Nature of Antisemitism


We can see then, that hatred enables social
groups to define themselves in comparison to others. The view of those outside of their group in
a collectively negative, hateful, and threatening light, allows a specific group to gain a self-
definition and a sense of identity. It is an identity and definition based on
negation – I am not what I hate. When discussing the history of antisemitism
and Jew-hatred, the “other” is clearly defined, as the objects of hate are always the Jews. The perpetrators of hatred, however, are varied,
crossing periods, cultures, religions, and ideologies. Many of them even viewed and still view the
Jews as ultimate “others” without being exposed to Jews at all. These features of antisemitism join others
in characterizing this phenomenon. Let’s hear more about the characteristics
of antisemitism and examine how they distinguish this form of hatred. All prejudices differ from each other, basically
because of the different contents those prejudices have. They can be expressed in similar ways. So
there are various rhetorical and linguistic means to express hatred, or also in caricatures,
or comics, or other visual semiotic means. But the contents are the most important part.
And in this way antisemitism is certainly quite unique because it covers a whole range
of different stereotypes. Some of them are very old and some of them are new. Actually what is quite interesting is that
you have very contradictory stereotypes. You have sort of the communist – the revolutionary,
and you have the capitalist – the rich Jew. You have the intellectual, who’s sort of thinking
about how to upheave, and destroy, and change society. On the other hand, you have the greedy Jew,
who’s only after your money and basically who only trades, who doesn’t really work. So my theory about antisemitism is what I
call the “Judeus ex machina,” which means whenever you need an enemy image, you can
produce one by instrumentalizing any cliches about Jews. And that seems to work very well right now,
that whenever you need some kind of cliche and stereotype, it’s like if you would grab
into a big bag and you just pull out whatever suits this kind of political function. Not to in any way diminish, to denigrate,
to relativize, the hatred of Blacks, the hatred of Native Americans, the hatred of other forms
of communities, but the fact is that not only is antisemitism the oldest, longest hatred.
But of course that would not be much of a distinction. That would be a fact. What
distinguishes antisemitism is not only that it’s a prejudice, a stereotyping, a demonizing
of Jews – something about the fact that Jews are unpleasant, that they smell, that they’re
dirty – right. These are said about all kinds of groups – that they’re involved in dishonorable
behavior. But the issue of antisemitism is connected to metaphysical theories. It’s very interesting that the origin of antisemitism
is Christian theology. The Jews are a deicidal people. That’s a metaphysical
issue. There’s God and his enemies represented by Satan, and Jews are children of Satan. And
therefore Jews fight against Christianity. They fight against the salvation brought by
the church. In the modern world again you have the idea
that Jews are an international conspiracy. This is a doctrine, a philosophical-political doctrine
about how Jews operate to control space and time. Today in the modern world again, it’s metaphysically
charged. The Jews are accused of all kinds of profound constitutional behavior that’s
more than improper. It represents a kind of effort to dominate
the world, a kind of effort to defend their self-interest by taking advantage of others. These attitudes – these metaphysical, ontological,
psychological attitudes, you don’t find in other hatreds. When the communists dislike the Jews, they
don’t attribute to them only that they’re dirty and ugly, but they tribute to them the
idea that they are the force of capitalism par excellence. So there’s something very special about the
nature of antisemitism which goes far beyond merely the dislike of the unlike, which is
the usual definition of xenophobia. There is a moment when Jews appear as
quasi-non-real human people in the mind of some other people. There is a moment when Jews appear as evil,
or as Devil, both of them. There is a moment when if you want to understand
the world in which you live, the society in which you are, the times where we are,
you don’t find any … the people that are antisemitic don’t find the good solution,
the good answer until the moment when the discoverer that there is something coming
from Devil, which is Jews. That is to say, something which does not appear
in a visible way, something that nobody can touch. Not real Jews that you meet in the street,
but a mysterious power. And at that moment really we are at the core
of antisemitism and violence towards Jews. Antisemitism is a riddle. It is hard to explain why a cultural tradition
would become so fixated on a particular group of people as a source of its problems. Now, we know why in the Western cultural tradition
this hatred exists. It’s rooted in a religious rivalry. It’s rooted in the sense that Christianity
developed, that it had superseded Judaism, that it therefore had replaced it, and those
people who clung to Judaism were dangerous to the faith of the people who had not, who
had embraced Christianity. And thus these people were regarded as contaminating.
They had to be kept at a distance. They had to be confined. We know where this tradition came from. But
what is striking is that in the modern world, which is a largely secular world in the West,
this hatred keeps morphing. It keeps shape-shifting. It shifts to other kinds of justifications.
And that I think is the thing about antisemitism that I regard as different. The motive is protean. The motive keeps changing
shape. But the hatred is the constant element. And as I said, I do believe that antisemitism
is a kind of superstition. So to try to understand why people are antisemitic, one has to understand
why are people superstitious. One of the reasons is of course because generations
before them have taught them to be, have said that if you in fact
want to ward off some event that you don’t want to happen to you, you
knock on wood. We all know that knocking on wood is not efficacious,
and yet we somehow think that it’s a safe thing to do just in case. With regard to antisemitism there is this
kind of fixation on these people as being hyper-dangerous. And thus they have to be
confined or reconfined in order for our lives to be safe. There is no empirical rationality behind that.
There is no demonstration behind that. It is a form of knocking on wood. And to explain
it any further than that is of course very difficult, because superstitions are
almost impossible to account for.

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