The Many Faces of Antisemitism

One of the more disturbing aspects of the current wave of pro-Palestinian protests is the coalescence of groups which have nothing in common with each other except an intense hatred of Jews, dressed up as outrage at Israel’s attempts to defend itself against an enemy which has sworn to cleanse the country of its Jewish population and turn it into an Islamic state.

Therefore we see such disparate groups as environmentalists, campaigners for black rights and Muslims joining forces with extremists from the far Left and others to chant slogans which blatantly call for the extinction of the Jewish State. Meanwhile, Hamas, having lunged at its sworn enemy and inflicted horrendous injuries, sinks out of sight like a crocodile and waits for its next opportunity. Small wonder that Israel has declared war on this beast and is determined to destroy its capability. No other country faced with an existential threat would pursue a different course.

Antisemitic hatred is an irrational phenomenon. It is hard-baked into a mix of frustration, anger, fear and envy, states of mind which have nothing to do with actual Jews but everything to do with ‘The Jew’ as a symbol. For centuries Jews have led the way by living peaceful, creative lives despite terrible suffering. This has been enough to attract the hatred of those who are only capable of simplistic thinking in which the world is divided into helpless victims and evil perpetrators.

So-called ‘high intelligence’ offers no protection against this form of thinking, which runs an independent course in the human mind. We have got as far as understanding it as a scapegoat phenomenon, a force which impels the victims of disasters – man-made or natural – to band together in order to blame a single, vulnerable group which stands out as a beacon of spiritual strength and independence, in this case, the Jewish people.

The victim-perpetrator cycle tends to repeat itself. For this to be broken, the victims of scapegoating have to become strong enough to defend themselves while at the same time injecting a strain of care and empathy into their defence. This is exactly what Israel has been striving to do in the face of Hamas atrocities, malignant propaganda and torrents of international abuse, all of which demonstrate once again the enduring nature of unreason and the power of symbolisation to unify with delusional intensity.

Unless we are able to demolish the symbol of the Jew as a force for evil, the numerous manifestations of antisemitism will continue to coalesce into a single global assault on Israel and the Jewish people. It is a question of whether patience and reason can prevail over frenzy and irrational hatred.

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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