WASHINGTON — For the first time in at least half a century, a majority of Americans are worried about violence toward Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities, according to a poll released by the Anti-Defamation League Thursday.
The latest data, based on 3,600 interviews from January and February 2017, and another 1,500 in October 2016, show 52 percent of Americans saying they are “concerned about violence in the US directed at Jews.”
The response marks the first time since the anti-hate group began tracking US attitudes toward Jews 53 years ago that the number has climbed above 50%.
An even higher portion is worried about the American Muslim community; 76% of respondents said they were “concerned about violence directed at Muslims.”
Both groups have been the targets of a growing number of hate crimes over the past several months.
Since January, nearly 150 bomb threats have hit Jewish community centers, Jewish day schools and other institutions nationwide, causing the evacuation of dozens of centers and prompting some parents to remove their children from JCC programs. The threats have come in repeated waves, via phone and email, and many of the institutions have been targeted more than once.
The responses were gathered before officials revealed the main suspect behind the threats was a Jewish teenager of dual Israel-American nationality who may be suffering from mental issues. The suspect was arrested in the southern city of Ashkelon last month in connection with a majority of the hoax bomb threats in the US, Canada and elsewhere.
There have also been recurrent incidents of swastikas being drawn on schools and other buildings, and hundreds of Jewish tombstones that have been vandalized in the US.
The survey found a slight uptick in anti-Semitic views, with 14% of Americans expressing anti-Semitic attitudes, a slight increase from 10% in 2015. Older and less educated respondents were the most likely to hold anti-Jewish views.
The polls found that a higher proportion of Muslim Americans, 34%, held anti-Semitic views than the general population. That number, the ADL noted, is lower than among Muslims in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa, where 55% and 75% hold anti-Jewish views, respectively. The polls also found that half of Muslim Americans hold a favorable view of Israel.
ADL polling also showed 84% of Americans wanting the government to “play a role in combating anti-Semitism.”
That figure rose from 70% in 2014, the last time the question was asked in their survey of American attitudes toward Jews.
Since January, several mosques have been burned and otherwise attacked — a trend that no doubt contributed to the ADL’s latest polling finding that 89% of Muslim Americans are “concerned about violence directed at them and Islamic institutions” in the country and 64% saying they don’t think the government is taking enough action to ensure their security.
“The good news in this research is that today a large majority of Americans do not subscribe to common anti-Semitic stereotypes,” said ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt. “It’s also encouraging that a record number of Americans are concerned about violence against the Jewish and Muslim communities, and are troubled at how intolerance has infected our politics.”
“But it’s discouraging to know that Muslims and other minorities feel unsafe,” he added. “Clearly, there is still a lot of work to do.”
The ADL — which began polling anti-Semitic attitudes in the US in 1964 — found that a plurality of respondents were unsatisfied with the way US President Donald Trump responded to anti-Semitic incidents as a candidate. Forty-nine percent of Americans felt he “should have done more” to discourage anti-Semitism.
Over the course of the campaign, Trump was strongly criticized for failing to disavow David Duke, the former KKK leader, who endorsed his candidacy enthusiastically. He also drew the support of the alt-right movement, an amorphous designation that encompasses a broad swath of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and far-right ideologues.
Most participants in the survey did not accuse Trump himself of being anti-Semitic — although 33% of respondents did. “One-third of Americans think President Trump is personally anti-Semitic,” the ADL reported.
But most answered that they believed he held various other prejudices: 59% said they thought he was anti-Muslim and 53% said they thought he was anti-Latino; 54% said that he broadly held “racist views.”
In October, the ADL found in a report studying the rise of vitriol directed toward Jewish journalists on social media that 2.6 million tweets over a 13-month time span contained language associated with anti-Semitism — and that most of it came from self-identified Trump backers.
Since the waves of bomb threats to Jewish centers started in January, some Jewish leaders have expressed frustration at the administration’s handling of the matter — including a seeming reluctance Trump had to forcefully condemn or even address these occurrences.
In February, Trump opened his maiden speech to a joint session of Congress denouncing anti-Semitic attacks, but the remarks came hours after he reportedly told a group of state attorneys general visiting the White House that he suspected the bomb threat called may have been planted out of political motives.
Following the arrest of the Israeli-American teenager, numerous Jewish groups, including the ADL, expressed relief but also said it did not allay fears over anti-Semitic attacks in the United States.
“Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the US remains a very serous concern,” Greenblatt said at the time.
JTA contributed to this report.