Wednesday, July 07, 2021

  • Wednesday, July 07, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon

This 2013 article from Eve Garrard in Fathom is one of the best I've seen to explain modern antisemitism. If anything, it is more accurate today than it was then.


Anti-Semitism is fun, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t miss the relish with which some people compare Jews to the Nazis, or the fake sorrow, imperfectly masking deep satisfaction, with which they bemoan the supposed fact that Jews have brought hatred on themselves, especially by the actions of Israel and its Zionist supporters, and that they have inexplicably failed to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. (The Holocaust was not, of course, an educational exercise; and if there are lessons to be learned from it, we might think that the weakest pupils are those who once again wish to single out Jews above all others for hostile attention.) Like other forms of racism, anti-Semitism provides a variety of satisfactions for those who endorse it, and it’s worth trying to analyse these pleasures, so that we may better understand and combat the whole phenomenon. 

There are (at least) three principal sources of pleasure which anti-Semitism provides: first, the pleasure of hatred; second, the pleasure of tradition, and third, the pleasure of displaying moral purity. Each of these is an independent source of satisfaction, but the three interact in various ways, which often strengthens their effects. No doubt the different sources of pleasure appeal to different individuals and groups, so that the appeal of tradition may resonate most strongly with those who are politically on the Right, and the attraction of displaying moral purity may be most strongly felt by those on the political Left, but both varieties can be detected in most political groupings, and the pleasures of hatred are well-nigh universal.

 Hatred and its cognates – contempt, rancour, and detestation – offer the seductive satisfaction of feeling our own superiority to the hated object, and feeling also a sense of deep justification and indeed righteousness in taking steps to punish or otherwise hurt him (or her, or them). Hurting others is also fun, for more people than we would normally like to believe (see for example the notorious Zimbardo experiments, and the evidence from those involved in the genocidal killing in Rwanda; but also the ubiquitous phenomenon of playground bullying, and its various adult analogues such as workplace bullying and the kind of political hostilities that sometimes break out in small ideologically overheated groups). So where anti-Semitism takes the form of Jew-hatred, it’s not hard to understand that it offers psychological rewards which are nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of people’s beliefs about Jews. Nor is it hard to see that people would prefer not to be deprived of these pleasures, especially if, as is often the case with those who are formally committed to anti-racism, they don’t recognise themselves to be anti-Semitic, and hence pay no inner price in damage to their own self-esteem.

Since the pleasures of hatred are universal, why, we must ask, do they get realised in Jew-hating in particular, here and now? At this point we can turn to the second main source of the pleasures of anti-Semitism: tradition. There is a Jew-shaped space in Western culture, and the shape is not a pleasant one. Long centuries of tradition have constructed the Jew as a being who is both contemptible and dangerous, the purveyor and transmitter of evil; and various tropes have been deployed to flesh out this picture – in particular the blood libel.

As has often been pointed out, the tradition of anti-Semitism is very flexible, and it generally gets expressed in terms of the preoccupations of the period: so mediaeval Jew-hatred was religiously based; 19th and, even more 20th, century hostility was given a scientific top-dressing in terms of the now discredited theories of ‘race science’; and late 20th century and early 21st century prejudice is generally cast in terms of human rights violations. Although an anti-Semitism which was proud to speak its name became unfashionable on the liberal left after the Second World War, for reasons which are too obvious to mention, it’s a remarkable feature of the persistence of anti-Semitic tropes that they have survived relatively unaltered through these cultural changes. Recent cartoons expressing profound hostility to the Jewish state, on the grounds of supposedly outstanding human rights-violations, reproduce fantasies of sinister control and bloodthirstiness which earlier anti-Semites would have recognised without difficulty.

This takes us to the third source of satisfaction which anti-Semitism provides: the desire for moral purity, especially a purity which is readily visible to others, and can count as a ticket of entry to socially and politically desirable circles. This source of satisfaction is in many ways the most interesting of them all, partly because it seems to be the motive du jour of anti-Semitism coming from sections of the Left, which might have been expected to be hostile to all forms of racism and sadly isn’t; and partly because it’s so supple and flexible, it can accommodate and explain away a very wide range of facts which tell against it. 

 Such people can present themselves as the champions of the weak against the strong, of the colonised against the supposedly imperialist colonisers, of wholly innocent Palestinian victims against bloody and heartless Jewish oppressors. They can also present themselves as being victimised, both by the way in which powerful forces have imposed silence on them (albeit one of the noisiest silences ever heard), and also by the charge, deeply offensive to their moral purity, that their extraordinarily selective hostility towards Israel and its supporters might constitute discrimination against Jews. Indeed so offensive is this charge that it amounts, so it is claimed, to a further victimisation, of a kind which can only be explained by the deceitful and manipulative nature of those who raise the concerns about alleged anti-Semitism. So people who deploy these tactics against Jews can see themselves, and can hope to be seen by others, as being not only on the side of morally pure victims against morally vicious villains, but also as having the coveted status of victims themselves, slandered by people who are determined to exploit their own past sufferings in order to oppress others. Furthermore, since in this narrative Jews are cast as the powerful oppressors, those who single them out for hostile attention can see themselves as ‘speaking truth to power’. And paradoxically, focussing on Jews for singular criticism can be also be presented as subversive and transgressive, flouting the conventions of polite discourse, and thus conferring on the hostile critic the accolade of being untrammelled by convention, excitingly edgy, possibly even outrageous. All in all, that’s an awful lot of moral bang for your anti-Semitic buck.
(h/t Michael)


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 14 years and 30,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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