April 15, 2006
Anatomy of a Statistical Flim-Flam
By KRISTOFFER LARSSON
CounterPunch April 15, 2006
On March 14, 2006, a report on anti-Semitism in Sweden was published with sensational findings. It claimed that a significant proportion of the Swedish public harbor “anti-Semitic views.” As one could expect, this finding caught the attention of the Jewish world. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz warned, “41 percent of Swedes are prejudiced against Jews.”
Anti-Semitism does exist in Sweden, but it has been strongly exaggerated in this report, most of whose conclusions are highly questionable. This is especially clear when the authors of the report explain that sometimes criticising the state of Israel could be regarded as anti-Semitism.
Similarly, Swedes are tarnished with the anti-Semitism brush for concurring with a statement about a Jewish conspiracy controlling the U.S. and that the Jews killed Jesus, without knowing what they are concurring to.
The results and interpretations of this report are dubious, and questions arise as to why it was commissioned and how it has been utilized in the press. The combination of questionable methodology, far-fetched interpretations and several references to old anti-Semitic stereotypes that barely are known these days, suggests that the report and most of its findings should be dismissed.
The study, “Antisemitic images and attitudes in Sweden,” was conducted by Henrik Bachner and Jonas Ring and is a report on their finding from a postal questionnaire sent out to 5,000 Swedes of which 3,000 replied. The research was funded and commissioned by Living History Forum and the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
The Living History Forum (LHF) is a Swedish government body and research centre founded in 2003 with the expressed aim of fighting racism and the prevention of genocide by examining and teaching history. Göran Persson, the current Swedish Prime Minister and fervent pro-Israeli supporter, was the driving force behind its establishment. LHF’s main activities include teaching high school students about the Nazi extermination of the Jews and the study of anti-Semitism. The Bachner and Ring report is a reflection of current LHF research priorities, where the study of anti-Semitism is a priority. Note that although there are many more Muslims (250,000-300,000) than Jews (18,000-20,000) in Sweden and although anti-Muslim hatred is more prevalent than anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred doesn’t feature as a research priority.
What are Swedish attitudes toward Jews?
A basic result of the survey showed that only 1.4 per cent of the respondents disagreed with the assertion that “Most Jews are probably decent folks,” and 1.6 per cent would not like to live next door to a law-abiding Jewish person (one fifth didn’t know). Sadly, 2.2 per cent expressed that Jews should not be entitled to vote (13.8 per cent marked the “Hesitant/Don’t know” box). Denying equal rights to Jews is a clearly anti-Semitic opinion, and it is likely that a few per cent of the Swedish population are in fact anti-Semitic, but is far lower than the 40 per cent which the media accounts chose to report.
While anti-Semitic attitudes may be prevalent in a tiny portion of the population, anti-Islamic attitudes were more pronounced. When asked if they agreed with the statement that “Most Muslims are probably decent folks,” 7.3 per cent of the respondents disagreed (five times more than those who disagreed when asked the same question about Jews).
More than 7 per cent do not want a Muslim living next door, and almost every fourth person (24.1 per cent) agreed that “There are way too many Muslims in Sweden,” something which only 2.9 per cent had to say about Jews. Close to ten per cent don’t find Muslims reliable (16.8 per cent said they didn’t know). As many as 4.5 per cent felt strongly that they shouldn’t have the right to vote, with another 2.2 per cent finding the statement fairly correct, in addition to 18.2 per cent who didn’t reject it (compared to 13.8 per cent when asked about Jews).
The survey clearly indicates that anti-Muslim prejudice is far more prevalent than prejudice against Jews. However, while Prime Minister Göran Persson stated that the findings about anti-Semitism were “surprising and terrifying,” he didn’t express a similar concern about anti-Muslim prejudice.
The findings and the curious interpretations
While the above basic findings are fairly clear, it is the other survey results and their interpretation that are open to question.
The sensationalist Ha’aretz headline, “41 percent of Swedes are prejudiced against Jews,” derives from the report’s conclusion: “A total of 59 per cent systematically rejects anti-Semitic prejudices.” Ha’aretz interpreted the latter to mean that 41 per cent of Swedes are anti-Semitic, yet this is simply spurious. Suddenly, a respondent saying he “didn’t know” if he had anti-Semitic prejudices, becomes translated into someone with anti-Semitic tendencies. In other words, if for whatever reason a respondent never has come into contact with Jews and states that he doesn’t have an opinion on anti-Semitism, then the Ha’aretz interpretation of the report actually portrays the person as an anti-Semite.
