When I was in graduate school one of my professors made a comment: ”Why won’t you write your dissertation in Literary theory? you are Jewish and Jews are famous for their love of ideas” I didn’t know how to respond, on the one hand I knew that I wasn’t going to write about theory, but on the other hand I didn’t want to ruin his good impression of the Jewish people.
Only later when I studied the subject more thoroughly I realized that, like other forms of generalizations, cultural stereotypes serve as a short cut, and help people to comprehend better their reality. It is also a way to measure oneself against the others. Moreover, although it sounds like a judgment it could be used as an observation.
In the case of that professor, he had probably been surrounded by Jewish intellectuals at the university and throughout his career had read theoretical treaties by Jewish people. Hence it led him to the conclusion that the Jews, “the people of the book” were good in that field..
Still we could not be naive, the leap from cultural stereotypes to Antisemitism is not that big.
In 2006 my daughter and I attended an Evensong Service in Christ Church Oxford, it was at the time of the second Lebanon War. In the sermon the priest, an Oxford philosophy professor, spoke strongly against Israel and that war. After the service we approached him and my daughter thanked him for the beautiful sermon but added that there were civilian casualties on both sides. The priest stared right through her and said indifferently “I am sure you are right.” I was shocked, at that moment I understood that it wasn’t only Israel that the priest detested. .
As an Israeli growing up in Israel I was not as sensitive to the existence of Antisemitism as Jews who lived in the diaspora.
For example, when I read in Nabokov’s Lolita and in No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym about hotels which boasted their special Christian atmosphere, I understood it literally. It was my doctorate adviser, Professor Leona Toker, who immigrated to Israel from Lithuania during the 1970s, that explained to me that this was a code which meant that Jews were not welcome.
Many Israelis, even those who have spent several years abroad, tend to downplay Antisemitism. I can testify that this was also true in my case: I could not believe that someone would not like me just because I was Jewish. As the saying goes “what is there not to like?” I am sure that my father in the late 1920s early 1930s Germany felt the same way. He grew up in a seemingly progressive society in Berlin and besides, he was a worthy young man..
But during this last war, hearing about all the riots around the world, in Europe in particular, and seeing the photos, I have no choice but to admit that the new form of Anti-Israel, Anti-Zionist hatred look very much like the old Antisemitism. And here I don’t refer to the whole Semite race, although I realize that Arabs are not that popular in those European countries as well.
Jews are hated not for the actions of the Israeli government. Of course people should protest the death of innocent people on both sides, but what is going on in Europe brings back very dark memories.
I don’t demand special treatment, but shouldn’t the world’s leaders and the United Nation have a better memory? The Holocaust only happened 70 years ago.