Antisemitism

Antisemitism is prejudice, hostility, and/or discrimination toward Jews as a racial, religious, and/or ethnic group on an individual, community, institutional, and/or societal level. Antisemitism can be categorized into three central forms: religious (anti-Judaism), racial/ethnic (classical antisemitism), and political (anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist). This definition underscores a major problem with defining and understanding antisemitism; that is, Jews cannot be adequately classified using the established taxonomies for cultural demography. This is primarily because Judaism is often viewed only as a religion and because of the erroneous assumption that all Jews are White; this inaccurate view of Judaism ignores the within-group diversity of Jews. In fact, the term anti-Semitism originally and erroneously referred to a Jewish racial group: Semites. There are differences in Jewish racial and ethnic origins (i.e., Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Mizrachim) and different identities both within the diverse Jewish religious denominations (e.g., Orthodox, Hasidic, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist) and within nonreligious Jews. Hence, antisemitism consists of more than religious bias.

The term anti-Semitism was first used by Wilhelm Marr, a German national and political conservative, in 1879 to express anti-Jewish feelings. Marr’s original intent was for political purposes, which was developed more fully into a “racial” concept when applied by the Nazis and later used as an anti-Israeli referent after the creation of the State of Israel. Finally, many scholars no longer hyphenate this term as anti-Semitism to cease the use of this word for anything other than its original intent: Jew-hatred. This has been done because some have attempted to use the term anti-Semitism for other purposes. Specifically, some Arabs have claimed they cannot be anti-Semitic because they themselves are Semitic.

Others have attempted to use the term to be critical of Israel’s interactions with other Semitic peoples of the Middle East. Hence, eliminating the hyphen takes the focus away from the term Semitic.

Prevalence of Antisemitism

Although there have been some suggestions that antisemitism is no longer a problem, a 2005 Anti-Defamation League poll found that roughly one in six Americans (14%) hold “strongly antisemitic” views. In addition, there was a 17% increase from 2003 to 2004 with regard to the number of antisemitic incidents that were reported (i.e., 1,557 to 1,821); the 2004 figure represents the highest number of incidents in the past 9 years. Finally, of the 1,374 religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States committed during 2004, 954 (70%) were exclusively anti-Jewish, accounting for 12% of all 2004 bias crimes.

Examples of Antisemitism

Antisemitism has existed for more than 4,000 years and has manifested in a variety of ways, including negative stereotypes, oppression, discrimination, segregation, forced expulsion, pogroms, and genocide. Anti-Jewish prejudice dates back to when the ancient Hebrew people refused to accept foreign deities, particularly under Greek and Roman domination. Some examples of antisemitism from history include the (a) exile of Jews from their homeland, (b) persecution of Jews after Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, (c) centrality of Christian teachings of Jewish deicide from antiquity until Vatican II, and (d) establishment of racial antisemitism as Hitler’s Third Reich came to power in Nazi Germany.

One of the most prominent examples of antisemitism is the perpetuation of the deicide myth, which is the erroneous belief that the Jews killed Jesus. Deicide, which literally means to kill a G-d or a divine being, has frequently been used to describe the death of Jesus (most Jews omit the o in spelling G-d because Judaism prohibits erasing or destroying any Hebrew name of G-d). However, it is a historical fact that the Romans, and not the Jews, were responsible for the death of Jesus. Hence, continuing to blame Jews for the death of Jesus is both antisemitic and historically inaccurate. Next is a list of other examples of antisemitism; this list is neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. These examples include (a) the use of anti-Jewish slurs (e.g., “heeb,” “kike”); (b) the perpetuation of the blood libel myth (i.e., the belief that Jews killed Christian children for religious ceremonies); (c) violence against Jews, Jewish communities, and Jewish symbols (e.g., synagogues); (d) questioning the Jewish identity of Jews based solely on adherence to religious practices (e.g., accusing secular Jews of not being Jewish); (e) Holocaust denial; (f) accusing Jews of cosmic evil (e.g., stereotyped belief that the Jews are plotting to take over the world); and (g) asserting that Jews have no claim to Israel. Some of the more prevalent antisemitic stereotypes include (a) all Jews are simultaneously wealthy and miserly; (b) Jews control the media, the banks, and Hollywood; and (c) Jews are secretly plotting to take over the world. Antisemitism manifested itself until the end of World War II in open discrimination in jobs and housing, quotas in colleges, and myths of cowardice among Jewish soldiers. Modern antisemitism, like racism and other forms of discrimination, has become more subtle and insidious.

