The pleasures of antisemitism

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Antisemitism is much more than a cognitive error. It attracts by providing the deep emotional satisfactions of hatred, tradition, and moral purity.


Antisemitism is much more than a cognitive error. It attracts by providing the deep emotional satisfactions of hatred, tradition, and moral purity. (A shorter version of this article appeared in Fathom Summer 2013, Issue 3.)

There is something strangely ineffective about many of our attempts to combat anti-Semitism. We treat it as involving various cognitive errors – false beliefs about Jews or about Israel, the application of double standards to the assessment of Jewish activities, the one-sided focus on things which can be criticised and the neglect of things which might be praiseworthy. We try to combat these cognitive failures (of which there certainly are plenty) by pointing out the errors involved, listing the relevant facts which correct those errors, and revealing the logical inconsistencies involved in, for example, the use of double standards. And when these attempts prove to be totally fruitless, as they so often do, we’re puzzled and dismayed. Don’t people want truths which would enable them to abandon their hostilities to various aspects of Jewish existence?

The answer, of course, is very often that no, they really don’t want these truths. They prefer the errors, with all their dramatic fears and hatreds, and the excitement of conspiracy stories, to the unremarkable truth that Jews are on the whole just like everyone else, a mixture of good and bad, strong and weak, but with a history which has very real and terrible implications for the present. Why is this? We can’t explain it just in terms of cognitive error, since part of what we want to know is why the cognitive errors are so immune to alteration, why they appear and reappear so very persistently. We have to look outside the cognitive domain to the realm of the emotions, and ask: what are the pleasures, what are the emotional rewards which anti-Semitism has to offer to its adherents?

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. In what follows I will be mentioning and briefly describing various anti-Semitic attitudes, all of which I believe to be deeply and often culpably misguided. But I won’t be discussing their errors, nor will I be distinguishing the circumstances in which criticism of Jews and Israel is legitimate and accurate, and circumstances in which it is not. Much has been written on just those topics; here I will simply take it for granted that some such criticisms are accurate, but that others, often many others, are false, and constitute a form of racist discrimination against Jews – in short, anti-Semitism. My concern here is not with the falsity of anti-Semitic discourse, but with the pleasures which it offers to those who engage in it.

Written By: Eve Garrard
continue to source article at fathomjournal.org

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  1. I’m not sure why antisemitism is fun, this hasn’t helped. I found this bit confusing;

    “… nor will I be distinguishing the circumstances in which criticism of Jews and Israel is legitimate and accurate, and circumstances in which it is not.”

    What is up for discussion if legitimate an not legitimate criticism is not? The opening seems to discuss both without any distinction as if any legitimate criticism of Semitic actions is Antisemitic? I for one think their black robes look hot in the sun, am I bad too? Given the significant difference of opinion between groups in the area how can you start when all is off the table?

    • In reply to #1 by alaskansee:

      I’m not sure why antisemitism is fun, this hasn’t helped. I found this bit confusing;

      “… nor will I be distinguishing the circumstances in which criticism of Jews and Israel is legitimate and accurate, and circumstances in which it is not.”

      What is up for discussion if legitimate an not legitima…

      Maybe he was concerned that what is objectively legitimate criticism to some readers might be taken the wrong way by othermore subjective readers with hair-trigger reactions. He was quick to reduce blood pressures in the very first sentence.

  2. Perhaps these criticisms are applicable to all forms of racial and ideological hatred, not just antisemitism? Perhaps sharing a common enemy with the community, is deeply satisfying. My late parents often commented on the fact that the Second World War was one of the best times to be an Australian ( apart from losing loved ones, of course) . Everyone hated Hitler with equal ferocity. There was a common bond with every member of the community, rich and poor alike. I think that covers the criteria mentioned.

  3. Fundamentalist, patriarchal misogynistic mindsets found in any theological cult are offensive and deserve outspoken derision. Islam, Judaism, Christianity and all of the other religions, are equally rooted in primitive Iron Age supernatural tales. Perpetuating tribalism in this complex world continues to divide populations and too often results in violence towards the other. Being anti the lot of them is a step towards emotional freedom and the building of cohesive societies.

      • In reply to #7 by Andrew B.:

        In reply to #6 by whiteraven:

        In reply to #3 by ukantic:

        What a strange and confusing article – a sort of Jewish Gish Gallop.

