If one were to look at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report on anti-Semitism worldwide one would immediately conclude that the crucial area where anti-Semitism is most pronounced is in the MENA* Arab and Muslim nations. There could be a number of reasons behind this seemingly obvious disparity mostly of which the ADL would claim it was due to greater sensitivity, civility and acceptance of other people’s religions, race, nationality and other differences in the developed world. On the other hand, it might also simply be due to education to answer questions as expected rather than giving honest answers. Another reason could be that due to programming through the education and media that people are not aware that they hold prejudicial thoughts and opinions. It might also be that such thoughts have been eradicated in the developed world, though that would be a miracle. Why am I so cynical about this? Well, it could be due to personal experiences I have had which indicate that perhaps the polling is not accurate because people have really been trained to hide socially undesirable thoughts. Perhaps dosing everybody with sodium pentothal before having them take such surveys would produce far different results, but we will never know.
What were some of these experiences? Well, first allow me to give some general observations before we get to a few examples. I should first tell you that these are all observations from the United States as I lack any time even visiting Europe never having given travel there much consideration. I have come to surmise that Israel had a better acceptance and respect than Jews in the United States. Many Christians are confused over how and why some, too many by their thoughts, American Jews appear to hate Israel. Being a lifelong Zionist I was unable to assist them in answering this question as I share their disbelief and puzzlement. All I was ever able to say was that they placed their leftist politics ahead of their Torah and religion. That always drew some of the strangest looks, often a cross between complete inability to understand and simple bewilderment as if told two completely contrary things and claiming they were both true. Many had no ability to comprehend politics trumping religion.
One thing which made my ability to get some insights many never could was due to a select number of unique items. First, as a blonde haired, blue eyed, Nordic appearing person; nobody would ever suspect that I am Jewish without being told. The other main item was that I usually, most of my life, did not reside in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. More often than not there were not likely to be any other Jews living within ten miles of where I usually could afford to live. The combination of these two small items placed me in a unique position to gauge real feelings and listen to people when the subject of Jews or Israel came into the conversations. When I was in a mix of people where a few knew I was Jewish, you could see pained looks on their faces when somebody spouted something hateful about Jews and they would all glance at me to see my reactions. Anybody who knows me well realizes that for the most part I do not have outward emotions very often. This allowed for such people to really hang themselves and allowed me to watch the reactions of others and whether or not they would respond defending Jews from hatreds, more often than not they would not. The most frequent reaction from those harboring no hatred or even love for the Jews was to hang their heads somewhat as if withdrawing protected them from the world and hate being spewed. Seldom did anyone speak up and when I would speak up others would often wince as if I were breaking some code and risking life and limb. On a few and very rare occasions it appeared that my defending Jews was unwelcome by the person who held anti-Semitic feelings as if I were impugning their honesty and becoming a threat to their reputation. Things never escalated to blows but I have lost presumed acquaintances and welcomed being relieved of needing to tolerate such people.
There was one particular phrase which I encountered more than I would have preferred when people first found out that I was Jewish. Too many responded to my telling them I was Jewish was initially that I was kidding and I would assure them that I was not joking and really am Jewish. Then sometimes, as stated too often, they would speak that phrase, “You do not act like a Jew.” This would almost universally receive my response, “Really, exactly how does a Jew act so I can work on that?” This would immediately make virtually all of them realize that they had revealed a bias which they had not realized they even suffered from. They would apologize and we would make some uncomfortable exchanges and then work our way past it. Fortunately many of these people would then ask questions about Jews and Judaism as they realized that they were living with suspicions and conceptions which they needed to get beyond. Perhaps these events for some became a good thing as they led to their receiving some education on the subject which they needed and probably would not have ever received such otherwise.
