AJC's survey: The State of antisemitism in America 2021

American Jewish Committee’s annual State of Antisemitism in America report, released on October 25, 2021, includes the largest-ever surveys of American Jews and the U.S. general public on antisemitism in America. The report shows deep anxiety among American Jews and divergent views among the general public about the severity of antisemitism in the United States. Parallel surveys of American Jews and the U.S. general public provide a unique opportunity to understand the impact of rising Jew-hatred in America.

Use the links below to view the report results of each survey, a comparison between the two surveys, and AJC resources to combat antisemitism.




The State of Antisemitism in America 2021: Insights and Analysis

Written By Avi Mayer

Two years ago, on the first anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, American Jewish Committee (AJC) released the findings of the first-ever survey of American Jews on their experiences and perceptions of antisemitism. A year later, the second iteration of the survey was accompanied by a parallel survey of the U.S. general public, the first of its kind, asking many of the same questions and some others. Together, the two surveys formed AJC’s first State of Antisemitism in America report.

In the year since the report’s release, antisemitism has remained a constant in the lives of many American Jews. A flareup between Israel and Hamas in May saw a wave of violent antisemitism sweep across America and the world, with Jews beaten in city streets, subjected to hateful vitriol, and intimidated on social media. Hasidic Jews have been assaulted outside their homes, synagogues and Jewish schools have been defaced, and Jews have been pushed out of various political and ideological spaces. While the past year has thankfully not seen deadly attacks of the same scale as the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, nary a day has gone by without word of yet another antisemitic incident somewhere in America.

The 2021 State of Antisemitism in America report is again based on two parallel surveys, of American Jews and of the U.S. general public. The survey of American Jews, carried out by the leading opinion research firm SSRS in September and October of this year, is the largest-ever on the subject of antisemitism in America. With 1,433 respondents, it is one of the largest scientific surveys of American Jews ever conducted by a major Jewish organization. The survey of the U.S. general public, conducted by SSRS in September, is the second and largest of its kind.

Jewish and Non-Jewish Americans Agree Antisemitism is a Problem, but Differ on Whether It Is Getting Worse

Majorities of both American Jews and the U.S. general public agree that antisemitism is a problem in America, though to differing extents. While 90% of American Jews believe antisemitism is either a very serious problem (40%) or somewhat of a problem (50%), that number drops to 60% among the general public, with 21% saying it is a very serious problem and 39% saying it is somewhat of a problem. Notably, 21% of the general public believes antisemitism is not much of a problem in the United States and 4% say it is not a problem at all, compared to only 8% and 2% of American Jews who said the same. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans who say they know someone who is Jewish are significantly more likely to view antisemitism as a problem, with 66% saying so, compared to 49% of those who do not know anyone Jewish. Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say that antisemitism is a problem, with 70% of those aged 65 or older saying it is a problem compared to only 52% of those between the ages of 18 and 35.

There is a far greater contrast between American Jews and the U.S. general public when it comes to the question of whether antisemitism is getting worse in America. While 82% of American Jews believe antisemitism has increased in the United States over the past five years, only 44% of the general public agree. While only 3% of American Jews say antisemitism say antisemitism has decreased over the past five years, 15% of the general public say it has. Again, there is a pronounced difference between those Americans who say they know someone who is Jewish and those who say they do not, with 49% of the former saying antisemitism has gotten worse, compared to 34% of the latter. While 54% of Americans aged 65 or older believe antisemitism has increased over the past five years, only 31% of those between the ages of 18 and 35 say so.

Antisemitism is Prevalent and Many Americans Have Noticed It

One in every four American Jews (24%) has been a victim of antisemitism over the past year. 17% of American Jews said they had been the targets of antisemitic remarks in person, with 8% saying it had happened more than once. 12% said they had been the targets of antisemitism online or on social media, with 7% saying it had happened more than once. 3% said they had been the victims of antisemitic physical attacks, with 2% saying it had happened more than once. Younger American Jews were significantly more likely to have been targeted by antisemitic remarks in person, with one in five (20%) of those between the ages of 18 and 35 and one in four (24%) of those between the ages of 36 and 49 saying they have been the targets of in-person antisemitic remarks, compared to 18% of those between the ages of 50 and 64 and 10% of those aged 65 or older. About one in four Orthodox Jews (24%) have been targeted by antisemitic remarks, compared to one in five Conservative Jews (21%), 15% of Reform Jews, and 14% of secular Jews. Of American Jews who have been the targets of antisemitism online or on social media, nearly one in five (18%) said it made them feel physically threatened.

