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Disbelief over anti-Semitism watchdog’s SA findings




According to the latest survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a United States anti-Semitism watchdog, a staggering 47% of South Africans harbour anti-Semitic attitudes.

Topping the list of countries harbouring such attitudes are Poland, South Africa, Ukraine, and Hungary, according to the survey published last Thursday.

“It’s a bizarre result,” said a perplexed David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). “Every second South African you meet is anti-Semitically inclined? We know that’s not true. Most South Africans know little and care less about Jews – why should they?” he said, describing the survey as “deeply misleading and unreliable”.

The poll of 18 countries, which is part of the ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism, was conducted between April and June 2019 in Eastern and Western Europe, Canada, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil. Countries with a significant Jewish population were selected for the 2019 survey of 9 000 adults.

The poll found that about one in four Europeans harboured “pernicious and pervasive attitudes” toward Jews, while the figure was almost double in South Africa.

The survey was based on responses to 11 statements concerning belief in anti-Semitic stereotypes. The inaugural ADL Global 100 Index was conducted in 2014.

Respondents were asked questions to which they needed to respond “probably true” or “probably false”.

Sixty percent of South Africans (about 500 people) responded “probably true” to the statement that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to South Africa.

In response to the statement that Jews have too much power in the business world, 55% of South Africans said “probably true”.

Fifty-two percent of South Africans said it was “probably true” that Jews have too much power in international financial markets. Forty-nine percent agreed that Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust, while 54% agreed that Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.

Saks joins other local experts in lambasting the survey’s methodology and findings, arguing that the results contradict local data, what’s happening on the ground, and have glaring discrepancies.

Professor Karen Milner of the University of the Witwatersrand and vice-chairperson of the SAJBD, said the survey should be viewed with “extreme caution”.

She said the findings contradicted what “we know from our own information that we have one of the lowest incidences of anti-Semitism in the world”.

“I’m not saying we should reject it out of hand. We should scrutinise it much more carefully and try understand what’s going on in terms of these contradictory results and data that we are getting from other places.”

She said the survey didn’t take cultural nuances into account. “We shouldn’t accept this as definitive when we have other information that needs to feed into it as well. Our own lived experience in South Africa for one. We live openly and visibly as Jews in South Africa. If you look where France falls on the survey, where people clearly can’t live openly, visibly, and comfortably as Jews, this raises concerns for me.”

The University of Cape Town’s Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research conducted a survey in 2016 titled, “Attitudes and perceptions of black South Africans towards Jewish people”, which had quite different results to the ADL survey.

Professor Adam Mendelsohn of the Kaplan Centre told the SA Jewish Report, “When planning our study of the attitudes of black South Africans, we spent some time exploring the methodology that the ADL uses.

“Our sense is that the [ADL] methodology is problematic: a very small sample of people, and much read into the few questions that were asked.

“The finding that South Africa is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world in terms of attitudes is seemingly contradicted by low incidences of anti-Semitism relative to our peer countries. The findings of our perception study [as well as past studies] didn’t find evidence that black South Africans harbour broad or deep anti-Semitic attitudes.”

Saks added to this by saying, “I’m deeply sceptical about the accuracy of these findings, and their significance.

“Most of those interviewed have never met a Jew, and know far too little about them to have been able to answer the fairly complex questions put to them in the ADL survey.”

He said while he was not dismissive of the report, he believes it needs to be approached with caution.

Countries where anti-Semitic attitudes are relatively low (less than 20% of the population) reported the highest levels of direct anti-Semitic behaviour, whereas it’s completely the opposite in countries with high levels of negative attitudes towards Jews. Saks said this was an “interesting paradox”.

According to the ADL survey, only 11% of people in the United Kingdom “think bad things” about Jews, whereas one in two South Africans allegedly do so. However, last year, the UK reported more than 30 times the number of anti-Semitic incidents – many of them involving violence – than South Africa, Saks said.

He referred to the Kaplan survey, in which “more than two out of three black people said they had never met or interacted with a Jewish person (64%)”. Along with other findings in the survey, he said this was an indication “how little most blacks know or frankly really care about Jews”.

“Some of the findings of the ADL survey are either self-contradictory or, to put it plainly, simply nonsensical,” he said.

He cited a number of problems with the survey. In one of the questions, the survey asks whether certain groups are viewed favourably, somewhat favourably, unfavourably, or somewhat unfavourably. According to the answers received, 49% have a favourable view of Jews (up 13% from the ADL’s 2014 survey), and only 26% hold unfavourable views. The views of Muslims were virtually identical. However, said Saks, when it came to assessing the results of specific questions relating to typical anti-Jewish tropes (for example, Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind; have too much power in business; the media, etc.) the “unfavourable” proportion suddenly leapt to 47%. “What’s actually going on?” he asked.

Sharon Nazarian, the senior vice-president of ADL International Affairs, told the SA Jewish Report that the ADL did not label countries as anti-Semitic. “Rather, our Global 100 Index examines attitudes toward Jews,” she said.

She said the Global 100 didn’t tabulate anti-Semitic violence or incidents, nor did it take into account intense anti-Israel hostility, which, at its most virulent, can be considered anti-Semitic.

“This is important to take into account when considering the data from South Africa, where, to be sure, there are few recorded anti-Semitic incidents documented, and the Jewish community is enviably strong, vibrant, and deeply rooted.”

She said the findings could be useful to “examine what anti-Semitic stereotypes are most accepted by the South Africans surveyed, and to consider how those misperceptions could be better addressed through educational and other methods.”

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