How Jews Appear to Antisemites

The Jews are a scapegoat of great  antiquity and only  by taking a long historical view, aided by psychological insights, can we hope to understand the nature and causes  of the perennial phenomenon of antisemitism.

Who/What is a Jew?

Originally the term “Jew” was applied only to a decedent from Judah. Later in Bible history it came to signify a member of the tribe of Judah, and still later following the division of the kingdom of Israel, when Judah and Benjamin were the only two tribes of Israel which remained faithful to God, it designated one from either of these tribes. Originally the group was a religious sect,  but since it was also a firmly knit pastoral people it had simultaneously a cultural (ethnic) homogeneity. It is wrong to think of the Jews as a race. Such physical identifiability as they have is due to the fact that in the region of the world where Judaism began an Armenoid type was common.

Characteristics of Jews as Perceived by Antisemites

  1. Jews are an Urban People.

40% of all the Jews in the US live in New York City and most of the remainder live in large cities. Many factors contribute to this urban trend. Most immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe came to work in factories and still live in cities. Jews seem to show this urban centering more than other groups. Rarely, in the countries where Jews came from were they allowed to own land, and their traditions and skills were therefore not often agricultural. Orthodox Jews were not allowed to travelog the Sabbath and therefore ended to live near synagogues.

Urbanism as a way of life is enormously important for understanding antisemitism. History shows that individuals cannot help but unconsciously adopt the values and judgments of their ancestors. viewing each outgroup   through the screen of tradition. 

Although in principle people desire to have peaceful relations with their neighbors, this desire has been badly blocked by the urban, mechanical and technological      culture of our day—especially by the culture of our cities,  that arouses so much insecurity and uncertainty in people’s minds, as was already noted by the turn of the century German sociologist Georg Simmel in his now famous  essay, “The Metropolis and Urban Life.” (1900) 

No longer do personal thrift, private effort, or face-to- face negotiations amount to much. Big city life expresses to us what is dangerous, inhuman, impersonal, and alienating us from our remembered (or imagined) pre-urban roots. In the city disturbing inexplicable relentless forces like the assembly line and national advertising campaigns seem to determine our lives. We both fear and hate our subservience to the inexorable rhythms of urban life. 

What does this irrational fear and hate have to do with prejudice and antisemitism, you may ask? For one thing, as mass-men Antisemites follow the conventions of the times. The snob appeals of advertising effect them deeply.  They want more luxury goods and more status. The standards imposed upon them by advertising incline them to feel contempt for people who can’t afford to maintain the lifestyle they can. Impressed with the luxuries cars and other material things TV constantly trusts before their irrepressibly hungry eyeballs, they tend to look down upon people economically and socially below them, such as immigrants, rustics,  and people of color.

But while they yield to the materialistic urban values that surround them, they also hate the city that engenders them. They hate the dominance of financial markets and corrupt politics. They particularly despise their own unwanted shadowy personality traits that are exacerbated by urban pressures, such as impatience, jealousy, aggressiveness, greediness and rudeness. People tend to dislike those who are too clever, too ambitious, sneaky, dishonest, greedy, vulgar, noisy, different, and on the fringe of WASP values. For Antisemitics these urban traits are personified in the Jew. “The Jews are hated today,” writes social psychologist Erich Fromm, primarily because they serve as a symbol of city life.” Especially New York, which many antisemites feel has ruined, destroyed, or emasculated them. Therefore, they hate the symbol of the city, the Jew.

(2) Jews tend to concentrate in certain occupations

In 1900  60% of the Jews in cities were engaged in manufacturing, chiefly in the garment trades, but in 1934 only 12% were so employed. Meanwhile the percent engaged in trade jumped from 20 to about 43%. Many families that had originally engaged as factory workers later opened their own businesses (often tailoring or retail clothing).

In the professions  one finds about 14% of the Jewish population, but only about % of the general population. In New York City, whose population is about 28 % Jewish, about 56% of physicians are Jewish, likewise 64% of dentists, and 66% of lawyers. Contrary to popular opinion, Jews seem be under-represented in finance. Only a small percent are bankers. As international bankers they are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, there has been a rise in the number of Jews engaged in government service and in service industries.                

One theory of anti-Semitism, the “fringe of conservative values” theory,  is that Jews tend to collect in upwardly-mobile and conspicuous or risky occupations. Cautious people do not approve of so much risk-taking. They are conspicuous deviants from sound Christian conservative values and accordingly distrusted. But not only from religion, likewise from mediocrity: conscience pricking , intellectual aspiration and spiritual ferment. The Jews are regarded as being just enough off center (slightly above, slightly below, slightly  outside) to disturb non-Jews in many different ways. The “fringe” is perceived by conservative people to constitute a threat. This might be called “the narcissism of slight differences.”

(3) Jews are ambitious and work hard.

(4) Jews have high intelligence   Fairly often the IQ scores of Jewish children are          higher than those for Gentile children, but is this due to genes? We don’t know for sure yet. Such slight differences can be explained by incentives and socialization and the value placed on learning  and good performance within the Jewish cultural tradition. Many more Jews attend colleges and universities than ever before now that most restrictions against Jewish students have been dropped.

