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The numbers game

This is a guest post by Gabriel

I had been using Pew Center’s 2006 research into religious and cultural attitude soften in discussions and debates because such comprehensive world-wide polling is so rarely done. This past summer, Pew Center released their new findings and I think they are worth discussing. The far left and much of the right have a fundamental problem when discussing anti-Semitism. The far left ignores it and sometimes supports it and the right exaggerates it and sometimes ignores their own bigotry. The far left is not able to deal with anti-Semitism in any honest way that deals with the problem in a contemporary context outside of the far right. They are able to say “the Nazis were anti-Semites” or Neo-Nazis are anti-Semites but are not willing to admit that anti-Semitism is the norm in Arab countries
and very common in all Muslim countries. They instead, often use personal anecdote which is valuable but not in discussing a society at large. This leads to a dishonest discussion of the reality Israel faces and the need for a state for Jews to exist. Of the Arab territories queried, Palestinians viewed Jews the most favourably with a 4% rating. Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon were at 2, 2, and 3 percent respectively. Of the non-Arab Muslim countries questioned, Indonesia had the highest opinion of Jews with 9% viewing them favourably. Turkey was at 4% and Pakistan at 2%.

Of course, not viewing someone as favourable does not completely equate with hating those people, but it is still a very good guide to where public opinion lies. Unless people are willing to admit that anti-Semitism is a major problem in the Muslim world, it is impossible to accurately discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict. When I was in Cairo, I saw street vendors selling DVDs with drawings of a stereotypical evil Jew clutching the world in his greedy fingers.

People need to understand the depth of hatred when a relative moderate and secular (and UNESCO head candidate) Farouk Hosny wants to burn all Hebrew books and actually did ban The Bands Visit from the Cairo Film festival. that he is not an outlier in the society, but closer to the norm.

Of course, it’s not the only problem. The right-wing discourse of a hatred-filled Palestinians up against a pragmatic and egalitarian Israel just aren’t true. 90% of Israeli Jews view Muslims unfavourably and only 9% have a favourable impression. (Incidentally, 48% of Israeli Palestinians have a favourable view of Jews). Israel’s policies are also inevitably shaped by a public that, at the very least, dislikes Muslims Unless people are willing to address this
aspect of the conflict, they are being dishonest.

Also, the right’s fear of an anti-Semitic Europe is largely unfounded. In Britain, 76% of people had a favourable opinion of Jews (only 83% have a favourable view of Christians which tells you that there is a level of dislike of all religions in some of these countries). In France, Jews are liked as much as Christians (84%). Spain still has a problem with anti-Semitism but there has been enormous growth in the survey over the past five years. In 2006, only 45% of Spaniards viewed Jews positively, now that number is 59%, which is a massive improvement over a very small period.Muslims are disliked more, and by a fairly wide margin, in every European country.

Combine the public opinion polls with Jewish standing in politics- A Jewish leader of the opposition in Britain, a Jewish “would likely have been Prime Minister if he could keep his dick in his pants” in France, and a Jewish head of the (barely) second biggest party in Holland suggest that while anti-Semitism may be an issue, this is hardly reminiscent of the 1930s. The reason this survey is so important is that it allows us to look beyond preconceptions and our own emotions and see facts.

One of the most interesting things that happened over the past five years is in Turkey. In five years, positive opinions of all religions dropped enormously. Likeability dropped 10% for Christians, 11% for Jews, and 16% for Muslims. This obviously seems like a result of Erdogan’s conservative Islamic agenda but I don’t know Turkey well
enough to comment further.

You can find the full report here.

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