Why Anti-Semitism Endures

Question: Why is anti-Semitism such a virulent form of \r\nbigotry?

Abraham Foxman:
About 100 years ago Mark Twain went on a trip \r\nthrough Europe.  He had a debt to pay off and so he went on lecture \r\ntour, and wherever he went he found anti-Semitism.  The result was he \r\nwrote an essay when he came back in 1896 called "Concerning \r\nAnti-Semitism"—actually "Concerning The Jews."  And in a way he asked \r\nyour question, you know, why is it so persistent?  What is it that makes\r\n it... everywhere?  Because he found that he would come to some people \r\nand they would be anti-Semitic because of religion.  All right. Then \r\nhe’d come to some place and he found someone who’s an atheist who’s an \r\nanti-Semite.  Then he finds someone who's ignorant, okay so ignorance \r\nbreeds that.  And then he’d find somebody... like Voltaire was an \r\nanti-Semite.  So, and then he’d find somebody who was rich and they \r\nwould say, well you know the Jews are trying to be rich.  Then he’d find\r\n somebody poor... we found that communists call Jews capitalists, \r\ncapitalist call Jews communist. Whether it was communism, or it was \r\nfascism, or Nazism, used the Jew as a scapegoat. 

And Mark Twain\r\n came to a conclusion.  I’m not sure it’s the proper conclusion, but I \r\nhaven’t found a better one, and he says basically that anti-Semitism is a\r\n result of jealousy; that there’s a jealousy of Jewish success.  I \r\nremember about 20 years ago the Anti-Defamation League held a \r\nconference.  We brought together sociologists, educators, and public \r\npeople to discuss why—because there was a... 20 years ago there was an \r\nupswing.  And I remember somebody around the table saying, well you know\r\n what it’s because Jews excel.  So, I’ll never forget there was a man \r\nthere that said, "You know what Audrey I’ll make a deal with you:  I’ll \r\ngo home and tell my kids to be number two and number three, if you’ll \r\ntell me that you’ll take care of the anti-Semitism."  A year later or so\r\n I told the story to a gentlemen that owned some banks in Brazil \r\ncalled... his name was Safra, Edmund Safra, and he said well to me it’s \r\nnot a story.  He said, Abe, when we opened Banco Safra in Brazil we were\r\n very successful, and I called in my managers and I said "You want to be\r\n successful?  Make sure you’re number two and number three and not \r\nnumber one."  In the last... I went to Russia right after Glasnost and \r\nPerestroika, and was invited to address the city council of Moscow on \r\nanti-Semitism.  So I gave my presentation, and at the end a gentleman \r\ngot up and said, "Well Mr. Foxman, you haven’t really told us why \r\nthere’s anti-Semitism."  I said "Well, anti-Semitism is a disease really\r\n of the Christian world.  Why don’t you tell me?"  He said "I’ll tell \r\nyou," and then he got up and said well when I was a kid in my small \r\ntown, the best students were Jews.  And then I became a member of the \r\ncommunist youth party, the Komsomol, the best Komsomoliks were Jews.  \r\nAnd then in University the best students were Jews, and then the \r\ncommunist party the best communists were Jews.  So he says, but you know\r\n why there’s anti-Semitism?  Because they only excel for themselves; \r\nthey’re only best for themselves.

What are the five most common bigoted misperceptions of \r\nJews?

Abraham Foxman:  Well, I guess the first probably in \r\nWestern society is that Jews are responsible for killing Christ, and \r\nthat’s the mother of all.  And then I think the greed issue continues.  \r\nThen you follow control; Jews want to control the world for their \r\ninterests, it could be money or whatever.  That’s the conspiratorial.  \r\nJews are on the top of the hit parade of conspiracy, so for example \r\nwe’re in an economic crisis.  In Europe, over 30 percent believe that \r\nJews are responsible.  In the United States, one out of five Americans \r\nbelieve that Jews are responsible for the economic crisis because they \r\nsee Jews in Wall Street, they see Jews everywhere.  Then you have \r\ndifferent issues of control of Hollywood is big, and I guess it’s the \r\nwhole conspiracy that... you’ll find conspiracies anywhere.  So if you \r\ndon’t like something that’s happening, maybe you screwed up, you did \r\nsomething wrong, it’s because the Jews are behind it.  There are a lot \r\nof people who think that the Secretary of Treasury is Jewish; he’s not, \r\nthat Volcker is Jewish, he’s not, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s the Jews \r\nwho are controlling finances; it’s Jews who are controlling foreign \r\npolicy.  There’s also a canard that’s out there, very big, about \r\nloyalty.  The Jews are not loyal.  Not loyal to their community, but not\r\n loyal to their country.  Thirty percent of the American people to this \r\nday believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States.  \r\nIn Europe, it’s 60, 70 percent.  In Poland 60 percent believe there’s \r\nwhat, 10,000 Jews that are not loyal to Poland.  In Norway, there are \r\n5,000 and it’s 70 percent.  So that’s a canard which goes to the essence\r\n that you can’t trust Jews, you can’t rely on them.  With all the \r\neducation, with all the exposure, and then you come down to some of my \r\nbest friends are Jewish.  The guys that I know, they’re fine, but over \r\nthere, out there; that’s another canard.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

Anti-Semitism can be based on everything from religion to ignorance to wealth to capitalism.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.