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WHAT, IF ANYTHING, CAN BE DONE ABOUT MY ANTISEMITISM?
by Robert M. Young
I have asked myself when I was first aware of someone being Jewish. I think it was when I went home to play with Erwin Hafner in the afternoons after primary school in Dallas, Texas. We were friends and remained on cordial terms, but, for some reason I cannot recover, we did not continue to get together, although he lived only a street away from my then best friend Neil Florer, a Catholic. It was Neil who introduced me to anti-Semitism. Sydney Weisblatt lived at the other end of the block from Neil, with whom I spent many an afternoon during the war. The occasion of becoming aware of anti-Semitism was Sydney’s beginning Hebrew School, thus taking him away from our play on Saturday mornings. Difference - and we persecuted him for it, if only by teasing and a degree of ostracism. I didn’t know what was different about Jews, any more than I did about Catholics or Protestant denominations other than my own Presbyterianism (my grandmother was a missionary and my father a deacon), but I somehow got the message that it was more different and somehow to be denigrated.
My next memory about Jews is from high school. Two things come to mind. One was that one of the prettiest girls who came to the dances we regularly went to was Wendy Marcus. She was special. Her father owned a famous department store, Nieman-Marcus, a sort of local Harrod’s, and theirs was the only house at the end of a private road, 1 Nonesuch Lane. She went to the local posh private girl’s school and was Jewish. Actually, she wasn’t. Her father was, but her mother, a beautiful former fashion model, was a gentile, but this point of Jewish law was lost on the local population. We all knew that when the time came she would not be able to make a debut: no Jews were allowed in the heart of the upper echelon’s ceremonial entry into the marriage market for the elite, never mind that her family were the local arbiters of good taste, cultural sophistication and largesse. I often danced with Wendy and was a frequent guest in her home, but I would not have thought of ‘going steady’ with her. This never struck me as anti-Semitic; it just wouldn’t have done. Jews couldn’t belong to most of the country clubs in the area, either, though they could to the one my father belonged to.
And then there was Helene Stein. We had Army ROTC cadets in those days, the Reserve Officers Training Corps, and it was a serious activity in the period after WWII and during the Korean War. Every year there was a Regimental Ball, and every company had a Company Queen. Someone in ours, a Jew, nominated Helene Stein. She was far and away the prettiest nominee, so I, in my capacity of company commander, made it known that she had my support, and she duly won. I felt that I was simply being well-behaved in this competition and at the ball when we danced together. My old friend Jock Ashby never let me forget that I had championed and consorted with a Jewish girl and said her name in a caricatured way, imitating what he took to be a Yiddish accent. He stroked his nose while doing so. I wasn’t offended. I behaved correctly toward her and bore his taunts (which went on for months) without seriously juxtaposing these two matters.
Then there was my father, born in the Deep South, in rural Alabama, worked his way through university in Washington, married the prettiest girl on campus, the daughter of a Presidential adviser. She was from long-established family in Dallas, where she and my father settled, and he and their son and daughter were taken into the local aristocracy, to which my mother belonged. My father was brought up as a polite bigot - blacks, Catholics, Jews, Methodists, Baptists (though not Episcopalians), Mexicans - the list as long. Nothing rabid, of course - just the occasional aside containing ‘nigger’ or ‘darkie’ or ‘kike’. In fact, one of his closest friends was Joe Linz, the owner of a grand jewellery store and a Jew, who lived just up the street. Come to that, some of my father’s best friends were Latin Americans, too, and he worked closely with them in the World Trade Association and the local Consular Corps. My father represented, at different times, Bolivia and Brazil. The Linzs would frequently come round, as would the Latin American consuls. My father was cordial to all of them and a friend of many while at the same time thinking them as members of groups he denigrated quite casually in private.
I acquired a muted version of this way of thinking, though I recoiled at his racism toward blacks. Though none attended our schools, the whole town having segregated housing, I was on the closest terms with our black servants and took open exception to my father’s anti-black remarks, tough I did not remark on other racist slurs. In fact, he and I became estranged over his anti-black racism.
When I got to university I found myself associating to a disproportionate extent with Jews and even acting on their behalfs in various ways. The college - Yale - had a Jewish quota, as it had many others. In fact, I got in on one as a Texan from a state school. Without quotas, the admissions officers argued (and still do), the college would be full of high scholastically achieving Jews from New York and New England, and they wanted a pluralistic student body. My first lover was a Jew, and I miss her very much, having mistakenly abandoned her for a Methodist, who became my wife for a short time before abandoning me and our son. My second wife was a Jew, the most beautiful woman I have known (think of Sofia Loren), and we have two remarkable and highly accomplished Jewish daughters, one a lawyer with two sons, the other a doctor.