One thing I learned was that even those who held extremely negative opinions of Jews did not consider themselves to be anti-Semitic. Their feelings were that they were simply being honest and that the problem was with the Jews, not with them. They would tell you it did not bother them if somebody was a Jew and they would not hold their being Jewish against them. They just did not like Jews because Jews were simply not very nice and did not accept others who were not Jews. This revelation often came out claiming that the Jews are very clannish, you know, they stick together and watch out for each other against everybody else. Sometimes, when my mood was less than forgiving or one of these people got under my skin, I would make some comment about the Jewish mother ship hiding on the other side of the Moon and how I was still waiting for my washroom key. That would always get their attention at which point I would inform them they had made their statement in the presence of a Jew, sometimes I might instead say the enemy before informing them I was Jewish. There were those few who when hearing I was Jewish, sometimes one of the other people would break this news to them, they would get in a huff and sometimes even become threatening which never ended well but fortunately never led to actual violence.
What I learned in my sixty years of research, well, maybe less as I do not remember the first twenty very well, is that there is some degree of misconceptions as to how Jews act and exactly what a Jew is and what being Jewish means. As a youth I remember being accused more than once with having murdered Jesus. The first time was when I was three by the three year old girl next door who probably heard it in a sermon or from her parents as she was not old enough and proved as she grew not to hate anyone as near as I could tell. I came home crying as it upset me and asked my Mother who was this Jesus person and when did I kill him? I must have really been upset as I do not remember what my Mother told me or how she handled it but I am sure it was sensibly and kindly as that was how she handled everything except punishment for breaking rules, that she was strict and rather harsh which is why I tried not to break her rules. I learned though that there is a level of animus towards Jews, a sort of undercurrent which flows through more of the society than we care to admit. Mostly it is a misunderstanding due largely to the Jews being a complete unknown thus people can only theorize exactly what a Jew must be, what they are like, how they feel about others and other generalities. Much of this is filled in by parents, people around them, their religious teachings and that favorite of all peoples everywhere, suspicions. The one overriding thought is that Jews are simply somehow different from regular people. As a group they are too successful, too wealthy, too much the other and this causes suspicions which lead to distrust. This was mostly what was behind that phrase that I did not act or seem like a Jew to these people as I was not different and shared many of their ideas and principles. My being a Jew troubled them as it shook their entire concept of what a Jew would be.
What can we conclude from my experiences? Well, first allow me to point out I lived throughout the United States and moved more times than I care to remember. I worked constructions, retail sales and management, military, airfield crash rescue firefighter, roofing, railroad tie decorative restraining walls (the tallest was over fifty feet), medical electronic repair and calibration, satellite communications electronics, electronic prototyping, shuttle driver and so on. I lived on both coasts, the south, the west, the mid-west, New England, the northwest, Great Lakes and near everywhere inbetween. Basically what I am conveying is my sample size was expansive, diverse and ran the gauntlet of educational backgrounds. What I found was that people are pretty much the same with the more educated simply more practiced at prevarication. The misconceptions about Jews are fairly universal and people who have such misconceptions do not believe they are prejudiced against Jew or suffer even the slightest from anti-Semitism; they believe the way they see Jews is simply normal. What is interesting is that in areas of the world where anti-Semitism is the highest, the people there also believe they are not anti-Semitic, they are simply normal and it is the Jews who are abnormal. The main difference is that in the MENA nations where anti-Semitism is measurably the highest, they realize they hate Jews but simply believe that normally everybody should hate Jews. In the developed world they simply do not believe they hold misconceptions about Jews and are simply shocked when they discover that their beliefs are very probably wrong. Unfortunately, most of the people holding misconceptions about Jews will see these exact traits in any Jew they meet as they seek to believe that they are not hateful because that is undesirable in the society so they must be compassioned. The only way they could ever find out they have a difficulty is to get to know a Jew without knowing the person is Jewish and then have their world shook when they are informed that this otherwise normal person they were friends with is actually one of them, a Jew. Then they can come to grips and possibly change and realize that Jews are actually no different than anyone else. The problem is there simply are not sufficient Jews to go around and allow for everyone to have just such an awareness enhancing experience.
Beyond the Cusp
* MENA are the nations of the Middle East and North Africa