The Israeli government has committed resources to “hasbara,” public diplomacy efforts aimed at influencing public opinion by presenting Israel’s case directly to the world. Despite these efforts, we are repeatedly told that Israel is failing in the court of public opinion. Some of this is simply numbers game, in that there are more people on planet earth who are partial to Palestine then there are those partial to Israel. But a deeper look reveals that hasbara efforts are inherently limited, because for vast segments of the public, Israel is viewed through the lens of ideology, and almost no amount of hasbara can override an instilled ideology.
Hatred of the other can stem from a number of places. It can find its source in rational, practical reasons. Rival groups can display hatred for one another and go to war against each other. But hatred and violence can also stem from ideological roots. The Salem Witch Trials, the murder of albinos in East Africa and the death penalty in Pakistan for the crime of blasphemy are examples of hate and violence stemming from ideological sources.
Across history, Jews have endured hatred and violence for both pratical and ideological reasons. From 66-70 CE, Jews launched the First Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire and the Romans suppressed the revolt, destroying the Second Temple in the process. The Khmelnytsky Uprising in the mid-17th century by the Cossacks, Tatars and Ukrainian peasantry against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth also targeted Jews, who represented the tax collectors and administrators of the Polish nobility. In these instances, there were practical reasons for the violence committed against Jews.
In other instances, the hatred of and violence towards Jews was driven by irrational belief. In Christianity, Jews were and in some cases still are held responsible for killing God. In the medieval period, Christians killed Jews based on unfounded claims that Jews “desecrated the Host,” killed Christian children and used their blood in the Passover rituals, and poisoned wells. Germany under the Nazis exterminated Jews based on ideologically driven pseudoscientific racial claims.
The difference between the practical and ideological highlights a limitation of the term “antisemitism.” Antisemitism is used to refer to the hatred of Jews, but it does not offer context, meaning, differentiate between hating the religion of Judaism and hating Jews, and does not identify if the reason for the hatred is practical or ideological. When the term ‘antisemitismus’ itself was first introduced by Wilhem Marr in 1879, it had a specific racial connotation, that Jews were inherently malignant beings who were a threat to society, different from the more common ‘Judenhass,’ meaning hatred of Jews. Today’s definition of antisemitism does not differentiate between the practical and the ideological. The line between the two can demarcate the limits of hasbara.
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