Forgive me if this narrative has tried your patience. It is my best effort at telling you how I became an anti-Semite. The flat-footedness of my story is deliberate. It was nothing special, certainly nothing dramatic. Putting the point theoretically and psychoanalytically, people achieve their sense of identity by becoming socialized into the projective identifications (a concept I’ll explain in a moment) of their peer group or subculture. To become an upper middle class meritocrat in Dallas in the 1940s and 1950s was to become an anti-Semite, albeit a passive one. It was central to local mores and came with the territory, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the Southwest. It was no big deal. This occurred in tacit and subtle ways, as contrasted, for example, with my being taught during WWII to be anti-Japanese, anti-German and anti-Italian, to be opposed to trades unions and so on, but it was no less deeply sedimented into my taken-for-granted belief system. Moreover, as with most of the above, it is still with me, no matter how consciously and conscientiously I have sought to purge these prejudices from my mind. What has really happened is that I have learned to behave well while still harbouring the prejudices at a deeper level. Actually, in some cases it is more complicated. I confess to not having worked very hard on some of my prejudices. On others, by contrast, I have worked very hard, indeed, so that I am now something of an inverted racist with respect to blacks and Jews and have been a fairly seriously dedicated writer, editor and campaigner against those forms of racism (Young, 1987, 1994, ch. 6).
I am not alone in calling myself an anti-Semite. Indeed, I am in my own eyes somewhat less of one than some of my accusers. Let me tell you about three of them. I had a patient who told me about being called a Yid when she was at a progressive private secondary school. After hearing her out, or so I thought, I mentioned the way that Tottenham Hotspur soccer fans (who have Hasidic Jews in their neighbourhood) had dealt with being called Yids. As you may know, they simply and defiantly started calling themselves Yids, thereby deflating the taunts. My patient promptly dubbed me an anti-Semite and never let go of this accusation.
My second accuser is a Jewish member of an email discussion group I moderate. I wrote a series of reflections in the wake of 9/11 (Young, 2002), among them some thoughts about why Muslims might harbour hate sufficient to lead them to commit that atrocity. At one point, as an afterthought, I listed the grievances of the Palestinians. I worded my list as they might put it and included the phrase ‘Jewish hegemony in the Middle East’, having in mind the Israelis’ military strength and success in successive wars. This man pounced on the phrase, especially the words ‘Jewish hegemony’. I think I would have been okay with ‘Israeli military power’. He accused me of anti-Semitism through a long series of email exchanges, and those who supported me were similarly criticised. By the way, I find that with respect to Israel and the Palestinians it is nearly impossible to have a conversation in which I am not accused of anti-Semitism on the one hand or culpable Zionism on the other.
My third accuser, a well-known Jewish analytical psychotherapist, was, if he is to be believed, even more acute in spotting my anti-Semitism. I founded and ran a small and dramatically unprofitable publishing imprint called Free Association Books. Its parent company was Process Press Limited, and at a certain point I began publishing a few books under that imprint, below which on the title page I put this slogan: ‘Only purity of means can justify the ends.’ I drew it from a novel by Arthur Koestler which I greatly admire, Darkness at Noon, whose hero was ruminating what went wrong with Bolshevism as he awaited execution in the Stalinist purge trials. He concluded that where they went wrong was in believing that the end justified the means, and he decided that instead they should have taken care to get the process right. Never mind what I thought I was doing in invoking that quotation, the appearance of the word ‘purity’ was enough to lead my colleague to accuse me of anti-Semitism. Believe it or not, I was subjected to some uncomfortable conversations with other Jewish members of the editorial board of a journal I published and edited, so enthusiastic and effective was his witch-hunting.
One final anecdote. One day my Jewish wife, my son and I were catching a bus to go to the Tate Gallery. The conductress pushed the bell to tell the driver to move off when she could see us frantically running to catch the bus. We made it, and I followed her upstairs protesting about her doing this. A man spoke up and said, ‘We didn’t need you in North Africa, and we don’t need you here.’ I assumed he meant Americans and didn’t respond, whereupon he said, ’Hitler knew what to do with your kind - put them in gas chambers’. Without a moment’s reflection I pulled him out of his seat and slapped his face several times. He got out a knife but did not use it. I m not a violent person, so I can only conclude that, after all, I identify closely with Jews, however deeply embedded the bigotries of my upbringing are.
I now, perhaps to your relief, want to move away from the autobiographical mode and turn to some psychoanalytic and historical reflections. You may be well-informed in one of these domains but are unlikely to be so with respect to both. I want to suggest that the key to understanding the psychodynamics of anti-Semitism and other virulent denigrating feelings about groups and peoples is the unconscious mechanism called projective identification. Projective identification is a primitive mental mechanism in Kleinian psychoanalysis, probably the most important concept she conceived. It began as a rather simple idea about early infant development but became, at the hands of subsequent writers, the most basic element of all communication.
Here is what Klein wrote: She concludes seven pages on the fine texture of the infant’s early paranoid and schizoid mechanisms as follows: 'So far, in dealing with persecutory fear, I have singled out the oral element. However, while the oral libido still has the lead, libidinal and aggressive impulses and phantasies from other sources come to the fore and lead to a confluence of oral, urethral and anal desires, both libidinal and aggressive. Also the attacks on the mother's breast develop into attacks of a similar nature on her body, which comes to be felt as it were as an extension of the breast, even before the mother is conceived of as a complete person. The phantasied onslaughts on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out and rob the mother's body of its good contents... The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother. Together with these harmful excrements, expelled in hatred, split-off parts of the ego are also projected onto the mother or, as I would rather call it, into the mother. These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure but also to control and to take possession of the object. In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self.
