Time to articulate our hurt in the war on hate – Winston Pickett

This piece, by Winston Pickett, is from the Jewish Chronicle

As Jews, we tend to be a surprisingly timid lot when it comes to expressing outrage — at least publicly. We shy away from what Americans call “playing the grievance card” — or what the British tellingly refer to as “special pleading”, with all that phrase’s overtones of deference and supplication.

In the US, disaffected groups show no hesitancy in raising their voice. But as anyone in the UK who has ever tried to have a civil discussion about antisemitism will tell you, far from raising our voices, we tend be apprehensive. Indeed, it seems that the reluctance to air our grievances is culturally hard-wired. Jewish tradition — liturgically reinforced in our daily prayer book — has inculcated a habit of counting our blessings.

When it comes to anti-Jewish slurs, characterisations, insults or downright calumnies, we also seem instinctively to avoid expressing outrage.

Is it that, recognising the depth of the seed of antisemitism in the cultural soil, we don’t know where to begin? We may also be sensitive to the accusation of advocating a hierarchy of pain, particularly when touching on the Holocaust. Is our group hatred worse than others? Is every antisemitic slur a mini-Holocaust in the making?

Instead of expressing our pain, we engage the rational side of our brains: we seek to expose false premises, peel back historical untruths and dismantle the twisted and obdurate logic of antisemitic discourse.

No sooner have Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people been vilified yet again with accusations of apartheid, racism or of following in Hitler’s footsteps, than we go looking to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, medieval superstitions or a thousand years of Judeophobic motifs in the Sisyphean quest for the irrefutable QED.

We reject playing the grievance card and keep to the analysis. And yet what keeps me up at night is a simple question: “Why?”

Why is it all right for Denis MacShane, Jim Murphy, John Mann, Lorna Fitzsimons or Julie Burchill to become outraged at the increasingly ambient level of antisemitism in academia, media or in social interactions? Why don’t we blanch when they use the A-word with impunity and no small degree of anger?  Why do we feel that we have to hold back?

I pondered this at the exhibition at London’s Cartoon Gallery of antisemitic illustrations from Cartoons and Extremism. They’re all there: Jews eating babies, dripping with blood, spreading disease, decapitating, poisoning and transmogrifying into every imaginable form of vermin, animal and demon.

Reading Joël Kotek’s book elicited two responses. The first was physical revulsion. The second was the ineluctable, white-heat epiphany that these cartoons are intended to do just that: to malign, to hurt and manifestly to incite hatred in others.

In short, if the function of such cartoons — and by extension antisemitism itself — is to inflict pain, what is the correct response? Explanation? Ratiocination? Analysis? Or could it be an expression of hurt?

In the age of Oprah Winfrey, is it not time for us articulate the hurt we feel at Israel being compared to a Nazi regime? Should we not reframe our response to antisemitism, based more on its emotive content than its historical provenance? Perhaps, then, we will have taken a page from our non-Jewish friends in helping to create at least a level playing field in devising antidotes to this longest of ancient hatreds.

Dr Winston Pickett is director of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, www.eisca.eu

Cartoons and Extremism: Israel and the Jews in Arab and Western Media is published by Valentine Mitchell. An exhibition of images is being held at the Political Cartoon Gallery, 32 Store Street, London until 16th January

This piece, by Winston Pickett, is from the Jewish Chronicle

13 Responses to “Time to articulate our hurt in the war on hate – Winston Pickett”

  1. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    Excellent comment. The incitement goes on not only by publishing such nasty caricatures.

    Look how a Jordanian MP and muslim cleric is inciting to kill Jews.

  2. Englender Says:

    Excellent article:

    “Instead of expressing our pain, we engage the rational side of our brains: we seek to expose false premises, peel back historical untruths and dismantle the twisted and obdurate logic of antisemitic discourse.”

    I don’t know how extensive a discussion on this issue you want to have here, but my thinking is that fear keeps many Jews from admitting the extent of antisemitism in the world today.

    Much easier to ignore it or blame it on something that we as Jews did to provoke it. Blaming ourselves is a form of magical thinking. It gives the illusion that we just stop doing this or that then the antisemitism will stop.

    The sad reality is that for many antisemites it’s not what we do that they hate but the fact that we are (that we exist). Many of us acknowledge this when hide our identities and act like Marranos. The next step is to turn against those Jews who are too visible, are “too Jewish.”

    It is time to take a page out of the gay rights movement and say to ourselves “out of the closet and into the streets.”

  3. French goy Says:

    “if the function of such cartoons — and by extension antisemitism itself — is to inflict pain, what is the correct response?”

    Maybe there is no correct response? No antidote?
    At least there is no correct response to the Antisemites themselves: they will resist any answer based on logic, historical analysis, emotion (“Zionists” are a bunch of deceitful liars, aren’t they?)

    Since in 2009 we still do not know how to “correctly” react to Antisemitism, the only response left is to fight the dissemination of the Antisemitic discourse in the media and in the educational system.

    You cannot prevent the racist to draw an Antisemitic cartoon, but you may deter your local paper from publishing it (yet, there is still the Internet: freeing the Web from racism is an impossible task).

    Showing anger is a way. Sueing these as…s is another one, surely more effective, but cash/time consuming.