One in four American Jews (24%) says a Jewish institution with which he or she is affiliated has been targeted by antisemitism over the past five years. 17% say their Jewish institution was targeted by antisemitic graffiti, 13% say their Jewish institution was targeted by antisemitic threats, and 9% say their Jewish institution was targeted by an antisemitic attack. Younger Jews are most likely to say their Jewish institutions had been targeted by antisemitism, with nearly three in ten (28%) of those between the ages of 18 and 29 saying their institutions had been targeted, compared to 24% of those between the ages of 30 and 49, 26% of those aged 50 to 64, and 23% of those aged 65 or older. Orthodox Jews, too, are most likely to say their institutions have been targeted by antisemitism, with more than four in ten (42%) saying so, compared to 37% of Reconstructionist Jews, 33% of Conservative Jews, 31% of Reform Jews, and 13% of secular Jews.

Many Americans have seen antisemitism over the past year. Four in ten Americans (41%) have witnessed at least one antisemitic incident and three in ten (31%) have witnessed more than one. 70% of those who believe antisemitism is a very serious problem in America and 52% of those who say it is somewhat of a problem have witnessed antisemitism, compared to only 16% of those who say antisemitism isn’t much of a problem or isn’t a problem at all. About half (49%) of those who say they know someone Jewish have witnessed at least one antisemitic incident, compared to 27% of those who say they do not know anyone Jewish.

Antisemitic Attacks in May Made Many Jews Feel Unsafe, But Most Americans Heard Little to Nothing About Them

A large majority of American Jews heard about antisemitic attacks during the May conflict between Israel and Hamas, and most said they made them feel unsafe as Jews in America. Seven out of ten Jews (71%) said they heard about the attacks on Jews in the United States and around the world, with 28% saying they heard a lot about them and 43% saying they heard some; 21% said they didn’t hear much about the attacks and 7% said they heard nothing at all. Of respondents who said they had heard at least some about the attacks, seven out of ten (72%) said they made them feel at least somewhat less safe as Jews in America, with 8% saying they made them feel a great deal less safe, 24% saying it made them feel less safe by a fair amount, and 40% saying it made them feel a little less safe. Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to say the antisemitic attacks this past summer made them feel less safe as Jews in America, with 84% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 saying so, including 15% who said it made them feel a great deal less safe and 24% who said it made them feel less safe by a fair amount. 86% of American Jews who believe antisemitism is a very serious problem in America said the attacks made them feel less safe as Jews, compared to 31% of those who said antisemitism isn’t much of a problem or isn’t a problem at all.

At the same time, most of the U.S. general public was largely unaware of the attacks on Jews this past summer. 53% of respondents said hadn’t heard much (30%) or had heard nothing at all (23%) about the attacks, compared to 37% who said they had heard some and 11% who said they heard a lot about them. Seven in ten Americans (71%) who believe antisemitism is a very serious problem in America said they had heard some or a lot about the antisemitic attacks this past summer, compared to 24% of those who said antisemitism isn’t much of a problem or isn’t a problem at all. Younger Americans were less likely to have heard about the attacks, with 38% of those between the ages of 18 and 35 saying they had heard a lot or some about them, compared to 47% of those aged 36 to 49, 51% of those aged 50 to 64, and 55% of those aged 65 or older.

Many Jews are Changing Their Behavior Out of Fear

Over the past year, many American Jews have changed their behavior, limiting their activities and concealing their Jewishness due to concerns about antisemitism. Four out of ten American Jews (39%) say they have avoided posting content online that would reveal their Jewishness or their views on Jewish issues (25%); refrained from publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying items that might enable others to identify them as Jewish (22%); or avoided certain places, events, or situations out of concern for their safety or comfort as Jews (17%). Younger Jews were significantly more likely to have changed their behavior due to concerns about antisemitism, with more than half (52%) of those between the ages of 18 and 29 saying they had taken steps to conceal their Jewishness or limit their activities, compared to 41% of those aged 30 to 49, 42% of those aged 50 to 64, 28% of those aged 65 to 79, and 13% of those over 80. Orthodox Jews were also significantly more likely to have taken one of the steps detailed above, with over half (57%) saying they have done so, including 43% who say they have avoided certain places, events, or situations due to concerns about their comfort or safety as Jews. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jews who have been personally targeted by antisemitism were almost twice as likely to have changed their behavior due to concerns about Jew-hatred, with 60% saying they have done so compared to 32% who said they had not.