'Much of the hatred against parts of the self is now directed towards the mother. This leads to a particular form of identification which establishes the prototype of an aggressive object-relation' (Klein, 1946, pp. 7-8). Note carefully that we have here the model - the template, the fundamental experience - of all of the aggressive features of human relations. Six years later Klein adds the following sentence: 'I suggest for these processes the term "projective identification"' (ibid.).
I say again that we have here the fundamental basis of human aggression. What the mind does is to split off some feeling. This can happen for all sorts of reasons - to disown it, to entrust it, to create an idealization or a denigration. The possibilities cover the whole range of human feelings. We then project that feeling into someone else or perhaps into another part of our own minds. A lover places his or her tender and idealized feelings in his conception of the object of his affection, and lo, it makes her a better and more radiant person. That is, the projection finds its home and evokes a resonance and response in the other. Alas, the same is true of bad feelings. In racism we project our self-denigrating feelings -- avarice, cunning, dishonesty, in the case of anti-Semitism. These projections can be utterly bizarre and can certainly be unmerited. Think of teen-age gangs in New York and Los Angeles where people hate and maim and kill one another on the basis of the neighbourhood where they live. Nations which were created wholly artificially in the nineteenth and twentieth century Europe, the Americas and Africa get their young people to kill and die for their country (Anderson, 1983). For centuries Jews were accused of kidnapping and killing Christian children and using their blood in making matzos for the Passover. Blacks are alleged to have bigger penises and heightened sexual performance. Paradoxically, they are also supposed to be lazy. (Perhaps they are resting in the daytime for their nocturnal performances?)
In the process of creating a projective identification a link, a symbiosis, is forged between the projector and the projectee. If we generalize this intrapsychic process from the individual to the group, it becomes a stereotype. Developmentally, of course, is works the other way. As I said earlier, we become members of a subculture, religion, nation, race, gang, clique by taking on the projections of our peer group. That is why, alas, if you grow up in a racist society, as I did, you will almost inevitably become a racist -- how virulent a racist is a matter of luck and family values. I have known people (including my own children) who claim to be innocent of racist feelings. It may be so, but I find I hard to credit. It is my view that difference almost inevitably leads to splitting, and splits feed primitive anxieties which are organized into prejudices.
Projective Identification is at the centre of one of the two basic modes of psychological being, the so-called paranoid-schizoid position. When our minds are operating in this way we make big splits, typically idealising one pole and denigrating the other, as in good Christians and bad Jews. Stereotyping is common. In the paranoid-schizoid position ‘anxieties of a primitive nature threaten the immature ego and lead to a mobilisation of primitive defences. Splitting, idealisation and projective identification operate to create rudimentary structures made up of idealised good objects kept far apart in the mind from persecuting bad ones. The individual’s own impulses are similarly split and he directs all his love towards the good object and all his hatred against the bad one. As a consequence of the projection, the leading anxiety is paranoid, and the preoccupation is with survival of the self. Thinking is concrete because of the confusion between self and object which is one of the consequences of projective identification’ (Steiner, 1987, p. 69). The paranoid-schizoid position is contrasted with the other basic one, called the depressive position, in which one inhabits the middle ground between the extremes of splits, leading to tolerance and a form of guilt which is constructive and reparative rather than brittle, punitive and destructive. (I have adapted these characterizations of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions from Steiner, 1987, pp. 69-70; see also Steiner, 1994, pp. 26-34. I have considered the concept of projective identification in more detail in Young, 1994, ch. 7 and Young, 2000). I hope you can see the neat fit between these primitive unconscious stances and the psychological attitudes of racist versus tolerant people: persecutors as contrasted with those who want to live and let live.
The process of socialilzation into splits between the idealised and the denigrated has operated throughout history, for example, in our holiest texts. Scholars seeking the origins of the concept of Satan found them in the precursors of Christianity. The proto-Christian group, the Essenes, introduced it to characterize the `other' -- other tribes, threatening strangers. (Things go full circle: this occurred in the turmoil of first century Palestine (Pagels, 1995, p. xviii). Now the little town of Bethlehem gets occupied by Israeli tanks in a vain effort to stop Muslim fundamentalist suicide bombers.) Satan defines negatively what we think of as human (ibid.). By characterizing our enemies as satanic or evil (as President Bush routinely does, e.g., ‘axis of evil’), we can justify hatred, war, even mass slaughter (p. xix). In her book on the origin of the concept of Satan, Elaine Pagels says that Satan mirrors our own confrontations with otherness, i.e., that he is a projection. He expresses the quality of going beyond lust and anger and onto brutality (p. xvii). This is familiar territory. If we put this concept of projection together with extreme splitting, we find that history and theology have given us a fair account of projective identification in its most virulent forms as found in racism, sectarianism and holy wars, all with the oversimplifications of fundamentalism at their base.