        The only “Gish” in my dictionary is Lillian Gish; could you disambiguate?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop#Debates

        Thanks. Seems he was a very effective opponent. There’s a multi-part debate video on Youtube that looks worth seeing, Ian Plimer vs Duane Gish – 1988 Sydney, Australia, Creation or Evolution: Which is the Pseudoscience? part 1 of 16.

    • In reply to #6 by whiteraven:

      In reply to #3 by ukantic:

      What a strange and confusing article – a sort of Jewish Gish Gallop.

      The only “Gish” in my dictionary is Lillian Gish; could you disambiguate?

      From Rational Wiki: The Gish Gallop, named after creationist Duane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. Sam Harris describes the technique as “starting 10 fires in 10 minutes.”

  4. Depressing article, but I agree it is necessary to understand the psychological underpinnings of anti-Semitism in order to successfully combat it. It makes me profoundly sad that we are still dealing with this scourge in the 21st century.

  5. Just because Jews were subject to prejudice and persecution is not a get out of jail free card to do wrongful things like:

    1. set up a theocracy
    2. set up an apartheid scheme
    3. invade and occupy somebody else’s country.

    These are the crimes of the State of Israel not of the Jewish people. Most Jewish people had nothing whatsoever to do with them. Those actions are wrong no matter who does them.

    • In reply to #14 by Roedy:

      Just because Jews were subject to prejudice and persecution is not a get out of jail free card to do wrongful things like:

      set up a theocracy

      set up an apartheid scheme

      invade and occupy somebody else’s country.

      Jews have done none of the above. Israel is a western style democracy like any other, where all religions are welcome. It has churches and mosques, as well as synagogues, and a huge B’hai shrine that is a major tourist attraction in Haifa. people of all faiths (including no faith at at all) are free to pursue any dreams they choose, including running for public office. Something tells me that you already know all of this, Roedy.

      • In reply to #15 by IDLERACER:

        That exactly is the problem. Some people refuse to see and acknowledge facts. Let’s take your claims one by one:

        1. Israel is a secular state in which clerics have definitely too much influence. It is exactly like my country, Poland, with absolutely secular rule of the country and the Catholic church trying to push itself everywhere. Nobody is calling Poland a theocracy and nobody is boycotting it.
        2. There is no apartheid in Israel. Non-Jewish citizens of Israel have exactly the same rights as Jewish ones. If you ask Polish Roma people they would tell you that they experience discrimination in Poland (though the authorities try to combat this discrimination – exactly like Israeli authorities are trying to combat discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel). Nobody calls Poland an apartheid state.
        3. There was no invasion and no occupation of somebody else’s country – there was no country called Palestine to occupy and Jews were partly living in this area, partly came as refugees from diverse pogroms (in Europe and in Arab countries) and bought the land, not invaded it. After collapse of Ottoman Empire (and German and Austrian empires in Europe) a lot of new countries were created. Poland was one of them, Jordan another (there was no country called Jordan in history). League of Nations decided that in this upheaval and movement of people also Jewish people, persecuted through centuries, should have a right to self-rule. Hence the decision to build a Jewish National Home which was later called Israel. (It should be noticed that after creation of Jordan 1922 Jews were forbidden to live there, while no Arab immigration to the Jewish National Home was hampered by the Mandate power – Great Britain.) After the WWII Poland got, by the decision of the victorious powers, a huge part of Germany and the German population was deported. Nobody is talking about Poland’s invasion and occupation of somebody else’s country, but after three aggressive wars of Arab states against Israel, Israel is still accused.

        So when intelligent people refuse to see facts we need an explanation and the thoughtful article by Eve Garrard does give some answers.

        • In reply to #19 by Malgorzata:

          In reply to #15 by IDLERACER:

          2.There is no apartheid in Israel

          Occupying other people’s land? That may be true, with some nuances. Theocracy? Total BS. Atheists and gays should know better where they would feel more welcome, Israel or Canada? But apartheid? To be clear, there is no ‘Jews only’ establishment in Israel, none, zero, glitch. If you want to have a pizza in Tel Aviv and you are an Arab, no one can or will identify you, as your Hebrew is likely better than that of your Jewish neighbors at the other table and your skin color is the same. And no, they will not ask for your papers before sitting.