Jews Are Concerned about Antisemitism from Multiple Sources

Jewish respondents were asked about the three primary sources of antisemitism, the far right, the hard left, and extremism in the name of Islam, as well as a fourth: individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups. The addition of the last source in this year’s survey is a reflection of a recent wave of antisemitic attacks in such places as Jersey City; Monsey, New York; and Brooklyn, most of which targeted Hasidic Jews and none of which can be attributed to any of the traditional sources of antisemitism.

Nine in ten American Jews (91%) say the extreme political right constitutes an antisemitic threat in the United States, with half, 45%, saying it represents a very serious threat. This is almost exactly the same as the 89% who identified the far right as an antisemitic threat in AJC’s 2020 survey of American Jews. More than eight in ten (86%) say extremism in the name of Islam represents an antisemitic threat, with 24% saying it represents a very serious threat. Again, these numbers are almost identical to last year’s, when 85% said extremism in the name of Islam is an antisemitic threat. Seven in ten American Jews (71%) say the extreme political left constitutes an antisemitic threat in the United States, with 19% saying it is a very serious threat. This represents a significant ten-point jump compared to the 61% who identified the far left as an antisemitic threat in 2020. Finally, seven in ten American Jewish respondents (72%) say individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups represent an antisemitic threat, with 10% identifying them as a very serious threat.

Secular Jews were somewhat more likely than those affiliated with any of the Jewish denominations to identify the extreme political right as an antisemitic threat, with 96% saying so, compared to 83% of Orthodox Jews, 86% of Conservative Jews, 88% of Reconstructionist Jews, and 91% of Reform Jews. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jewish Democrats were more likely than Jewish Republicans to identify the far right as an antisemitic threat, with 97% of Democrats saying so as opposed to 73% of Republicans and 89% of independents. On the other hand, Orthodox Jews were most likely to identify the extreme political left as an antisemitic threat, with 98% saying so, compared to 81% of Conservative Jews, 79% of Reform Jews, 77% of Reconstructionist Jews, and only 58% of secular Jews. Again, perhaps unsurprisingly, Jewish Republicans were more likely than Jewish Democrats to say the far left represents an antisemitic threat, with 93% of Republicans saying so as opposed to 62% of Democrats and 79% of independents.

Antisemitism on Campus Remains a Concern

Half of American Jews (50%) believe antisemitism on college campuses has gotten worse over the past five years. One in five (20%) either knows someone who has experienced antisemitism in a college setting, either on a physical campus or online, or has experienced it him- or herself over the past five years. Notably, Jewish college students and their parents were nearly three times as likely to either have experienced antisemitism in a college setting or know someone who has, with 42% answering in the affirmative, compared to 15% of other respondents. Similarly, younger respondents were more likely that older respondents to have experienced antisemitism in a college setting, with 30% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 saying they had, compared to far lower proportions of every other age group. 61% of respondents identified antisemitism from the far right as a problem for Jewish college students; 54% said anti-Israel campaigns, such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, are a problem for Jewish college students; and 44% said antisemitism from the far left is a problem for Jewish college students.

Hostility to Israel is Widely Viewed as Antisemitic

Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, overwhelmingly view anti-Zionism as antisemitic. 81% of American Jews and 85% of the general public said the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic, a significant increase compared to last year, when 74% of Americans said the statement was antisemitic. Ninety percent of Americans who know someone who is Jewish view the denial of Israel’s right to exist as antisemitic, compared to 78% of those who do not. The belief that anti-Zionism is antisemitic cuts across differences of race, religion, and political affiliation: 87% of white Americans believe it is antisemitic, as do 84% of Black Americans, 82% of Hispanics, and 84% of others. 95% of Catholics, 89% of Protestants, and 82% of atheists and agnostics agree that anti-Zionism is antisemitic, as do 92% of Republicans, 83% of Democrats, and 81% of independents. 84% of respondents who identified as progressive said the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic, as did 81% who did not identify as such.

Most Jewish and non-Jewish Americans believe the statement “American Jews are loyal to Israel and disloyal to America” is antisemitic, but to differing degrees. While 85% of American Jews view the accusation of disloyalty as antisemitic, that number drops to 73% of the general public, with 27% saying it is not antisemitic. Large majorities of both American Jews and the U.S. general public agree that the statement “the Holocaust has been exaggerated” is antisemitic, with 94% of American Jews saying so, along with 82% of the general public.