(5) Jews have great love of and respect for learning.It’s not difficult to point to an army of Jewish geniuses represented by the example of Einstein.

(6) Jews have marked family devotion. There is some evidence that like Italians, Jewish families possess more solidarity than other families, although the weakening of family ties today is felt among both Jews and gentiles.

(7) Jews have concerns for social justice and sympathy with the oppressed                 

(8) Jews are more impulsive and emotionally expressive than gentiles 

(9) Jews are money-minded they engage in sharp business practices and are dishonest.

(10) Jews are ostentatious and conspicuous in their consumption of luxuries and of expensive foreign traveling.

Understanding Antisemitism

Summary of JeanPaul Sartre‘s Anti-Semite and Jew

Anti-Semite and Jew (FrenchRéflexions sur la question juive, “Reflections on the Jewish Question“) is an essay about antisemitism in France during World War Two, written by Jean-Paul Sartre shortly after the liberation of Paris from German occupation in 1944.

The first part of the essay, “The Portrait of the Antisemite”, was published in December 1945 in Les Temps modernes. The whole text was then published in 1946. This essay deals with antisemitism and how Jews react to it. More broadly, the book tries to explain the etiologyof hate by analyzing antisemitic hate.

According to Sartre, Antisemitism (and hate more broadly) is, among other things, a way by which the French middle class lay claim to the nation in which they reside, and an oversimplified conception of the world in which the Antisemite sees “not a conflict of interests but the damage an evil power causes society.”

Sartre begins by defining antisemitism as characterized by certain opinions: attributing “all or part of his own misfortunes and those of his country to the presence of Jewish elements in the community, … The Antisemite proposes to remedy this state of affairs by depriving the Jews of certain of their rights, by keeping them out of certain economic and social activities, by expelling them from the country, by exterminating all of them ….”

Sartre then explains the idea that these antisemitic opinions are produced by external causes, such as the experience of objective situations involving Jews. Sartre argues that antisemitism is not an “idea” in the commonly understood sense of the word: nor is it a point of view based rationally upon empirical information, calmly collected and calibrated in as objective a manner as is possible. Sartre states that “It is first of all a passion.”

It is often a deep passion, “Some men are suddenly struck with impotence if they learn from the woman with whom they are making love that she is a Jewess. It is an involvement of the mind, but one so deep-seated and complex that it extends to the physiological realm, as happens in cases of hysteria.” 

Far from experience producing the anti-Semite’s idea of the Jew, it was this idea of the Jew that explained his experience. If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” Anti-Semitism is a view that arises not from experience or historical fact, but from itself. It lends new perspective to experience and historical fact. The anti-Semite convinces himself of beliefs that he knows to be spurious at best.

Sartre deploys his concept of bad faith as he develops his argument. For Sartre, the anti-Semite has escaped the insecurity of good faith, the impossibility of sincerity. He has abandoned reason and embraced passion. Sartre comments that, “It is not unusual for people to elect to live a life of passion rather than of reason. But ordinarily they love the objects of passion: women, glory, power, money. Since the anti-Semite has chosen hate, we are forced to conclude that it is the state of passion that he loves.” He chooses to reason from passion, to reason falsely “because of the longing for impenetrability. The rational man groans as he gropes for the truth; he knows that reasoning is no more than tentative, that other considerations may intervene to cast doubt on it.” Anti-Semites are attracted by “the durability of a stone.” What frightens them is the uncertainty of truth.

 “The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith.” He has escaped responsibility and doubt. He can blame anything on the Jew; he does not need to engage reason, for he has his faith. The anti-Semite is a prime example of a person who has entered into bad faith to avoid responsibility. He attempts to relinquish his responsibility to anti-Semitism and a community of anti-Semites. He “fears every kind of solitariness… however small his stature, he takes every precaution to make it smaller, lest he stand out from the herd and find himself face to face with himself. He has made himself an anti-Semite because that is something one cannot be alone.” 

Anti-Semitism is a way of feeling good, proud even, rather than guilty at the abandonment of responsibility and the flight before the impossibility of true sincerity. The anti-Semite abandons himself to the crowd and his bad faith, he “flees responsibility as he flees his own consciousness, and choosing for his personality the permanence of the rock, he chooses for his morality the scale of petrified values.” He pulls down shutters, blinds, mirrors and mirages over his consciousness to keep himself in his bad faith away from his responsibilities and his liberty. The anti-Semite is afraid “of himself, of his own consciousness, of his own liberty, of his instincts, of his responsibilities, of solitariness, of change, of society, and the world – of everything except the Jews.” He is “a coward who does not want to admit his cowardice to himself.” The anti-Semite wallows in the depths of an extreme bad faith. “Anti-Semitism, in short, is fear of the human condition. The anti-Semite is a man who wishes to be pitiless stone, a furious torrent, a devastating thunderbolt – anything except a man.” This is his bad faith.