Antisemitism has irrational — and political — roots

Recently I wrote that evildoers like Bernard Madoff and the Rubashkins reflect badly on the Jewish people. Well, they do, but I think they have very little effect on the prevalence of anti-Semitisim, despite the horror stories being circulated.

What they have done is cause an increase in antisemitic expression by giving antisemites something to talk about. David Duke is never one to miss an opportunity. What else is new?

Anti-Semitism, and indeed, all group hatreds, are irrational. A rational antisemite would have to prove that Jews are in general more dishonest than non-Jews, and there is no such proof. Certainly one Bernie Madoff out of  13 million Jews is statistically insignificant, no matter how expensive or well-publicized his crimes are.

Not that it isn’t annoying. I imagine that many African-Americans slapped their foreheads when Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)  was found with $90,000 of cold cash in his freezer. But it didn’t prove anything about anyone other than Jefferson (and any co-conspirators he may have had).

But nobody suddenly became a racist because of Jefferson and nobody became an antisemite because of Madoff. And unfortunately, very rarely does someone stop being one as a result of rational argument.

The very irrationality of group hatreds — which are possibly vestiges of the group behavior of primates — give them power to stir the emotions. This is why anti-Semitism is so popular with dictatorial regimes, who depend on emotions like fear and hatred to control and motivate their populations.

And this — the deliberate stirring of atavistic emotions for political purposes — is probably the major source of antisemitism today. In particular, Iranian and Arab regimes — including the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah — deliberately promulgate the most disgusting, emotionally powerful antisemitic myths of the Middle Ages and Nazi era in order to create new antisemites, antisemites who will be prepare to fight and die for their irrational feelings.

Sometimes one can see their intentions in the myths they choose. It is very important for Ahmadinejad to talk about Jewish ‘control’ of the US, for example, because he needs to arouse hatred of his greatest enemy — the US — as well as of Jews and Israel.

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3 Responses to “Antisemitism has irrational — and political — roots”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I do not agree with the idea that Anti- Semitism is primarily irrational. I think that ordinarily there are also ‘reasons’ for it, albeit ones based on falsities. Consider ‘Palestinian Arab Anti- Semitism’. It has its base in a conflict between two peoples, in which the Arabs demonize their enemies. They in this also have reason for considering not simply Israelis, but Jews in general as their enemies.
    They have ‘reason’ for their hatred of us. But then they too to intensify this hatred, and justify it, fabricate. They distort evidence, and they disregard fact and truth.
    But ‘reason’? They have reasons and arguments also.
    So did Anti- Semites of different kinds through different periods of our history.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I didn’t mean that the use of antisemitism for political purposes was irrational. It served Hitler’s purpose and today it serves Ahmadinejad’s quite effectively.

    What I meant is that a person’s antisemitic beliefs are not arrived at by rational thinking and can’t be combated by rational argument. An antisemite — or a racist of any type — is in the grip of forces buried in his primate brain which have been triggered by the proper kind of manipulation.

    Sure, the Arabs have a reason to want the Jews out of the Middle East. But that’s different from antisemitism, that’s just ethnic/religious irredentist politics.

  3. Shalom Freedman says:

    I misunderstood the original article. Sorry.
    I agree with the proposition that convincing anti- Semites not to be anti- Semites by rational argument is useless.
    I wonder what percentage of people are convinced of much of anything by ‘rational argument’. I suspect quite a few.