Americans are largely unfamiliar with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, with only 4% saying they are very familiar with it and 17% saying they are somewhat familiar, compared to 27% who say they are not too familiar with it and 52% who say they are not familiar at all. American Jews are more familiar with the movement, with 59% saying they are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with it, compared to 15% who are not too familiar and 26% who are not familiar at all.

Of those who expressed some familiarity with the BDS Movement, large majorities of both American Jews and the general public said it has at least some antisemitic elements, with 82% of American Jews saying it either is mostly antisemitic or has antisemitic supporters and 66% of the general public saying the same. Those Americans who believe antisemitism is a very serious problem were significantly more likely to believe the BDS Movement has antisemitic elements, with 75% saying so, compared to 53% of those who believe antisemitism isn’t much of a problem or isn’t a problem at all. Similarly, 71% of those who know someone Jewish believe the BDS Movement has antisemitic elements, compared to only 46% of those who don’t.

Responses to Antisemitism

Sizable minorities of both American Jews and the U.S. general public believe antisemitism is taken less seriously than other forms of hate and bigotry, though, while a plurality of American Jews (46%) says so, a plurality of the general public (47%) says it is considered about the same, with 38% saying it is taken less seriously. 37% of American Jews say antisemitism is considered about the same as other forms of hate and bigotry and 16% say it is taken more seriously, along with 15% of the general public.

Two-thirds (66%) of American Jews believe law enforcement is effective in responding to the security needs of Jews, a drop from the 78% who said so in the 2020 survey and 81% who said so in 2019.

Most American Jews approve of how President Biden is responding to antisemitism in the United States, with 53% saying they either strongly (17%) or somewhat (36%) approve, compared to 14% who say they somewhat disapprove of the president’s response and 14% who say they strongly disapprove. Half of American Jews (50%) disapprove of Congress’s response to antisemitism, with 25% saying they somewhat approve and only 3% saying they approve strongly. American Jews are roughly split on the Democratic Party’s response, with 45% saying they approve and 40% saying they disapprove. Two-thirds of American Jews (65%) disapprove of the Republican Party’s response to antisemitism, compared to only 20% who approve. Forty-two percent of American Jews approve of how state and local governments are responding to antisemitism, compared to 36% who disapprove.

A Possible Remedy

A year ago, nearly half of Americans surveyed did not know what antisemitism was, or had never even heard the term. This year, two thirds (65%) of respondents said they know what antisemitism is, and the findings of this report suggest that they are seeing it. That four in ten Americans have witnessed antisemitism is deeply disturbing, but it also indicates that Americans are becoming sensitized to Jew-hatred and are taking note of it when it occurs. Similarly, the fact that more Americans recognize that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, and that that recognition is shared by such broad swaths of the general public, is a positive sign.

At the same time, the discrepancy between Jewish and non-Jewish Americans on whether antisemitism is getting worse, the public’s general unawareness of antisemitic incidents that have heightened many American Jews’ sense of insecurity, and, of course, the number of Jews who have reported being the victims of antisemitism indicate that there is work to be done.

The findings of this report offer one possible remedy. Those members of the U.S. general public who said they know someone who is Jewish were consistently more aware of antisemitism, more familiar with its various forms, and more likely to view it as a problem that needs to be addressed. While nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents said they know at least one Jewish person, a remarkable fact given the relatively small percentage of Jews among the U.S. population, more than a third (36%) said they do not. Although many of those who do not know Jews nevertheless expressed concern about antisemitism, they did so in significantly lower numbers than those who do.

Now is the time for American Jews to introduce themselves to their non-Jewish neighbors, both literally and figuratively. Efforts to familiarize Americans of all backgrounds with Jewish life, with the different facets of contemporary Jewish identity, and with American Jews as individuals and as a community will help ensure that the positive trends of the past year continue and that negative trends are held at bay. This must be a true communal endeavor, showcasing American Jewry in all its diversity and telling our story in a way that is compelling and authentic. While such an ambitious undertaking may take some time to develop and implement and even longer to show tangible results, it cannot and should not wait. The sooner Americans come to know their Jewish neighbors, the closer we will be to eradicating the ignorance that breeds hate once and for all.

Avi Mayer is the Managing Director of Public Affairs at American Jewish Committee.

0 Comments