Monday, December 09, 2013

The Forward mentions a fascinating study:
Over the course of a decade, the letters poured into the Central Council of Jews in Germany like a river.

“Is it possible that the excessive violence in Israel, including the murder of innocent children, corresponds to the long tradition of your people?” asked one.
“For the last two thousand years, you have been robbing land and killing people!” exclaimed another.

“You Israelis are a crowd showing contempt for humanity,” charged another, though its writer was addressing fellow Germans. “You drop cluster bombs above inhabited territory during the last days of war, and accuse people criticizing such actions of anti-Semitism. That is typical of you Jews!”

Many would view the stream of vitriol, sent to German Jewry’s central communal organization between 2002 and 2012, as little more than raw sewage. But Monika Schwarz-Friesel, a professor of linguistics at the Technical University of Berlin, saw it as raw data. Together with Jehuda Reinharz, the American historian and former president of Brandeis University, Schwarz-Friesel has recently published a study of these letters. And their findings reaffirm one of the enduring, if still surprising truths about anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere.

More than 60% of the hate mail came from well-educated Germans, including university professors, according to their study, “The Language of Hostility Towards Jews in the 21st Century,” released earlier this year. Only 3% came from right-wing extremists.

The researchers know this partly from analyzing the language of the letter writers — but also because many of the authors of the emails in their sample gave their names, addresses and professions. “We checked some of them, [and] the information [was] valid,” said Schwarz-Friesel in an email to the Forward. She and her research partner were amazed that the writers were so brazen. “I don’t think they would have identified themselves 20 or 30 years ago,” said Reinharz.

“We found that there is hardly any difference in the semantics of highly educated anti-Semites and vulgar extremists and neo-Nazis,” said Schwarz-Friezel. “The difference lies only in style and formal rhetoric, but the concepts are the same.”

This is not exactly new. Schwarz-Friesel pointed out that many Nazis were highly educated, too.

One of the research pair’s other main findings was that hatred for Israel has become the main vehicle for German anti-Semitism. More than 80% of the 14,000 emails focused on Israel as their central theme.

Schwarz-Friesel and Reinharz say they strove hard to distinguish emails that were critical of Israel — even those that expressed anger toward it — from those that were anti-Semitic.

“Only those letters were classified as anti-Semitic that clearly [saw] German Jews as non-Germans and collectively abused German Jews to be responsible for crimes in Israel!” she explained.

In the paper’s abstract, the researchers clarify further that “Verbal anti-Semitism is based on 1. Collective discrimination; 2. Fixation (by stereotypes) and 3. Devaluation of Jews.”

Schwarz-Friesel said she also considered as anti-Semitic letters that analogized Jewish or Israeli behavior to that of the Nazis.

As a linguist, Schwarz-Friesel sought to decode the classical anti-Semitism that was often hidden in the language of the emails. Schwarz-Friesel says her skills enable her to identify anti-Semitic intent that’s often deliberately obscured. She cites a letter from a professor that opens this way: “You people have a history of 2,000 years…” The letter then goes on to criticize Israel. In this way, according to Schwarz-Friesel, the writer brands Jews as historically evil.

Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust studies at Hebrew University and academic advisor to Yad Vashem, praised the study’s methodology as unique. “Such an in-depth research based on language analyzing has not existed yet,” he said.

The anti-Israel crowd never tires of claiming that they are not antisemitic. However, this study indicates that antisemitism is the driving force behind anti-Zionism, not the other way around.

Educated people do not as often generalize anti-Muslim feelings from the acts of a few - they bend over backwards to avoid "Islamophobia." Yet here we see that university educated Germans will use Israel as their excuse to demonize Jews, and to take the trouble to write specifically to the Central Council of Jews and not a German Zionist organization to spout their hate.

The idea of analyzing antisemitism in this way is brilliant. No doubt the ADL and other Jewish organizations in the US and elsewhere get lots of hate mail, I hope they are saving it for similar analysis.

(h/t Yerushalimey)



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