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Anti-Defamation League Survey Shows the Complex Nature of Bias

05/14/2014 03:10 pm 15:10:18 | Updated Jul 14, 2014

This week, the Anti-Defamation League released what it called the most comprehensive survey on global anti-Semitism, and its findings reveal the persistent, subtle, and complex nature of bias.

The ADL's "Global 100," funded by philanthropist Leonard Stern, commissioned polling company First International Resources to conduct surveys in 101 countries and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to gauge levels of anti-Semitism across the world. More than 53,000 people were interviewed, and surveys were conducted in nine of the world's 10 most populated countries, except Pakistan.

According to the survey, about a quarter of the world's population expressed some degree of negative statements about Jews, though the questions were worded in a way that didn't allow for interpretation of the respondent's intent. Common stereotypes referenced in the poll include Jews controlling American media, having too much influence over global affairs and business, or spending too much time talking about the Holocaust.

While the polling results don't reveal how respondents to the stereotypes questions actually felt about Jews (none of the questions explicitly asked for a general feeling about Jews or Judaism), the responses showed that even people who view Jews in what they consider to be a positive manner might be expressing bias. It's like when African-Americans are told they're articulate, the person who is making the comment is often oblivious to how ignorant or racist the statement can be.

Though anti-Semitism isn't as prevalent in the United States as in other parts of the world, the persistence of some stereotypes are hard for many American Jews to shake. As a friend told me, Jews are sometimes accused of having more loyalty to Israel than they are to the United States. The emphasis on Jews to Israel can be quite problematic since Jews are a small religious minority in every other country and deal with the daily challenges of being on the margins. Moreover, such sentiments homogenize Jews (who come from all walks of life) and makes their experience monolithic.

Similarly, the conflation between Hindus and India overlooks the fact that Hindus are minorities -- often marginalized -- in almost every country except India, Nepal and Mauritius. Moreover, like Jews, Hindus are a heterogeneous population that has had vastly different experiences across the global diaspora. The Hindu American Foundation's annual Hindu Human Rights report, which will be released next week, highlights how a number of countries have acted upon Hinduphobic sentiments in systematically discriminatory fashion and in some cases, violence.

Anti-Semitism can be nuanced, subtle and often unintentional. Likewise, Hinduphobia doesn't have to be openly hateful in order to have an impact. The stereotypes of Hinduism as being linked to caste, Hindus as idol worshiping, or even the perceptions of Hindus as exotic (all these are reiterated in educational and media depictions) can have a sustained negative effect on Hindu-Americans, and it's often difficult to react constructively to these sentiments.

The ADL report also sheds light on how bias can also result from educational materials that espouse certain depictions of religious groups such as Jews (and Hindus). Many Jewish groups have worked across the world to highlight -- and try to correct -- anti-Semitism in textbooks across the globe. Similarly, organizations representing Hindus (including HAF) have highlighted the persistent mischaracterization and often blatantly Hinduphobic depictions of Hinduism in textbooks in the United States and across the world. The efforts to work with educators, textbook publishers and even parents in communities can significantly reduce bias, but more importantly build bridges among marginalized communities.

While "Global 100" does have its methodological limitations, it can be used as a template by other faith groups to deal with issues of global bias. Perhaps once we acknowledge there is a problem of bias toward certain groups, we can collectively begin to address that problem.