      • In reply to #15 by IDLERACER:

        In reply to #14 by Roedy:

        Jews have done none of the above…… Something tells me that you already know all of this, Roedy.

        I thought Roedy made that point explicitly.
        >
        These are the crimes of the State of Israel not of the Jewish people. Most Jewish people had nothing whatsoever to do with them. Those actions are wrong no matter who does them.

  6. I know many many people who are irked by the superiority complex and tribalism of (some)
    individuals of Jewish descent. No pleasure involved here at all.

    To paraphrase Michel Onfray, to be sure, there is nothing wrong with being Jewish, let the antisemites know that; but there is nothing wrong with NOT being Jewish either!!

    • In reply to #16 by Fouad Boussetta:

      I know many many people who are irked by the superiority complex and tribalism of some individuals of Jewish descent. No pleasure involved here at all.

      And I am one of those irked people, however, that is by no means an attitude that Jews have a monopoly on. I am equally irked by the superiority complexes that accompany various individuals of Catholic and evangelical Christian branches also have over anyone who does not share their views. In the case of Muslims, it goes beyond being merely “irked.” Them I’m scared of.

  7. A fascinating insight into the psychology of in-group out-group tribalism engendered by religions and, at the same time, employing more reverse psychology per column inch than I’ve ever seen before.

    If it wasn’t for the religion, I’d be seriously worried about the victim mentality apparently informed by neuroticism and psychoticism so clearly painted here.

    Come to think of it, why am I not worried anyway?

    Peace.

  8. Number 1 Zionist Gish: equate anti-Israeli/anti Zionism with anti Semitism. It’s a good tactic; it confuses issues, blackguards anti Zionists, equates Jews with Zionism, and thus sucks anti Zionist, or indifferent Jews into the whole mess, and prevents rational discussion.

    Number 2 Zionist Gish: Never, ever allow discussion about the goings-on at the foundation of the State.

  9. Sadly Israel and many Jews have debased the meaning of the term anti-semitism, because it has become a stock response to any criticism they do not like, a means of batting any further discussion into the long grass, where they hope it will remain for ever after.

    Unfortunately, there IS room for disagreement about what is and is not “legitimate” criticism, and the people being criticised are likely to take the most benign view of themselves, and play the victim card with alacrity.

    We have got to the point where holding a sensible discussion about Israel or Zionism or extreme aspects of the Jewish faith (banning women from praying at the Wailing Wall, say) has become almost impossible – it is like treading on eggshells in the middle of a minefield. Few mainstream UK newspapers now allow comments on Israel/Palestine matters, and where they do so “moderation” (possibly an oxymoron in this context) is ruthless and extreme.

    And I have to suspect that a lot of people like things this way.

  10. Islamophobic? Antisemitic? I demand us atheists are rewarded with our very own term that we can use as a card to play when someone criticises us,either that or these terms should be dropped and just called some general ignorant prejudice when a criticism is unjustified,otherwise I’m not sure that these terms should actually be given any status in a thinking world.I pretty sure that this is actually where the cognitive error really lies. So..ok..what are we going to call our new fear/and or/discrimination of atheism?
    I wonder if spiders were smarter would they play the arachnophobia card?
    Just thought of that debate where Richard Dawkins was accused of being antisemitic for his description of the god of the old testament…
    So,any takers?
    Best term gets a pat on the back,a”you poor thing” and some cookies.

  11. I unabashedly criticize Israel because I, like the few academics (e.g., Dr. Norman Finkelstein et al.) whom many have described as self-hating, traitorous Jews, am afraid that its actions are leading it and, more importantly, its allies down a path toward self-destruction.

    Israeli interests are not tantamount to American interests; only self-important Israel-firsters attempt to conflate one with the other.

  12. Jewish people are great. But I can’t stand philosophers! What a painful read. What the hell is the point of this article – did anyone get it? The author needs some lessons in brevity.