It is tempting -- very tempting -- to seek to explain any-Semitism by asking what Jews have done to evoke such hatred and persecution. Indeed, not to seek to explain it is unhelpful, leaving us with an unfathomable mystery. However, this is a dangerous form of enquiry, easily leading to the accusation that to understand it is to condone it, as if the injustices are thereby explained away. I think the unwillingness of Jews to assimilate (for the most part and in most settings), their conviction that they alone are the chosen people of God, their quaint and sometimes off-putting customs and forms of dress, their dramatic success whenever the disadvantages of discrimination have been removed -- all of these potential explanations are of some interest. Indeed, Albert Lindemann’s book on the history of anti-Semitism (1997) looks deeply into such factors, and this feature of his thinking has enraged some critics.
On the whole, I think human relations are interactive, and it behoves us, especially in therapeutic work, to look at both sides of any dynamic. However, persecution cannot be exhaustively explained in this way. We make dreadful projections onto wholly innocent people. Few would say that the African slave trade could be justified by the moral standing of black Africans, though some apologists for it did try, even harkening back to The Bible. Those dark-skinned Africans were treated as descendants of Ham, the son of Noah. According to The Bible, Ham looked upon his father naked and had failed to cover the old man, though his brothers had done so. Ham's punishment was that his son Chus (or Canaan) and all his descendants would be black and would be banished from his sight. The blackening and banishing of Ham's progeny is the retaliatory castration by the higher Father, God (Kovel, 1970, pp. 63-66).
Similar things can be said about the treatment of the Native Americans from the time of Columbus. It began with a holocaust against Native Americans, twelve million of whom died in the first forty years of the Colombian era, continued against Africans, two hundred million of whom were estimated to have died in the Atlantic slave trade (nine million perished on the ships alone), and then there were countless deaths of Asian peoples as colonialism gained momentum (Carew, 1988, p.38). These figures do not include the march West of the American Frontier, which completed the devastation of the Native American way of life. This has been called the longest undeclared war in history. The scale of the carnage was unprecedented in world history and remains unparalleled. It is also ongoing in the treatment of American Indians in the present and of Native tribes in Canada and Alaska.
Think of the Untouchables in India. What about the merits their treatment at the hands of all other castes? Did the two million members of the Cambodian middle class provoke their own genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the killing fields of Cambodia? Consider the slaughter of up to a million of the Tutsi (and moderate Hutus) by the Hutus in Rwanda. No, such explanations based on the merits, or lack of them, of the persecuted will not wash. People are discriminated against, persecuted, ghettoised and killed for no good reason, and people and governments all too often stand aside. There is a book by Samantha Power entitled The Problem from Hell which has recently won the Pulitzer Prize. Its author chronicles a series of recent genocides and makes it very clear that the world community, especially America, have done little or nothing in every case. It is well-known that this was true of the Holocaust. However, to say that there is no justification for persecution and genocide does not mean that there is no explanation or that seeking such explanations is not of great importance.
Many resort to the language of good and evil. Are such acts evil? I would say so. When we examine the failure of the western powers to bomb the crematoria at Auschwitz, however, we do not discover a conspiracy. Rather, we find decisions and prioritisations which, with hindsight, look amazing and flatly wrong. We could not do so without bombing the dormitories, it was said. But they successfully bombed the factories which were no farther away. We could not find them. Wrong. There were accurate aerial photos. It was a higher priority to end the Nazi regime to stop the whole policy. Short-sighted. And so on.
I want to reflect on the concept of evil. As most of you will know, the political philosopher and student of totalitarianism, Hanna Arendt, followed the Eichmann trial closely and wrote a book entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem which she subtitled A Report on the Banality of Evil. She argued -- very controversially -- that Eichmann was not evil, only a bureaucrat. What was most remarkable about him was his superficiality, his ordinariness. He had no depth of spirit. Doing good requires that. Doing wrong -- even great wrong -- only requires lack of imagination, a paltry spirit. She refers to ‘the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us - the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil’ (Arendt, 1994, p. 252). We cannot conclude from this that there is an Eichmann in each of us. Her conclusion is about people without depth. That means, the banality of evil has, as a deep understanding, a notion of evil that has no roots in ‘evil motives’. The notion that the banality of evil has ’no-roots’ is inherently connected with Arendt's understanding that only the faculty of thinking can reach the profundity, and consequently reach the roots. In one of her clearest reflections about this Arendt says: ‘I mean that evil is not radical, going to the roots (radix), that is has no depth, and that for this very reason it is so terribly difficult to think about it, since thinking, by definition, wants to reach the roots. Evil is a surface phenomenon, and instead of being radical, it is merely extreme. We resist evil by not being swept away by the surface of things, by stopping ourselves and beginning to think, that is, by reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life. In other words, the more superficial someone is, the more likely will he be to yield to evil. An indication of such superficiality is the use of clichés, and Eichmann... was a perfect example.’ (This material is drawn from Bethania Assy, 1997).