The survey inquired about the possible dual loyalty of the Swedish Jews. The questionnaire asked for an opinion on the claim: “Swedish Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Sweden.”
Apparently 3.9 per cent strongly agreed, while another 13.6 per cent thought the statement is close to the truth. Six out of ten didn’t know, with close to 15 per cent saying that this probably isn’t true and just above 7 per cent totally rejected it.
Bachner and Ring suggest that this “concurs to a historical stereotype” which insinuates that Jews aren’t “real” Swedes and they exhibit a dual loyalty. Note that the survey question didn’t allow the investigators to draw their stated interpretation — a case of shoddy survey methodology. Dual loyalty is not an exclusively Jewish phenomenon. One can find it among many minorities, and it is generally not thought to be a problem or a case of treachery. Even if there were a perception that the Jewish community is a devoted defender of Israel, this does not imply that Swedish Jews aren’t “real” Swedes. The report refers to polls carried out by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in other countries with similar findings. Both the current report and the ADL surveys suggest a strong connection between Jewish loyalty towards Israel and old views of the Jews as traitors, and the authors are simply jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.
About Conspiracies and Cabals
The survey investigated popular perceptions of “Power, influence and conspiracies” by for instance asking: “The Jews rule the foreign policy of the USA.”
4.3 per cent of the respondents stated that this is true, 13.2 per cent believed that it was somewhat true, and almost 40 per cent disagreed with the statement. What is surprising is that 43.6 per cent didn’t know.
To the authors, there is a clear and obvious answer:
“The statement says that Jews or Jewish organisations not only–like other individuals, groups, categories and interests–can influence the American foreign policy, but that they ‘rule’ it. It implies that the real power over the foreign policy is not in the White House or Congress but with a specific ethnic-religious group, ‘the Jews’, which here is said to act as a collective. The statement further implies that the control of ‘the Jews’ does not just count for the American policy towards Israel or the Middle East, but that ‘the Jews rule’ America’s foreign policy in a general sense.”
Hence, if one thought that the influence of the neocons in the current Bush regime constituted undue influence on American foreign policy, then Bachner and Ring would interpret this as the acceptance of “anti-Semitic myths.” It is deceptive to pose a question about Jews as a monolithic group, and when the respondents answered in the affirmative, they would unavoidably yield an “anti-Semitic” myth proposition.
It is not reasonable to think that American Jews are all working together and single-handedly control every aspect of American foreign policy (nor does any other group for that matter).
A total of 17 per cent fully or partly agreed to the statement. Along with the 44 per cent who didn’t know how to relate to the statement, more than 60 per cent of the respondents failed to reject it.
The statement fools the participants into answering yes or no without being sure what they really are relating to.
The survey poses several ambiguous survey questions, and invariably the interpretation is tendentious because the authors suggest that there is more evidence of anti-Semitism. The assertion about conspiracy also doesn’t allow for more nuanced answers. The current question only allows for a positive or negative answer about a great Jewish conspiracy. Strictly speaking, if one thought that the neocon influence was significant but not the only determinant of foreign policy, then he would have to reject the assertion in the question. Bachner and Ring force the respondents into answering in terms of ‘the Jews’. Anyone who agrees to any of the questions including the term ‘the Jews’ is thus lured into making anti-Semitic generalisations.
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brags about its achievements in Washington. After visiting their website (www.aipac.org), one cannot escape the impression that this organisation, which calls itself “America’s pro-Israel Lobby,” has tremendous political influence. Washington insiders refer to AIPAC as “The Lobby” (with capital L), and due to its influence sometimes refer to the Congress as “Israeli occupied territory.” However, according to the Bachner and Ring survey, if the Swedish public made similar assertions, these would be classified as anti-Semitic statements.
Then the respondents were asked to give their opinion about the following statement: “There are those who suggest that Israel was involved in the terrorist attacks against the USA on September 11, 2001. What do you think of this claim?” The questionnaire is, for a change, asking for potential Israeli involvement instead of what ‘the Jews’ may have done. However, this does not stop the authors from drawing parallels to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Jewish conspiracy myths. If one believes the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, was in any way involved, it is considered as equal to saying that ‘the Jews’ are involved. Anyhow, these are the summary findings:
7.2 per cent believed there might be something to it, with 40 per cent more repudiating it–and 45.6 per cent had no opinion!
The paper makes a point about only a minority rejecting it. Ostensibly, results would indicate more that respondents didn’t understand the question clearly. If the question had been clearer, then most Swedes who may not have even been aware of an Israeli involvement in the terror attacks would have clearly answered no. It can be hard to relate to theories you aren’t familiar with, and many have clearly had problem filling in the form.
