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Op-Ed

Anti-Semitism in Latin America Troubling, Not as Bad as Mideast

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared in Miami Herald on May 22, 2014

The Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100 Index of Anti-Semitism is the broadest public opinion survey of attitudes toward Jews ever conducted. It is one of the most important efforts we have undertaken in our history as an organization.

The survey was conducted in more than 100 countries and territories, and 53,100 people were interviewed, representing 4 billion adults around the world. As a result, for the first time we now have empirical data on the level of anti-Semitic beliefs in a region that has been a leading source of immigration to the United States: Latin America.

While the global findings are sobering — with more than one-quarter of the people surveyed (26 percent) found to harbor anti-Semitic attitudes — the figure for the 14 Spanish-speaking countries surveyed in Latin America was slightly higher at 31 percent. This overall finding is troubling, but nowhere near as shocking as the level in other parts of the world — after all, the Middle East and North Africa came in at about 74 percent overall.

The data reveal a mixed picture of anti-Jewish attitudes across Latin America. The highest index scores were found in Panama, with 52 percent of those adults polled holding deeply entrenched anti-Semitic attitudes. Colombia and the Dominican Republic came in second, with 41 percent of adults answering affirmatively to 6 or more of the 11 Jewish stereotypes in our index. Scoring much lower were Argentina and Mexico, both registering at 24 percent.

While Holocaust awareness was generally higher among people in these countries than in the global sample, the finding that a significant percentage of those who are aware of the Holocaust also believed the Holocaust was a myth or “greatly exaggerated” was also seen in the global results.

The findings in Latin America seem to corroborate much of what we already knew — that the anti-Semitism we find among foreign-born Hispanics in the United States clearly has its origin in their native countries. What we do not know for certain is why those anti-Jewish stereotypes endure in those countries, although we have many theories.

In many of these majority Catholic countries, we know that the modern teachings of the Catholic Church rejecting the religious-based anti-Semitic teachings of history have not necessarily filtered down into the pews.

But there are other factors to consider as well. In Venezuela, for example, we know that under Hugo Chávez anti-Semitism was used as a political tool and was promoted in government and government-aligned media. Under his successor, anti-Semitic articles and conspiracy theories continue to proliferate. So it’s not really surprising to find an index score of 30 percent in that country.

Our polling suggests that anti-Semitic views are carried to the United States by some immigrants, but are not being passed down so much to their American-born children.

Starting in 2002, our polling in the United States has included an oversampling of Hispanic Americans. The initial results showed Hispanic Americans were significantly more likely than the general U.S. population to hold anti-Semitic views and the levels among those born outside the United States were much higher than for Hispanics born in the United States.

In our most recent U.S. poll last year, levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in the Hispanic-American population continued to decline. Although 36 percent of foreign-born Hispanics held anti-Semitic views, the levels for U.S.-born Hispanics, at 14 percent, were much closer to those of all Americans. Those findings showed a welcome decline from 2011, when 42 percent of foreign-born Hispanics, and 20 percent of U.S. born Hispanics held anti-Semitic views.

ADL frequently encounters comments suggesting we have a vested interest in finding anti-Semitism. With this global survey we do not seek to exaggerate how much anti-Semitism there is in the world; rather, we want to document empirically how things actually are.

Indeed, one of the many fascinating aspects of this poll is the positive side of the story, highlighted by countries where anti-Semitic attitudes are absent or relatively minor.

We see that in several Asian countries, like Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines. We see lower numbers in several West European countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands. And the 16 percent level in Brazil was by far the lowest for South America.

By raising awareness of the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes, this survey plays an important role in setting the stage for the broader discussion of anti-Semitism in different cultures and societies.

Our experience in counteracting anti-Semitism for more than 100 years tells us that education is the most powerful tool to overcome ignorance and indifference to prejudiced stereotypes.

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"By raising awareness of the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes, this survey plays an important role in setting the stage for the broader discussion of anti-Semitism in different cultures and societies."

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