Once again, Arendt emphasizes: ‘It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical”, that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is “thought-defying”, as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its “banality”. Only the good has depth and can be radical’ (Assy, 1997).
Another way of making this point is to draw on a concept from literature. Racists lack ‘sympathetic imagination’, while the capacity to conceive and to do good depends precisely on this capacity -- to resonate with, to identify with the experience and suffering of others and to try to put it right. Racists lack the capacity to identify with others, to imagine what is going on behind the eyes and in the spirits of others.
I do not like this conclusion, but I have come to accept it. The really bad people I have known have been quite unable to grasp, reflect upon or see the profundity of what they have done. They are not diabolical; there was no evil glint in their eyes, though when we fictionalise or film such people we usually add an evil gaze to make their inner worlds correspond to their deeds. They may have been perverse -- with an inverted moral order where fair is foul and foul is fair -- but there was in my experience no resonance in them to moral injunctions or criticisms. Something similar can be said of serial killers and child sexual abusers. They don’t get it. One child abuser, about whom I know some details and who went to prison, said to a relative that what hurts him is that he cannot point out that it was the child who did the seducing. He has no grasp that as an adult he simply should have said no. The English serial killer Denis Nielson wanted company overnight, so he prevented his sexual partners from leaving the bed by the simple expedient of killing them. If you examine web sites giving details about serial killers you will find banalities. Good people have moral stature. There is no equivalent on the other side, no evil stature.
I have in mind the memorable picture in the film ‘Shoah’ of a Polish peasant who would stand in the field along the railway line leading to Auschwitz and drag is thumb across his neck as the trainloads of Jews passed by - the gesture of a sit throat. I think of him as a brute and his gesture as monstrous, but should we call him a monster or a fool? Something is wrong with such people, to be sure, and they, like Hitler’s Willing Executioners (described by Goldhagen, 1996), deserve condemnation and, where appropriate, punishment, but they are, alas, somehow unremarkable in that their evil actions had no corresponding inner world depth of evil. You might even say that killing Jews was a form of military duty with minimal risk of being sent to the Russian front and/or getting shot. Can the executioners of the Jews have thought of their victims as properly human? I doubt it. They had been subjected to lots of propaganda about this very matter.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I find no comfort in this line of thought. I would somehow prefer evil doers t have dark, deep Dostoyevskian souls or to have made a pact with the Devil as did the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov or to be wracked with guilt like a character from Kafka. Then they might suffer pangs of conscience and might even be amenable to remorse and perhaps even the reparative guilt I mentioned in discussing the depressive position. To put it in fully theological terms, they might be candidates for repentance and salvation or its equivalent in other faiths. I once heard it said that a real thinker would ‘rather be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’. The truth of the willing executioners and the bystanders, I fear, is that they will never be ‘Socrates dissatisfied’ but are ‘pigs satisfied’, ordinary -- though not decent ordinary -- people. They are not passive anti-Semites, because they are a large step beyond that. They are opportunists, either keeping their heads down or volunteering for unpleasant duty with big perks, e.g., drink, little physical labour, chances to pilfer and get sex. Horrible, to be sure, but to us, not to them. Hundreds of thousands of Germans and Eastern Europeans volunteered for this gruesome work. I gather than no gentile was ever punished for rejecting it.
I have argued that racism gas as its psychological basis the unconscious mechanism of projective identification, but this information only provides the barest introduction. There are several features of it to ponder. First, it is unconscious, and it is usually covered up with a rationalization which provides a rather better justification for the projection than laying bare the genuine unconscious motive would. When you read the absolutely astonishing things that have been said about Jews over the centuries -- prurient, violent, disgusting, base -- you get an insight into the feelings that the anti-Semites were attempting to disown and attribute to people who, after all, worship the very same God. An easily graspable analogy is the Southern American evangelical preachers who denounced prostitutes and people who go to them, and then we find, in some cases, at least, that they have not only lusted after such women but have frequented their premises with gusto commensurate with their denunciations from the pulpit. As I said earlier, similar projections are made by Southern American males about black men’s penises and the sexual passions of black women. Who has the dirty mind in these instances?
What are Jews alleged to be? Avaricious, greedy, mercenary, mendacious, cunning, tricky, too clever, too industrious, even too successful. A people whose religious practices are more concerned with cleanliness and purity than practically any other faith have even been called - over the centuries - verminous and bearers of disease, even deliberately so at the time of the Black Death. They are exclusive, provocative, consider themselves God’s chosen people, arrogant, don’t proselytise, are contemptuous of goyim. I vividly recall my partner’s reaction on being told that the man to whom she was about to be introduced would not shake her hand. We later discovered that this was to avoid stirring up passions toward women other than his wife, but the effect was certainly striking. By the way, there is a certain irony here. There is some evidence that Jewish men need sanctions to curtail their sense of the lure of forbidden fruit. Quite a few of my Jewish friends have shared with me their dreams of seducing a blond, blue-eyed shikisa. Indeed, there is a learned article on this widespread fantasy (Friedman, 1982).