  4. Robbins Says:

    “Since in 2009 we still do not know how to “correctly” react to Antisemitism, the only response left is to fight the dissemination of the Antisemitic discourse in the media and in the educational system.”

    Absolutely, and let’s remember the aim of antisemites is to kill Jews:

    “Bernard Henri Levy among 6 Jews said targeted by Islamist group” By Haaretz Service

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1051943.html

  5. Mark Gardner Says:

    Excellent article Winston.

    The first answer when you raise the question of antisemitism with Israel critiquing NGO and media types is “but surely you’re not saying that Israel can’t be criticised?!”

    This is then usually followed by “but surely you can’t blame me for the actions of a tiny lunatic fringe?”

    The unspoken anti-Jewish bias elephant in the room is of course carrying a placard that reads: “anti-Jewish racism, treated with a scorn, suspicion and scepticism not shown to any other type of racism or bias”.

  6. Philip Horowiitz Says:

    On the more specific side, is there any plan to respond to letters like this, which appeared in today’s Independent. There is also much to object to in the Guardian.

    “But although the politics may be complicated (“Pure politics is driving this war”, 1 January) the outcome in Gaza is the same. In massacres chillingly reminiscent of the Nazi reprisals on Lidice, Oradour, the Warsaw ghetto and countless other places in Poland and Russia, a ruthless and powerful oppressor state, convinced of its own superiority, is determined to crush by violent means any opposition to its illegal seizure and occupation of another country. Then, America and Britain led the fight against such injustice; today they are on the side of the oppressors.

    Tony Cheney

    Ipswich, Suffolk”

  7. Gil Says:

    Philip, the sheer mass of letters condemning Israel over the last two days in the Independent is horrifying. It seems that every single action by Israel is pored over and analysed with a hostility that is not shown to any other country at time of war.

    The reason for such a tone is either lack of knowledge – in which case untruths must be fought with facts; or pure malice towards Israel (and Jews). Against this, the above prescription applies too.

    The letter by ‘Tony Cheney’, however, is an abomination and should never have been published. A complaint to the Independent should be made, I intend to do so.

  8. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Well said Gil, there was a brief slot on the BBC News this morning about the actions of the Sri Lankan army against the Tamil Tigers, no hint of the (over-)analysis and demonisation so often applied to the actions of the Israeli army against Hamas.

  9. newcentrist Says:

    I know this is overly simplistic but on the liberal and radical left in the United States it all boils down to a hierarchy of grievances with “people of color” receiving priority: African-Americans are at the bottom of the socio-politico-economic system so their grievances come first, Latinos come next, etc. The grievances of Jews, if they are addressed at all, are given little emphasis because Jews are viewed as “white” by most Americans.

    As to why Jews do not speak out more forcefully against antisemitism, I don’t think it is out of fear, at least not in the U.S. I think this is particularly a problem on the left. I don’t see conservative or centrist Jews experiencing the same problems. Again, this is overly simplistic but I suspect many leftist Jews have internalized the hierarchy of grievances mentioned above.

    When Israel is framed as a colonialist settler state and Zionism is racism, when Israelis are white and the Palestinians are people of color, when the Israelis oppressors and the Palestinians victims, in this framework, the grievances, worldview and humanity of the Palestinians will always receive priority over the Israelis. Antisemitism, if discussed at all, is dismissed as a smokescreen used by Zionists to prevent criticism of Israel.

  10. Nancy Says:

    Just seconding newcentrist. I’m also American, and what s/he says in the first two paragraphs feels right in my experience. I’ve also had the spurious argument thrown at me that Jews can’t possibly be oppressed in the U.S. because only people of color are oppressed and we don’t qualify. Similarly, on some college campuses so-called multi-cultural centers (and fairs, etc.) have tried to exclude the Jewish groups claiming that we’re simply white and don’t really qualify.

    But I note that I don’t know that Jews in the U.S. were always viewed as “white” by most or any Americans. I’m reminded that some European immigrants (for ex., Irish immigrants) early in the 20th century and before weren’t viewed as “white” for a long time.

  11. newcentrist Says:

    Nancy writes:

    “But I note that I don’t know that Jews in the U.S. were always viewed as “white” by most or any Americans.”

    Jews were not considered “white” for most of U.S. history. It is a fairly recent development. When was the exact moment we became white? I am not sure. Sometime after WWII.

    Of course all this discussion of “white Jews” focuses on Ashkenazim. The experiences of Sephardim and Mizrahim are largely absent from American historical memory even though the first Jewish immigrants to arrive in the American colonies were Sephardic.

  12. Dr. Carol Salus Says:

    How can I get in touch with Dr. Pickett? I would like to learn from him more about English anti-Semitism. Carol Salus, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Kent State University

  13. Dan Says:

    I know I’m a couple of years late, but there’s something I feel I need to say.

    “I’ve also had the spurious argument thrown at me that Jews can’t possibly be oppressed in the U.S. because only people of color are oppressed and we don’t qualify.”

    This is a big part of the reason why I don’t consider myself white, regardless of appearance or backlash. It’s my way of expressing that we’re still a minority group and we still have a lot of problems (really big ones, evidently) that need to be addressed. Usually when people try to shoehorn us into the “white” category, it just feels like a dishonest and glib excuse or attempt to shove our problems out of sight.

    And that is something I will never allow.


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