.

The latest University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll with Ipsos, conducted from June 21-27 among a national sample of 1,439 respondents, delved into questions about opposition to Zionism and Israeli policies. Government and politics Professor Shibley Telhami, director of the poll, shared some of the takeaways in a new essay for the Brookings Institution.

The first takeaway pertains to how Americans see the choice between Israel’s Jewishness and its democracy if a two-state solution were no longer on the table. Not only does a large majority, 73%, and 80% of Democrats, choose democracy even if it meant that Israel would no longer be a Jewish state, but it also included 64% of Republicans, who tend to be very supportive of Israel. Further analysis also shows that a majority of evangelical Christians, 58%, who tend to be most supportive of Israel, would also choose democracy over Jewishness in Israel.

While it is not surprising that a large number of Americans said they were unfamiliar with Zionism and offered no opinion—given that we purposely avoided offering a definition—it is still notable that more Americans held a negative view of Zionism than a positive one, as a plurality held neutral opinions. In some ways, this is related to the first finding about Israel’s Jewishness vs. its democracy, as there does not seem to be a strong American public attachment to Zionism, which entails a Jewish character of Israel.

A third key finding is that a plurality of Americans, 37%, including nearly half of the Democrats, believe that antisemitism is increasing compared to five years ago, while only 5% say it is decreasing. At the same time, Americans resist linking criticism of Israeli policies and of Zionism to the notion of antisemitism, a debate that has been engendered as the White House considered adopting different definitions of antisemitism. Excluding those who said they didn’t know, 70% of those offering opinions, including most Republicans, said criticism of Israeli policy was not antisemitism.

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