About the Holocaust
Several questions in the questionnaire dealt with the Holocaust. One of the assertions was: “The Jews think they are the only ones who have suffered.” This is, we are told by Bachner and Ring, something that “arose in the wake of the Holocaust” and
“These statements are not based on observable data, but on an aggressive fantasy about ‘the Jews’ as a collective. The statements are similar and likely related to the historically rooted accusation against the Jews for being haughty and superior.”
Elie Wiesel, a professional Holocaust survivor, has sought to establish that Jewish suffering was sui generis, exceptional and that it cannot be explained. The extermination of Jews has definitely become the focus in teaching of World War II and is often used in Zionist propaganda. Only 31 per cent saw no truth at all in saying that some appear to believe that the Jews were the only ones who suffered, while 17 per cent agreed with it. More than half of the respondents (52 per cent) had no opinion. This does not imply that these people share “an aggressive fantasy about ‘the Jews’ as a collective” or consider them “haughty.” Rather, respondents have simply reflected their personal perception of how some try to make the Holocaust all about extermination of Jews–neglecting the experiences of the Gypsies, Russians, Polish, Gays, et cetera.
It is also no wonder that 14 per cent fully or partly think that “The Jews are exploiting the Nazis’ extermination of Jews (the Holocaust) for economic and political purposes,” something the authors suggest “is central to contemporary anti-Semitism.” They go on:
“The statement speaks of ‘the Jews’ who act as a collective in accordance with traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes. In this case it is foremost linked to the image of ‘the Jews’ as greedy, obsessed with money, hard-boiled extortionists, which here exploits the Holocaust for their own purpose, but also the notion of Jewish power and manipulations influences the thought of the political exploitation of the genocide by ‘the Jews’.”
Suggesting that the Jews as a collective are trying to exploit the Holocaust would be wrong. But this doesn’t exclude the possibility that some (but not all) Jews are misusing it, which is the central thesis of Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry. The questionnaire leaves no room for an informed opinion about the Zionist abuse of the Holocaust. The only available options: saying that all the Jews are colluding in targeting Swiss banks, or denying the existence of the Holocaust industry. Hence, the 14 per cent who said exploitation is going on don’t necessary see the Jews as greedy, hook-nosed monsters who are trying to squeeze the last penny out of non-Jews; rather they merely recognise that a small organised group is exploiting the Holocaust for their own ends.
And now about Christ…
And the survey asked another loaded question about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The survey asked about the following statement: “The Jews crucified Christ and their suffering is a punishment for this crime.”
This isn’t true at all, said 59.5 per cent, including another 11.9 per cent who believed that this is somewhat incorrect. Only 1.7 per cent found this spot on, and 2 per cent regarded it as fairly correct. One fourth (24.9 per cent) wasn’t sure.
Bachner and Ring engage in some more spurious interpretation by suggesting that the statement is based on the religious perception that the Jews are Christ-killers and their suffering since is God’s punishment for this awful crime. Yet, it is doubtful if this was clear to every respondent. In order to “properly” answer that you agree with the statement, you should 1) be a Christian who believes Jesus existed and was crucified, 2) believe that the Jews crucified Christ or at least were morally responsible for it, and 3) believe that God himself punished the Jews for it. Only Christian extremists would be able to answer in the affirmative, or even simply not disagree. The high number of hesitant respondents suggests that they didn’t perceive the question in the same way as the authors did.
Anti-Zionism implies anti-Semitism
A controversial part of the report discusses the perception of the state of Israel. The authors are eager to point out that “criticism against Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitism,” but this formality is dispensed with in the remainder of their analysis. Their definitions of anti-Semitism include a “denial of Israel’s right to exist and self-defence,” “projection of the Nazis’ persecution of Jews on Israel’s policy” and “the transformation of Israel into a symbol for the Jews as a collective.” The state of Israel defines itself as “the state of the Jewish people,” but this is presumably only racist if you don’t support Israel. In suggesting that there are conditions under which anti-Zionism implies anti-Semitism, the authors are themselves equating dislike of Israel with that of ‘the Jews’.
The survey findings indicate that about 3 per cent do think dismantling Israel would be a good idea, but a great majority (77 per cent) disagreed. The foundation of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state required the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population, and thus there are good reasons not to accept the nature of an apartheid state that required the dispossession of the Palestinians. However, Bachner and Ring equate such an objection to the nature of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism: “The denial of Israel’s right to exist is anti-Jewish in the same regard as denying Finland’s right to exist would be anti-Finnish.” First, the questionnaire asks for people’s view on Israel and not what they think of ‘the Jews’, a very different topic. Secondly, not everyone shares the authors’ obsession with Jews. The authors believe that most anti-Zionists are driven by hatred towards Jews, without realising that it might actually be based on sympathy for the suffering Palestinians.
