Monday, January 29, 2007

Engage posted this article:

What makes an anti-Semite?

By Dina Porat

In January 2005, an international working definition of anti-Semitism was accepted for the first time since the term was coined in the late 19th century. This definition, approved in June 2005 at a conference in Cordoba, Spain, is the result of a joint effort on the part of two institutions - a center established in Vienna by the European Union to monitor racism and xenophobia, and a center set up in Warsaw by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to strengthen the institutions of democracy and human rights among its 55 member countries.

And this is the essence of the international working definition of anti-Semitism: "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities." However, why was a new, international, practical definition needed, and why did non-Jewish organizations invest ongoing efforts in discussions on its formulation? After all, there has been no shortage of different definitions of anti-Semitism ever since the term was first coined 125 years ago in Germany and they can be found in encyclopedia and lexica, reflecting both temporal and geographic circumstances.

A long list of personalities and institutions sought to define the anti-Semite and the Jew he so hates: Jean-Paul Sartre, who sarcastically defined an anti-Semite, blaming the Jews for every tragedy, as a man who fears not Jews, but himself and the need to accept his responsibility; Encyclopedia Britannica, which as early as 1966 defined opposition to Zionism as anti-Semitism, but whose dictionary still features to "Jew Down" as a verb meaning to insist on haggling and deception; the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in the United States about one hundred years ago, includes a description of Jews as being perceived by others as greedy people, who are tribal in nature, devoid of tact and patriotism, and evade hard work; or the definition of Prof. Jacob Toury, of Tel Aviv University, who in the 1970s described anti-Semitism as a manipulation of sentiments directed against an unrealistic figure for political purposes.

However, our focus here is not on the definitions of learned people, but on international bodies and their perception of anti-Semitism as a problem that needs fixing...

The working definition of anti-Semitism

The purpose of this document is to provide a practical guide for identifying incidents, collecting data, and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with anti-Semitism.

The practical definition of the phenomenon: "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective... Contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

* Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion

* Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or about the power of Jews as a collective - including, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a global Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions

* Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoings committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews

* Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters during World War II (Holocaust denial)

* Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust

* Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel include:

* Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor

* Applying double standards by requiring Israel to behave in a manner not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation

* Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis

* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel

I think the general working definition and the more itemized list correspond quite accurately with the experience of Jews, Israel-advocates and decent-minded thinkers and people who are rightly concerned with the phenomenon.

There are, in my view, several orders of antisemitism.

The first order is the eliminationist antisemitism, the kind that the Nazis practiced and organizations like Hamas and Hizzbulla preach.

The second order is the types of antisemitism which the list above covers, characterized by a malicious will to harm Jews, disrupt their peace of mind and defame them by imputing to them a criminal pathology.

The third order is what I ironically call the "affectionate" antisemitism, usually applies to people who brag about their Jewish friends or experience. These are the people who both extol secular or assimilating Jews as they make fun of Jews who eat pork, for example. Those are the ones who tell antisemitic jokes by way of demonstrating how comfortable and familiar they are in and with Jewish culture (a culture notorious for its jocular self-deprecation). They are the ones who belittle and jeer at Jewish public figures. The sneering ridicule, when a consistency of targeting Jews is perceived and recorded, is quite puzzling, and can perhaps be explained by a somewhat unconscious animus towards Jews. These types of antisemites are quite harmless on their own. It is when they are joined by antisemites of the second order, who are much more serious about their antisemitism, that they serve the latter as their enablers. That's where such marshmallow soft antisemitism becomes complicit in the de-facto propagation of antisemitic tropes and sentiments.

The third order of antisemitism can be further described and nuanced. Some other time.


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