  13. I think the different concepts such as race, religion and nationality, written in some comments, are being used in a subjective way because of ignorance or political convenience. Criticizing a country’s internal or external policy has nothing to do with insulting or despising a race, nationality or religion. Criticizing, or even insulting, Mussolini’s regime doesn’t mean criticizing or insulting the Italian people or the RC religion.
    Israel, like any other country in the world, democratic or not, can and must be criticized by others because of its policies, in fact, I’ve met non Israeli Jews who are very much against Israeli policies, but they are not anti-Jews (anti -Semitic as it is called) as some of their coreligionist claim. However, due to the terrible history of the Jewish people, it is understandable that many Jews, Israeli or not, mistrust criticism of Israel. It is also true that there are people who use Israel’s anti-Palestinian policy to bring to the surface old religious hatreds and racism, although they don’t care at all for the fate of the Arabs. The subject of Israel and the Jews is a very delicate matter to discuss. We must keep in mind the unfortunate history, both distant and recent, of the Jewish people.

    • “Israel, like any other country in the world, can and must be criticized”.

      Let’s look at this legitimate, equal and just criticism:

      2002-2012 UN resolutions criticizing Israel 435

                  UN resolutions criticizing North Korea   5
                  UN resolutions criticizing Sudan         4
      

      Website of Amnesty International, access 24 Sept. 2012

      keyword / number of hits

      Israel 439

      Tibet 59

      North Korea 0

      Saudi Arabia 3

      Public interest (mostly negative):

      Information from CNN on the same day about

      20 killed in Syria 4 comments

      4 killed in Bagdad 5 comments

      Israel shot down an enemy drone over 3,600 comments

      BDS movement against Syria No

      BDS movement against gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia No

      BDS movement against Turkey (occupation of Cyprus, persecution of Kurds) No

      BDS movement against China (occupation of Tibet) No

      BDS movement against any other country in the world – only one – Israel.

      So how can people even think about anti-Semitism when Israel is subjected to criticism, to which countries with much, much worse records of human right abuses are not?

      • In reply to #31 by Malgorzata:

        So how can people even think about anti-Semitism when Israel is subjected to criticism, to which countries with much, much worse records of human right abuses are not?

        Because Israel claims to be a First World Nation; the equal to any other. To many people, being a first world nation equates to being an upstanding member of the community. By contrast most people equate North Korea and others to criminals and street scum. People hold upstanding members of the community to higher standards. Whether or not that’s fair is another question.

        • In reply to #36 by ANTIcarrot:
          I would think that treating nations like scum is rasism. All nations should be judged according to the same basic standard and upholding of those standards should be demanded equally. OK, North Korea is a special basket case. But what about Turkey (a candidate to EU, presumably not a scum nation): occupation of Cyprus, persecution and killing of Kurdish minority, unequal status of women – how many condemning resolutions there were in UN of Turkey? Sorry, this idea with “holding to higher standards” is not holding up to logic or facts.

          • In reply to #37 by Malgorzata:

            Sorry, this idea with “holding to higher standards” is not holding up to logic or facts.

            Do these other nations hold themselves up as First World nations? Do they involve themselves in western politics nearly as much as Israel? If you want to sit at the grown-up table, you have to demonstrate the requisite maturity. Israel has acted more like the other countries you mentioned than a First World nation, and so it received quite a bit of criticism for it.

            You probably disagree. It doesn’t really matter, because, as explained earlier in the thread, criticism of a country and its actions is not criticism of a people, a race, or a religion, and hence cannot be racism or anti-religious bigotry. We’re not here to argue whether Israel’s actions are acceptable or not. We’re discussing antisemitism, not policy.

          • In reply to #37 by Malgorzata:

            In reply to #36 by ANTIcarrot:
            I would think that treating nations like scum is rasism. All nations should be judged according to the same basic standard and upholding of those standards should be demanded equally. OK, North Korea is a special basket case. But what about Turkey (a candidate to EU, p…

            Really? But I thought the Jews were “God’s chosen people”?

  14. Kruschev used to call Britain “America’s aircraft carrier in Europe”. To me it seems plain that Israel is America’s aircraft carrier in the middle east. As long as there is oil in the region, it will remain so.

    When engaged in conflict one tactic to get supporters on board is to demonise the “enemy”. Politics, nationality, language, race, and yes, religion are all brought into play in this demonisation. If your “enemy” is “something less than human”* then you are far less likely to worry about killing it.

    (*Ex Cardinal Murphy O’Connor about non believers).

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