Protesters hold placards as they demonstrate in Parliament Square against anti-Semitism Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Is Anti-Semitism Curable?

Allegations that British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is encouraging anti-Semitic sentiment have renewed fears that Jews are once again becoming fair game for politicians. But the tensions in Britain also offer an opportunity to examine the evolution of bias and search for new antidotes to prejudice and xenophobia.

LONDON – Protesters in the United Kingdom are sounding the alarm over a perceived resurgence of anti-Semitism in politics. At the center of the crisis are revelations that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party and an ardent critic of Israel, supported the artist of an anti-Semitic mural in 2012.

But as the British public accuses the left-wing party and its boss of encouraging anti-Jewish sentiment, an important psychological question needs to be addressed: Can we really blame Corbyn for failing to identify the controversial mural for what it was? The answer may indeed be yes, but the reasons are complicated.

Psychologists have long studied the effects of prejudice on the ability to identify bias in images. In 2008, a team of psychologists at Northeastern University discovered that people who are more prejudiced toward Jews are less accurate in discerning whether a photograph is of a Jewish or non-Jewish person. More broadly, the more accurate people believe they are at guessing elements of people’s identity – for example, their sexual orientation – the less accurate they actually are.