More than 25 per cent said that that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians reminds them of how the Nazis treated the Jews. A third disagreed (15.3 per cent strongly, 17.9 per cent to some extent) and 30 per cent didn’t have an opinion. The authors feel that:
“the image of ‘the Jew’ as today’s Nazi must be understood in relation to the ancient and deep historic tradition according to which Jews are portrayed as symbols for what is defined as the absolutely evil in different times (the Devil, the plague, capitalism, communism, and so on).”
Those surveyed were not asked if they saw the Jews as ‘today’s Nazis’ but if they thought of what the Nazi crimes did when they see what Israel does to the Palestinians. If Israeli actions are Nazi-like, then it is legitimate to label them Nazi. Bachner and Ring, however, seem to preclude this option.
Lars Drake, a Swedish academic, highlighted a finding that is not mentioned in the report but found in a table of statistics. Of adults (aged 19-75) who indicated support for Israel in the conflict, 1.6 per cent suffers from what the authors regard as high intolerance of Jews, but among supporters of Palestine this was only 1.3 per cent. In other words, the study found that friends of Israel are more anti-Semitic than pro-Palestinians. The fact that pro-Israelis are classified as more anti-Semitic than those who support the Palestinians is surprising. The pro-Israelis are also in the lead when it comes to high intolerance towards Muslims–19.6 per cent of them belong to this category, compared to the 2.1 per cent of the pro-Palestinians harbouring high intolerance of Muslims, which makes both groups more intolerant of Muslims than of Jews.
An unreliable report
Europeans are becoming increasingly critical of Israel and Israeli policies, and there are concrete grounds for their apprehension and criticism. The old myths about Israel, e.g. “a land without a people,” are no longer tenable, and manifestly ruthless Israeli behaviour has elicited criticism of Israel.
To Swedish friends of Palestine, Henrik Bachner (PhD) is not a new name. He claims for instance: “In delegitimizing the state of Israel, anti-Zionism attacks the legitimacy of the Jewish existence.” Bachner seriously believes that old stereotypes of Jews as traitors, Christ-killers, and other myths are vital and quite common in today’s society. This is what he has to say about Finkelstein’s book on the Holocaust Industry:
“The controversy with this writing is not the claim that the Holocaust is being misused for political and commercial purposes–this is a truly existing problem which has been discussed for decades–but the thesis about ‘the Holocaust industry’: a global conspiracy that includes American-Jewish elites, the state of Israel, historians, authors and film-makers, with the purpose of sucking money from the German people and Swiss banks, partly to support the Israeli occupation policy. Leading historians in several countries quickly rebutted Finkelstein’s thesis and pointed to the fact that the book in great parts was based on the myth of a Jewish world conspiracy. This didn’t stop the European extreme-right from appointing Finkelstein their favourite Jew.”
Jonas Ring (also PhD) is not as well-known. He carried out a study with similar questions among high school pupils in 2003. The findings then weren’t very different, but the author argued that many pupils were unaware of the old stereotypes and therefore had a hard time relating to them. For example, 46 per cent could not say if the Jews are cheap or not. However, Ring appears not to have similar doubts when it comes to this very report, despite the similar response to similar questions.
Anti-Semitism has always been important to the Zionist project. In 2004 a woman complained about being the victim of an anti-Semitic act in France (although she wasn’t Jewish). The story, which turned out to be a lie, was immediately embraced in Israel and Ariel Sharon encouraged the French Jews to “flee” to Israel. The more anti-Semitism, the greater is the possibility of playing the victim card.
When all is said and done, anti-Semitism is a relatively small problem in Sweden and the number of assaults with anti-Semitic motives is lower than what other minorities suffer from, and has even decreased during recent years. Trying to depict the country as on the verge of Nazism is pure fantasy.
A far more interesting report was issued in Israel just a week later. A 68 per cent majority of the Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab Israeli, and 40 per cent think that the Israeli government should encourage them to leave the country. Instead of going on about anti-Semitism that doesn’t exist, Bachner and Ring should be far more worried about what is happening in the Middle East. Israel welcomes reports about a widespread anti-Semitism in the world, and as the Arab Israeli MK Taleb el-Sana noted: “Yet when it happens at their home, they’re quiet, and that’s why this is a two-fold failure–they are racist, and they’re also not attempting to address their own racism.”
Kristoffer Larsson can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org