Some of the persistent charges against Jews have been so primitive, when considered psychodynamically, that it is hard to believe that anyone could possibly credit them. Foremost among these is the so-called aforementioned ‘blood libel’, the claim that Jews kidnap Christian children and drain their blood to use as an ingredient in the unleavened bread or matzos used on Seder night. Vampires!
Of course, the most persistent charge is that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ. You would not believe how much theological ink has been spilled in this matter, one which the Catholic Church enshrined in its doctrines for many centuries and did not finally quench until the reign of Pope John the XXIII in 1965, when, among other things, he pointed out that the covenant Gad had made with the Jews had not been broken (Carroll, p. 38). About this please don’t think me facetious when I say that this charge strikes me as transparently in opposition to the foundations of Christianity itself. Without the crucifixion here could be no Christianity. Moreover, Christianity is a religion founded on the redemptive value of unmerited suffering, paradoxical as that doctrine is on the surface. It was essential that Christ, ‘the only begotten Son of God’, should become a man and be innocent. In not rescuing Jesus from Pontius Pilate the Jews were simply playing their part in God’s Divine Plan. If they had rescued Him, the sacrifice of Christ and the miracle which Christians believe is at the centre of their religion would not have occurred, i.e., the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. I am sure that learned Catholic theologians would soon tell me that I am out of my doctrinal depth here, but that’s how it appears to me. Even so, ‘They killed our Lord’ has echoed down the centuries as a church-sanctioned justification for denouncing, persecuting and even murdering, Jews.
Before closing I want to offer a brief chronicle of significant events in the history of anti-Semitism.
70 A.D. Titus took Jerusalem - second revolt. Over one million Jews killed.
136 A.D. 580,000 men destroyed, 985 towns destroyed - third revolt.
When Christianity was adopted by Constantine as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century there began a series of edicts restricting the rights of Jews. These became more and more repressive in successive synods and councils extending into the fifteenth century, e.g., no intermarriage, no treatment of Christians by Jewish doctors, Christian midwives cold not attend Jewish women, no eating together or living in the same homes, Jews had to wear special clothing, Jews could not attend universities, and so on.
379 A.D. Vicious writing by St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose in Milan who said: ‘The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. They worship the Devil’.
1012 A.D. Emperor Henry II of Germany expels Jews from Mainz, the beginning of persecutions against Jews in Germany.
1096 A.D. First Crusade. Crusaders massacre the Jews of the Rhineland. Catholic clergy urged crusaders to kill local Jews, Christ’s enemies, before or instead of going to the Holy Land to kill Muslim infidels.
1144 A.D. First recorded blood libel. In Norwich it was alleged that the Jews had ‘bought a Christian child before Easter, tortured him with all the tortures wherewith our Lord was tortured and on Friday hanged him on a rood in hatred of our Lord.’ Such blood rituals are expressly forbidden in Judaism. (See Leviticus 17: 11 etc.)
1190 A.D. Massacre of Jews in England.
1290 A.D. Jews expelled from England.
1298 A.D. Massacre of thousands in Germany in 146 localities.
1306 A.D. Expulsion from France.
1348 A.D. Jews blamed for the Black Death. Charge laid to the Jews that they poisoned the wells to kill Christians.
1389 A.D. Massacres in Bohemia and Spain.
1421 A.D. 270 Jews burned at the stake. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Inquisition was more intense because the Church and State joined forces. Just being Jewish guaranteed persecution.
1483 A.D. Expulsions from Warsaw, Sicily, Lithuania, Portugal.
1492 A.D. All Jews expelled from Spain,
1510 A.D. Expelled from Brandenburg, Germany.
1544 A.D. The Reformation. Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings were later used in anti-Semitic literature.
1593 A.D. Expulsions from Italy and Bavaria.
1648 A.D. Leader of the Cossacks in the Ukraine massacred 100,000 Jews and destroyed 300 communities.
1768 A.D. 20,000 Jews in Poland killed.
Throughout the nineteenth century Jews in the Russian Empire were progressively restricted to the Pale of Settlement, and their rights were severely curtailed.
1805 A.D. Massacre of Jews in Algeria.
1879 A.D. Word anti-Semitism comes into existence.
1881 A.D. Pogroms began, especially in Kiev and Odessa, where murder of whole families was a common occurrence. Partial data are available for 530 communities in which 887 major pogroms and 349 minor pogroms occurred. There were 60,000 dead and several times that many were wounded. Two million Jews emigrated from the Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire.
1894 A.D. In France, Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish member of the French General Staff, is falsely accused of treason and is sent to Devil’s Island, He is eventually exonerated after a sustained public outcry from Emile Zola and others.
1917- During the Russian Civil War there were over 2000 pogroms in which 100,000 Jews died.
1919 A.D. 3000 Jews killed in Hungarian pogroms.
1920 A.D. Appearance of Adolf Hitler.
1940 A.D. Gassing and shootings begin in Polish Ghettos (Jewish).
1940-45 A.D. Holocaust. Final Count: 6,000,000 Jews slaughtered. Of the countries occupied or allied with Germany, only Bulgaria does not give up a single Jew. (Most of this list of events is drawn from Anon, n.d.)
