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Parano-Semitism, or Paranoid Jew Syndrome

Like anti-Semites of old, parano-Semites hold themselves out as extremely keen on exposing the hidden, nefarious ways of those they fear and yearn to expose

Parano-Semitism occurs when a Jew or Jewess exhibits persistent anxiety, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behavior or irritability typically leading to sadness and even depression in response to perceived but non-existent manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Typical cases of parano-Semitism can be found prominently presented in almost every section of The Times of Israel and similar websites and periodicals, where articles by Jewish writers that would not be of interest to anyone but other Jews are published.

The author has noticed instances of parano-Semitism for quite some time now but, lacking the insight as to its severity, dismissed these as passing instances of cognitive dissonance. However, the unique nature of the condition and a recent extreme case convinced to him that the condition is unique, significant, and prevalent among certain swaths of the population, and that it thus deserves a clinical name of its own.

It should be noted that the author is not a psychologist or psychiatrist. In fact, he is an economist and therefore trained in the only social science that assumes that everyone is rational all the time. If the observations and conclusions suggested in this article turn out to be in error, it may very well be because the author was not trained in the right discipline for the task, or that economics itself is not meaningful for explaining the human condition.

If the Mitt fits

The recent, severe case mentioned above is that of a very highly intelligent, well read, devoted wife and mother, a scientifically trained professional in the life sciences with a healthy sense of humor who shall go unnamed (she doesn’t have that much of a sense of humor…) and who recently explained to the author why, despite her strong humanistic tendencies and social awareness, she is going to vote for Mitt Romney in the coming elections.

Don’t stop reading. Nothing in her case or in this articles addresses the question of whether or not it is advisable to vote for either Romney or Barack Obama in the coming elections.

This woman strongly believes in a woman’s right to have an abortion at her own, unfettered choosing. She believes that guns should be sold and owned only under strict regulations and that communities should be allowed to ban them. She believes that pollution is not sufficiently controlled and regulated and that as a result, among other things, we are experiencing global warming. She believes all public schools must provide all students with a good education, and that this includes sex education.

Knowing this, I asked her how she could still vote for Romney. Her answer was that Romney is better for Israel.

Two peas in a pod (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)
Two peas in a pod (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

So I asked her — I don’t know why, really – if any other differences in policies or beliefs between the two candidates could affect her choice. She said no. Confronted with progressively challenging, more detailed hypotheticals to the same effect, she continued to stand by her choice, confirming that nothing else would change her preference.

Registering my distress, she explained to me that to her, the most important thing in the world is to support Israel unquestionably, because without that support, given the amount of anti-Semitism in the world today, there is no guarantee that the Holocaust won’t happen again. She added that since I live in New York City, I don’t experience what the “rest of us” do, those who — like her – are Jews living in a large US city on the coast of one ocean or another and which is not New York.

I reflected on this conversation obsessively (et tu?) for a while, until I realized there is a neurosis at play here, one that deserves definition and a name. Parano-Semitism quickly came to mind.

Yid got the look

A few days ago I read an article in The Times of Israel in which the writer addressed at length and with noticeable distress the fact that she is often told that she “does not look Jewish.” Her complaint was twofold: for one, it was clearly wrong for some non-Jews to assume that a Jew looks a certain way and, two, it is wrong for a non-Jew to say such a thing to a Jew without any compunction whatsoever. The implication was that Jews in America are stereotyped and treated inappropriately by certain non-Jews. Parano-Semitism.

The simple truth behind the American phenomenon of a “Jewish look” (the author, in the cause of full disclosure, is tall, green-eyed, broad-shouldered and taken very often as a physical exemplar of a person of Gaelic or Celtic descent) is that between 1840 and 1920, more or less, America experienced the first noticeable (and eventually, massive) immigration of Jews, the vast majority of whom came from Eastern Europe. As such, their physical appearance was not much unlike that of Slavs, Bohemians, Ruthenians, and Magyars, and that look became associated with “looking Jewish.”

Most American Jews who do not “look Jewish” still seem to be of a clear European descent. Thus, in America, when a non-Jew says to a Jew that he or she does not “look Jewish,” the commentator assumes that the subject of the comment will simply explain how he or she came to have ancestry from elsewhere in Europe. The same non-Jew would have just as easily and innocently said to a tall, blond, blue-eyed Spaniard that he “does not look like a Spaniard,” and no offense would be made or taken.

'No, really, I'm a Swazi prince.'
‘No, really, I’m a Swazi prince.’ (illustrative image vis Shutterstock)

This is a common manifestation of parano-Semitism, where the simplest appeal to common sense and everyday knowledge will explain the innocent expression and dismiss any notion that anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head once again.

