Tuesday, March 27, 2018
THE ANTI-DEFAMATION League released an interesting, thought-provoking report recently on anti-Semitic views around the world. It was based on answers to 11 questions posed to tens of thousands of people in nearly 100 countries.
The main finding – that a quarter of the populations in these countries harbor anti-Semitic views – spurred considerable controversy. Commentators across the globe either praised ADL for its focus and findings, or condemned the group for creating “loaded” questions designed to lead respondents toward anti-Semitic views.
“Instead of designing a neutral questionnaire that would compare anti-Jewish attitudes to negative attitudes about other religions or ethnicities, it asked a series of 11 questions that stacked the deck in favor of anti-Semitic answers. It then defined you as an anti-Semite if you answered yes to six of the 11 questions,” Noah Feldman wrote in Bloomberg View.
“The results might tell you something about relative degrees of anti-Semitism in different places – surprise: Saudis have a more negative attitude toward Jews than Danes do,” Feldman wrote. “But other than the rhetorical effect of announcing that a quarter of the world’s people are anti-Jewish, the poll offers precious little in the way of actual knowledge.”
Overlooked, however, by nearly every story about the ADL study was an equally disturbing finding that speaks volumes about why so many complicated or controversial political issues like marriage equality, climate change, gun control, health care reform or civil rights are hashed out in hysterical, mindless or irrational ways in the public square.
Half of the people in the world have never heard of the Holocaust, ADL found.
And in the other half – the ones who have at least heard of the Holocaust and the truth that Adolf Hitler ordered the deaths of 6 million Jews – a third of this group simply did not believe the Holocaust happened. To this group, the Holocaust is a lie, a myth, a hoax, a conspiracy by those with a political or ideological agenda.
This level of ignorance of the truth of history is mind-boggling. But it’s also the basis of deep conspiracy theories in lots of other areas where facts, evidence and science should settle a dispute or question and lead to rational or civil discourse – but doesn’t.
If half the world has never heard of an event central to the course of political affairs since World War II – and a significant portion of the remaining population simply denies the factual reality of that event – then how can we reasonably expect rational, evidence-based dialogue in public arenas around an issue like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Sadly, that’s what this other, overlooked finding from the ADL global survey tells us. When so much of the public either doesn’t know about big, important facts – or willfully dismisses them as hoaxes, lies or conspiracies – then we have essentially lost any ability to separate fact from fiction and resolve disputes based on evidence.
There are plenty of examples of this in other areas. A quarter of Americans don’t believe tens of thousands of leading scientists who have now essentially ended the question of whether climate change is real, starting to happen now, and mostly caused by carbon pollution sources.