Internalized Antisemitism and Gender Stereotypes

Antisemitism is psychologically harmful regardless of one’s ethnic or religious identification as a Jewish person. Internalized antisemitism refers to the owning of a negative self-image or identity rejection as a Jew. It may manifest in feelings of fear, anxiety, ambivalence, depression, alienation, isolation, shame, low self-esteem, identity conflict, and self-hatred related to being Jewish.

Antisemitism combined with sexism often results in gender stereotypes of Jewish men and women. Both positive and negative stereotypes have been perpetuated. For example, Jewish men are typically portrayed as intelligent and good providers who neither abuse alcohol nor hit their spouses. At the same time, they have been portrayed as neurotic, weak, boring, and unmasculine.

Caricatures of Jewish women often fall into one of two contradictory categories: the Jewish American Princess (J.A.P.) or the Jewish mother. The former is presented as pushy, aggressive, domineering, shallow, materialistic, and demanding, yet simultaneously passive, dependent, and helpless. Jewish mothers are often portrayed as overprotective, self-sacrificing, and tending to induce guilt in their children. Distorted body image and eating disorders may manifest in Jewish women who have internalized negativity related to the pervasive devaluation of “Jewish” features.

The acceptance of these negative evaluations and stereotypes may lead Jews to attempt to change or distance themselves from their Jewishness to try and escape the stereotype. Attempts to erase signs of Jewishness manifest in changing one’s name, hair, accents, and physical features. Judaism, the use of the Yiddish language, or any manifestation of Jewish culture may be viewed with disdain.

Antisemitism in Counseling

Antisemitism may be related to a variety of psychological problems. For example, depression and low self-esteem may be related to internalized antisemitism. Anxiety may be related to a history of family trauma related to antisemitism, often present in Holocaust survivors and their descendants. The manifestation of antisemitism in counseling varies depending on (a) whether it lies within the counselor or the client (i.e., because of the inherent power differential), and (b) whether each of the members is Jewish or non-Jewish.

Counselors

Jewish counseling professionals should consider that Jewish clients may not view antisemitism in the same way that they do. This is especially important because of the diversity both within and between various groups of Jews. In addition, Jewish counselors must be aware of the possibility of internalized antisemitism, both in themselves and in clients. Non-Jewish counselors must consider any biases and preconceptions they might have about Jews before working with Jewish clients. Failure to do so could have serious negative implications for the Jewish client in that he or she could be harmed psychologically by the counselor who holds conscious or unconscious antisemitic views.

Clients

Jewish clients could present to counseling with problems related to internalized antisemitism. Hence, learning about one’s feelings about being Jewish is important, and the skilled counselor (i.e., who is knowledgeable about antisemitism) may be able to assist the client as well. Jewish clients’ discussions of antisemitic experiences need to be validated and processed. In addition, Jewish clients might encounter antisemitism from a counselor, and this could also negatively impact treatment.

References:

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  2. Chesler, P. (2003). The new Anti-Semitism: The current crisis and what we must do about it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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  4. Gilman, S. L. (1990). Jewish self-hatred: Anti-Semitism and the hidden language of Jews. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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  8. Schlosser, L. Z. (2003). Christian privilege: Breaking a sacred taboo. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 31, 44-51.
  9. Weinrach, S. (2003). I am my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper: Jewish values and the counseling process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 81, 441-144.

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