Harold Behr

The current epidemic of antisemitism

While Israel is preoccupied with its military campaign against the Jihadist enemy and the continuing strife within its own borders, another menace has arisen since the crisis of October 7th – the unprecedented worldwide surge in antisemitism, something which affects me on my own doorstep, here in the United Kingdom.

Antisemitism spreads like an infectious disease. For long periods of time it lies dormant in the soil of human consciousness. Then, when conditions prove favourable for its emergence (the shock waves generated by the recent barbaric attack on Israel are an example), the opportunity has once again arisen for the disease to take hold, this time in epidemic proportions.

The defeat of the Nazis in 1945 and the establishment of the State of Israel three years later fostered the belief that the spores of antisemitism, if not eradicated, had at least been contained. Occasional flare-ups of the disease at different points on the globe did nothing to dispel the relief felt by the majority of Diaspora Jews after Israel had become a sovereign state. After the Holocaust, Jewish life in the Diaspora could once again flourish, secure in the belief that Israel would always be there as a beacon, a sanctuary and an antidote to antisemitism, although Ben Gurion had argued that no Jew living outside Israel could ever feel safe. Now we know that not even having our own State confers immunity to this particular germ.

More shocking than anything else has been the discovery that many carriers of the disease are highly educated individuals, occupying positions of prestige and influence in schools and universities. With such leads to follow, it is no surprise that many academically minded young people have lost their moral compass and succumbed. Why, after all, should they not follow the example of their teachers? Education, it seems, affords no protection against the toxic hatred released by the antisemitic organism.

The origins of antisemitism can be traced further back than the classroom, to the family, and beyond the family to the culture, where it is nursed from generation to generation. Antisemitism is based on a fantasy: the image of the evil Jew, and this image is hard-baked in mythology, where it undergoes mutations to accommodate to changing political circumstances, just as a living organism changes its habits and its appearance in order to adapt to a changing environment.

What, therefore, does provide immunity? In theory, the answer is simple: if antisemitism is based on a fantasy – the stereotype of the evil Jew – then if this fantasy can be challenged, wherever and whenever it is encountered, there is the hope that reality will prevail.

Fanatics are too far gone to be accessible to such “reality therapy.” Such people must be isolated and pushed to the margins of society, where their power to infect others will be weakened. The majority of carriers, however, must be rescued from their fantasy world by being exposed to repeated doses of the truth. They need to be told, again and again, and not just by Jews, that the Jews are a people like any other people on earth – good and bad, beautiful and ugly, and that Israel is a sovereign state like any other, a democracy in which freedom is battling to assert itself against tyranny, like any other democracy in the world.

About the Author
I was born in South Africa in 1940 and emigrated to the U.K. in 1970 after qualifying in medicine. I held a post as Consultant Psychiatrist in London until my retirement in 2013. I am the author of two books: one on group analytic psychotherapy, one on the psychology of the French Revolution. I have written many articles on group psychology published in peer-reviewed journals. From 1979 to 1985 I was editor of the journal ‘Group Analysis’; I have contributed short pieces to psychology newsletters over the years.
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