Half a century later there were only five countries outside of the US and Israel with more than 300,000 Jews (France, Russia, Ukraine, Canada and the UK) and only 26 others with more than 10,000. It has been noted that in the past when the percentage of a country’s population which was Jewish did not rise above 5%, anti-Semitism was unlikely; when above 10% it has been very likely (Lindemann, p. 537). This is not an infallible guide. Jews made up only 0.6% of the pre-war German population.
Don’t forget the anti-Semitism of the Ku Klux Klan in the US, of white supremacist Christian groups and of the US ultra-right militias of the kind that led to the Oklahoma City bombing (Neiwert, 1999).
Anti-Jewish incidents in the UK have increased 75% this year over last year. For example, on 9 May 2003, 386 Jewish graves were desecrated in East Ham, London (Guardian 10.5.03, p. 7).
You will also no doubt be aware that the most virulent anti-Semitism in recent times comes from Palestinians and other Muslims. Saddam Hussein gave a generous reward to the family of every suicide bomber in Israel, and Osama bin Laden called for the murder of every Jew, along with every American and every Brit who is not a Muslim.
I believe that this litany justifies Albert Lindemann’s careful claim that it is not enough to describe anti-Semites as ‘mentally deranged or morally flawed in all regards’. He continues, ‘The extent to which anti-Semitism was “normal” requires, in my opinion, a more serious and open-minded investigation whether by scholars or the lay public’ (Lindemann, 1997, p. xiii). He has contributed admirably to this work, although, to be sure, he has his critics who -- surprise, surprise -- accuse him of anti-Semitism.
I have tried to shed a little light on the unconscious psychodynamics of anti-Semitism, to reflect on my own case and to offer some historical information, most of which was not known to me until I began researching for this talk.
Finally, what is the answer to the question posed by my title? My first reply is bad news. As I have said, I do not think that racism, once embedded, can be entirely expunged. The good news, however, is that one can learn to behave well, even very well and can make some reparation. There are some simple and obvious ways to bring this about.
1) The first is contact. I got to know and worked closely with some of the Jews in my class and especially in my stairwell at Yale. The same is true of medical school, at Cambridge and in my subsequent life. I fell in love with a Jewish woman, my first real lover, actually the first of several. Walter Susuli, Mandela’s mentor then his deputy, was a black separatist until he travelled around the world and consorted with white people from Britain, Israel and Eastern Europe. He subsequently agreed to work with whites.
2) The second is education. I cannot tell you how much I have learned in preparing this talk. The history of anti-Semitism is the most baleful ongoing injustice in human history. It is said that there were ten million Jews in the Roman Empire. By analogy to the population growth of other groups there should be about 200 million Jews now instead of the thirteen million that there are (Carroll, pp. 26-7). The difference is the consequence of anti-Semitism.
2) It is also important for leaders to behave well and to advocate and exemplify the virtue of tolerance of difference. This tolerance can be hard-won, especially in the case of some Jewish dietary practices which, I am reliably informed by an eminent anthropologist of food (Douglas, 1966, esp. ch. 3; Fardon, 1999, ch. 4), were created partly to keep the chosen race apart from goyim (‘They’ll never get this right!’ My Jewish father-in-law said exactly this to me when we first had a meal together in his home.). And then there are the rest of the 613 Mitzvot.
3) Some say that sanctions, including anti-racist laws, will never change the hearts of prejudiced people. I don’t agree. I think sanctions and laws are important. They raise the tariff for behaving badly, e.g., racial incitement, harming property or people.
4) This is a big one: reduce inequality. It is also tricky, since reducing inequality a little may have a very bad effect. The reduction of inequality in general diminishes the grounds for envy and hence the need for scapegoats. However, reduce it a bit, and bad consequences may follow. I am thinking of the admirable movement in the nineteenth century when Jews were given full rights in country after country (UK in 1856, Italy in 1861, Germany in 1871 but not until 1910 in Spain and 1917 in Russia). The result was that they excelled all over the place, especially in the professions and education, far out of proportion with their numbers. Straightaway, and in my opinion as a consequence, came the founding of anti-Semitic political parties. Indeed, the term anti-Semitism was coined in this period (1879). I am satisfied that the Dreyfus case in France and the rise of the German anti-Semitism that led to Hitler and the Holocaust was, in significant part, due to the envy and apprehensions evoked by the admirable competitive success of Jews when they were granted full civil rights in successive European countries. Envy leads to spite.
5) This is controversial, but I think it’s important. Jews have learned in the most painful way imaginable not to compromise with persecutors in the hope that their lot will not get worse. I am, of course, thinking of Israel (which I admire and support but far from uncritically, and I am also in favour of a Palestinian state), but I am also thinking more broadly of defence groups in many places, e.g., Toronto and New York, where Jews simply did not stand for bully-boys. This change in attitude is epitomised for me by a song by the gay Jewish Texan writer of thrillers and country songs, Kinky Friedman. One of his songs makes my point nicely. It’s a response to a Jew-baiter in a western saloon. Here is the chorus:
‘They isn’t making’ Jews like Jesus anymore.
