New research provides evidence that conspiracy beliefs, openness to authoritarianism, and a desire to disrupt the social order are key factors in predicting antisemitic attitudes. The findings, published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, challenge common assumptions about the relationship between political ideologies and antisemitism. While several attitudes related to right-wing extremism were linked to antisemitism, a facet of left-wing authoritarianism emerged as the strongest predictor overall.
Antisemitism has been a persistent issue throughout history, often associated with discrimination, hatred, and even violence against Jewish communities. Understanding the root causes and predictors of antisemitism is crucial for combating this problem. Previous research has hinted at potential connections between political ideologies and antisemitism, but the recent study aimed to provide a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of specific ideological beliefs.
“I’ve been publishing research on antisemitism for five years now,” said lead author Daniel Allington, a reader at King’s College London. “I initially became interested in the topic in 2015 because of allegations about antisemitism in the UK Labour Party. I was a member of the Labour Party at that time, and my initial reaction was to dismiss the idea.”
“But when I began to look into it the following year, I quickly realised that there was a real problem: people with very obviously antisemitic attitudes were feeling inspired to support the party leadership. Before long, my research agenda was almost completely taken over with the effort to understand what was going on.”
The study employed a two-step approach, using large samples collected in the United Kingdom. In the first step (Study 1), the researchers analyzed bivariate associations between antisemitism, demographic variables, and a wide range of ideological scales. In the second step (Study 2), they conducted linear modeling to identify the strongest predictors of antisemitism while considering demographic variables.
The first study involved 809 participants and was conducted from October 30 to October 31, 2020. Participants were recruited through the crowdsourcing platform Prolific. Quotas were set to ensure a balanced representation of respondents under and over the age of 25, as well as male and female respondents. The second study involved 1,853 participants and was conducted on December 16–17, 2020. Participants were sampled by YouGov from a pre-recruited panel of UK residents.
To assess antisemitic beliefs or prejudices, the participants completed the Generalised Antisemitism (GeAs) scale, an instrument designed to measure antisemitic attitudes that encompass both traditional forms of prejudice against Jews, as well as more contemporary forms that may manifest in the guise of anti-Zionism.
The Judeophobic Antisemitism subscale focuses on ‘old’ antisemitic attitudes, which are forms of prejudice that were common before the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. These attitudes include stereotypes and conspiracies about Jewish people, such as the belief that Jews have disproportionate control over media, finance, and politics.
It measures agreement with statements indicative of such beliefs and disagreement with statements that oppose them.
The Antizionist Antisemitism subscale focuses on extreme and irrational anti-Israel positions that are, in essence, a form of disguised antisemitism. For example, holding Israel to different standards than other countries or assuming that supporters of Israel have undue influence over global affairs.
Belief in various conspiracy theories, including malevolent global conspiracies, personal wellbeing conspiracies, and government malfeasance conspiracies, were strongly correlated with antisemitism. These conspiracy beliefs are exemplified by statements such as “A small secret group of people is responsible for making all major world decisions such as going to war,” “The spread of certain viruses and/or diseases is the result of the deliberate, concealed efforts of some organisations,” and “The government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement,” respectively.
Of these three types of conspiracies, belief in malevolent global conspiracies was the strongest predictor.
The desire for an extremely authoritarian political system, as measured by the Totalitarianism scale, was also a strong predictor of antisemitism. Those who scored high on this scale agreed with statement such as “To bring about great changes for the benefit of mankind often requires cruelty and even ruthlessness.”
All three facets of the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (submission, aggression, and conventionalism) were positively associated with Judeophobic Antisemitism but negatively associated with Antizionist Antisemitism. On the other hand, two facets of the Left Wing Authoritarianism scale (anti-conventionalism and top-down censorship) were positively associated with Antizionist Antisemitism but negatively associated with Judeophobic Antisemitism.
Anti-hierarchical aggression, the third facet of left-wing authoritarianism, emerged as the strongest predictor of both Judeophobic Antisemitism and Antizionist Antisemitism after controlling for demographic factors. Individuals with who agreed with statements such as “If I could remake society, I would put people who currently have the most privilege at the very bottom” tended to exhibit high levels of antisemitism.
“These findings suggest a convergence,” explained co-author David Hirsh, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. “On the one hand, antisemites who believe the democratic state to be a trick played on ‘the people’ by ‘the Jews’ might feel justified in tearing it down and taking repressive action against those responsible. On the other hand, political movements that embrace conspiracy fantasies may feel justified in repressing political opponents, are not afraid to overthrow the democratic state, and are also likely to be open to antisemitism.”
The study challenged the simplistic notion that antisemitism is exclusive to either the left or right ends of the political spectrum. Instead, it highlighted the complexity of political ideologies. Antisemitism is not limited to any particular political group but can be found among individuals across various ideological spectrums.
“Antisemitism is not associated with the political right or the political left,” Allington told PsyPost. “Instead, it’s associated with attitudes that can be found across the political spectrum. The most important of those attitudes appear to be an inclination to explain world events with conspiracy theories, a preference for authoritarian forms of government, and — above all — a sort of resentful aggression towards people who are perceived to be powerful or successful. This suggests that a political movement which combines those things might tend to attract people who have a problem with Jews, regardless of whether it situates itself on the right, the left, or the centre.”
In addition, the researchers found that participants from other-than-white ethnic groups exhibited significantly higher levels of both Judeophobic Antisemitism and Antizionist Antisemitism compared to those from white ethnic groups. These effects were much larger than the effects associated with other demographic factors, such as age, gender, or education.
“This research paves the way for further research on left- and right-wing forms of authoritarianism to provide a more balanced debate within the literature on prejudice,” added co-author Louise Katz, a senior lecturer and psychology programme coordinator at Xenophon College London.
While the research provides valuable insights into the complex nature of antisemitism, there are some limitations to consider. The use of self-reporting scales to measure antisemitism may have limitations, as some participants may provide socially desirable responses. Future research could seek to replicate these findings using alternative measurement methods, such as scenario-based experiments. In addition, the studies only examined participants from the United Kingdom. It is unclear how well the results might generalize to other countries or cultural contexts.
“All our data were collected in the UK, so it’s possible that things may work differently in other countries,” Allington told PsyPost. “We also don’t really know why these attitudes are associated with antisemitism. My hunch is that they all have something to do with a rejection of the modern world: there’s the idea that the evil people are secretly running the show, there’s the feeling that we’d be better off without democracy, and then there’s the desire for revenge against whoever seems to be doing well in the world as it is.”
“Obviously, these findings have gained a lot of relevance since October 7. It’s one thing to support Palestinian statehood, but it’s quite another to celebrate the rape, murder, and kidnap of hundreds upon hundreds of Jews. To anyone who sees the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust as legitimate resistance, all I can say is — please examine your motives carefully.”
The study, “Antisemitism is predicted by anti-hierarchical aggression, totalitarianism, and belief in malevolent global conspiracies“, was authored by Daniel Allington, David Hirsh, and Louise Katz.