Anti-Semitism and its Double Binds

Anyone who thinks anti-Semitism is exaggerated or not a growing problem should read Bari Weiss’ new book “How to Fight anti-Semitism.” It’s a sobering account of historical anti-Semitism and the renewal we are currently experiencing in the United States, Europe, and of course the Muslim world.

I have always found it interesting and a little perplexing that Jewish discrimination goes on, and even when conditions change anti-Semites find a new way to continue their twisted logic and maintain the strength of their anti-Semitism. For example, I have observed that curiously the Jews were hated when they were weak, so they got strong. And now that the Jews are strong (e.g. state of Israel) they hate them because they’re strong. Inferential reasoning is not the key process; observing some behavior and drawing a generality from it, which is a defensible cognitive process, is not what’s going on with crude anti-Semitism. The perpetrators hold the attitude about the Jews first and some crude behavior follows.

The power of this self-serving and recursive process provides an organizational framework for just about all anti-Semitism. Weiss’analysis of anti-Semitism from the right and then from the left is a further demonstration that there is not some logical inferential process. Rather, it doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum, you’re capable of the same anti-Semitism as those who hold opposite political views.

So, for example, anti-Semitism from the right views Jews as not white enough and part of an international conspiracy. Jews have more universal values and global interests. From the left, on the other hand, the peoplehood of the Jews is denied and Israel is considered a remnant of ancient tribalism. So, from the right the Jews are criticized for being broadly global, and from the left they are criticized or being tribal. Which is it? They can’t win.

But there is more: the hard right is the home of white supremacists who hate everybody who isn’t white. But the group they hate the most, the Jews, present themselves as white (mostly in America and Europe). So once again the Jews become the great tricksters because the group that is most preventing them from natural dominance – Jews – is white. There is a mirror image of this argument from the left which holds that describing Jews as “white” strips them of their ability to claim victimhood.

This double bound logic is what catches people in the paradoxical binary that the Jews are at once white and nonwhite. They are the tools of white supremacy and the handmaidens of immigrants and people of color in cahoots with both the oppressed and the oppressor.

Alas, I could continue but encourage the reader to find Bari Weiss’ book. It’s not a perfect volume but it does remind one of the uniqueness of anti-Semitism along with the logical, semantic, and political stretches that characterize the distortions of anti-Semitism.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on October 10, 2019, in Communication and Conflict Resolution and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Anti-Semitism and its Double Binds.

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