The Uganda principle

A few years ago, in New York, I sat down for a social dinner with a few Jewish businessmen and professionals (all males). All of us had lived is Israel for at least a few years at some point in our lives, and it is common in such company to find yourself discussing Israel — its past, present and future. At some point I expressed the view that, notwithstanding Israel’s right to exist, it recently dawn on me that, cumulatively, all involved may have been happier if Jews had resettled elsewhere. I did not expect the reaction; two men in this party literally pounced on me, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about and that without the state of Israel, I “would not be alive today.” Almost everyone else sat in stunned silence.

I was stunned too. More than anything, I could not understand how two people, both known to me quite well, reacted immediately to my comment in exactly the same way with a statement that made no sense to me. I inquired. Here there was a slight difference between the two, but not much. One had a parent who escaped Europe to Palestine during the rise of Nazism before World War II, while the other had a parent who had immigrated to Israel after surviving the Holocaust. Both agreed: I was saved by Israel’s emergence.

Aside from pointing out to them that both their parents could have immigrated to countries other than Israel, I told them that my family had been in America for generations. I think I was the first person they ever met whose father fought in WWII under General Patton and with the General made it all the way to Czechoslovakia, where he witnessed the liberation of at least one concentration camp.

Now it was their turn to be stunned. Some caucusing ensued. With no visual indication of an actual debate between them, they quickly informed me that but for the existence of the state of Israel, anti-Semitism would have been so severe by now that I would most likely have perished.


These are but three instances of parano-Semitism that come to mind. But I meet Jews with parano-Semitism almost all the time. The most common parano-Semitic reaction I see among them is sheer revulsion at any item in the media (formerly known as the “press”) that is not clearly favorable to Israel or to Jewish heritage. A plain, undisputed description of the hardships experienced by Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip raises in them a visceral need to find anyone willing to listen to their explanation as to why the Palestinians are “not a real people” in the first place. Eventually they will tell you that the writer of the biased item is an anti-Semite or something to that effect.

The UN comes in for a particularly persistent drubbing from these people. Since it cannot be simply stated that all UN members are anti-Semitic, it is more often the case that you are told that those who are not are beholden to those who are. How else would you explain the votes of so many against Israel decade after decade? According to them, the fact that Israel has violated more UN resolutions than any other nation – including the one that created the State of Israel – is no indication that the resolutions stand on the merits. According to parano-Semites, the mental illness known as anti-Semitism has not only affected millions of people; it has infected dozens of governments.

Circumcising is caring

Current events continuously bring the parano-Semites out of the woodwork.

Recently a German judge found that circumcision without the subject’s consent is against German law. It was widely reported by media with parano-Semitic sympathies that the judge “outlawed” the practice; he did no such thing: he only pointed out that is was “illegal” by German law.

One commentator in the British press equated the result of the judge’s ruling to a betrayal of philosopher Emil Fackenhiem’s “614th commandant,” which states: “thou shall not hand Hitler posthumous victories.”

Parano-Semites constantly claim they have exposed individuals trying to do Hitler’s work for him.

'Aha! We're onto you, kid. That Hitler milk mustache is a dead giveaway.'
‘Aha! We’re onto you, kid. That Hitler milk mustache is a dead giveaway.’ (boy image via Shutterstock)

The most famous lawyer in America for public causes began a recent column by stating that it is countries with “long histories of anti-Semitism” that “care more” about that rights of children to not be circumcised (in so doing he automatically made the state of California one such country). Alan Dershowitz decried these countries as simply “caring less about Jews.” Less than whom, he did not explain. Somehow he also managed to repeat in his column the mantra that anti-Zionism is just another form of anti-Semitism, a common refrain among virulent parano-Semites.

Needless to say, there was no mention of Israel or Zion in the judge’s decision or in the case itself.

A doctoral candidate from Harvard noted that polls found most Germans in favor of the law and the judge’s ruling. Drawing on this and his reading of comments in the German press, he concluded that all this “has more to do with a continuing uneasiness about the presence of Jewish and Muslim life in Germany than with philosophical views about the rights of children.”

Like anti-Semites of old, parano-Semites hold themselves out as extremely keen on exposing the hidden, nefarious ways of those they fear and yearn to expose.

As a public service, I would like offer a list of some of the more common symptoms of Parano-Semitism as I have experienced them in person:

  • They show very little interest, if at all, in what other people believe.
  • They want those they see as anti-Semites silenced and routed out at the same time.
  • Like George Bush, if you are not with them, you are against them. And against Jews.
  • If you are a Jew and against them then, in their view, you are ungrateful.
  • They claim Judaism is a religion when addressing a slight to religious practices, a nationality when addressing a slight to Israel, an ethnic minority (outside of Israel) when addressing government policy, and a race if addressing a slight involving physical or mental attributes.
  • Their kids think they’re weird.
About the Author
Dov Frishberg, PhD, is a business economist living and working in New York City and specializing in developing energy and other infrastructure-related projects worldwide