‘They don’t turn the other cheek the way they done before.
‘You could hear that honky hollering’ as he hit the hardwood floor:
‘They isn’t making Jews like Jesus anymore.’
Talk delivered in the Judaism and Psychotherapy Lecture Series on ‘Spiritual and Therapeutic Issues for the 21st Century’ at the Steinberg Centre for Judaism, London, on 21 May 2003
REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
(Place of Publication is London unless otherwise specified.)
Anderson, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso.
Anon. (n.d.) ‘Classical and Christian Anti-Semitism’, http://www.remember.org/guide/History.root.classical.html
Arendt, Hannah (1963) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. N. Y: Viking; reprinted Harmondsworth: Penguin pb, 1994.
Assy, Bethania (1997) ‘Eichmann, the Banality of Evil, and Thinking in Arendt's Thought’, presented at the Seminar ‘Hannah Arendt's The Life of the Mind’, taught by Prof. Richard Bernstein in the Department of Philosophy at New School For Social Research, Spring, 1997. It was also a part of the author’s Master Thesis entitled ‘Might the Problem of Evil Be Connected with the Absence of the Faculty of Thinking? The Relationship between the Banality of Evil and the Faculty of Thinking in Hannah Arendt,’ defended 1996 in Brazil. http://www.fattyboombatty.com/_disc1/00000099.htm)
Canovan, Margaret (1992) Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought. Cambridge; pb reprint, 1994
Carew, Jan (1988) 'Columbus and the Origins of Racism in the Americas', Race and Class 29: 1-19; 30: 33-57.
Carroll, James (2001) Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. A History. N. Y.: Houghton Mifflin; pb reprint,
Cohn-Sherbrook, Dan (2002) Anti-Semitism: A History. Thrupp, Strroud, Glos.: Sutton Publishing.
Friedman, Edwin H. (1982) ‘The Myth of the Shiksa’, in Monica McGoldrick et al., eds., Ethnicity and Family Therapy. Guilford, pp. 499-526.
Gilbert, Martin (1986) The Holocaust: A Jewish Tragedy. Reprinted Harper Collins pb, 1987.
Goldhagen, Daniel J. (1996) Hitler’s Willing Executioners” Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. N. Y.: Knopf; reprinted London: Abacus pb, 1997.
Hay, Malcolm (1950) The Foot of Pride: The Pressure of Christendom on the People of Israel for 1900 Years. Boston: Beacon; reprinted as Europe and the Jews: The Pressure of Christendom over 1900 Years. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers pb, 1992.
Hinde, Robert (2002) Why Good Is Good: The Sources of Morality. Routledge.
Klein, Melanie (1946), Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. Reprinted in W. M. K. III, pp. 1-24.
______ (1975), The Writings of Melanie Klein, 4 vols. Vol. I: Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works, 1921-1945. Vol. II: The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Vol. III Envy and Gratitude and Other Works; 1946-1963. Vol. IV: Narrative of a Child Analysis. London: Hogarth.
Kovel, Joel (1970) White Racism: A Psychohistory. N. Y.: Pantheon; reprinted Free Association Books, 1988.
Lindemann, Albert S. (1997) Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews. Cambridge; paperback, 2000.
Litvinoff, Barnet (1988) The Burning Bush: Anti-semitism and World History. Collins; reprinted Fontna pb, 1989.
Neiman, Susan (2002) Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy. Oxford: Princeton
Neiwert, David A. (1999), In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest. Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press.
Pagels, Ellaine (1995) The Origin of Satan. Allen Lane. The Penguin Press.
Power, Samantha (2002) ‘A Problem from Hell;: America in the Age of Genocide. N. Y.: Basic.
Reitlinger, G. (1953) The Final Solution. Vallentine, Mitchell & Co; Sphere pb, 1971
Shirer, William L. (1960) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Secker & Warburg; reprint Pan Books pb, 1964.
Steiner, John (1987) ‘The Interplay between Pathological Organizations and the Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive Positions’, Internat. J. Psycho-Anal. 68: 69-80.
______ (1994) Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organizations in Psychotic, Neurotic and Borderline Patients. Routledge.
Young, Robert M. (1987) ‘Racist Society, Racist Science’, in D. Gill and L. Levidow, eds., Anti-Racist Science Teaching. Free Association Books, 1987, pp. 16-42; reprinted in D. Gill et al., eds., Racism and Education: Structures and Strategies. Sage, 1992, pp. 303-19.
______ (1994) Mental Space. Process Press.
______ (2000) ‘Melanie Klein I and II’ http://human-nature.com/rmyoung/papers/pap127.html
______ (2002) ‘Fundamentalism and Terrorism’, in Jerry S. Piven et al., eds. Terror and Apocalypse: Psychological Undercurrents of History, Vol. 2. N. Y.: Writer’s Showcase, pp. 205-43.
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