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February 10, 2011 6:03 pm

The Depth of Antisemitism

avatar by Winston Pickett

Burned Israeli flag. Photo: Imanol Epelde Pagola.

When it comes to media reporting, the news that broke last week with the publication of
Antisemitic Incidents Report 2010 offered a complex and disturbing picture.

Most news outlets, from the Jewish ones such as the JC and the Jerusalem Post reported in 2010 constituted a 31 percent drop from 2009’s record high of 926 – caused by reactions to the Gaza conflict in January of that year – the baseline figure is still the second highest since Community Security Trust in Britain began recording its annual figures more than 20 years ago.

Outlets like the Daily Express simply went for the ‘good news’ component. It’s headline read, “Attacks on Jewish groups fall by 300”. What, then, was the essential message?

For years, CST has used the term ‘trigger events’ – such as the Gaza incursion – to explain why antisemitism seems to ‘spike’ in response to what happens in the news. This phenomenon is disturbing enough all by itself: to think that an event that an individual sees on the BBC or is reported by any of the mainstream outlets would provoke them to paint a swastika, hurl a verbal abuse or otherwise lash out violently against someone would suggests an underlying animosity ready to boil over.

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More troubling, however, is that what appears to be taking place is that a particular hatred is expressed, reaches a high water mark, recedes, but over the long run is seen to be constantly rising. CST researcher Dave Rich explained it concrete language to the the Yorkshire Post:

“We have this pattern that whenever there’s a crisis in the Middle East involving Israel we see a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain,” says CST spokesman, Dave Rich. “But what I think is worrying is after 2009 we expected a big fall last year and although the number of incidents did fall by a third, the trend over the past 10 years is heading upwards and what we are seeing is street racism that is becoming more embedded.”

Later he says: “We get these spikes and the figures never quite go back to where they were before.”

The key word – and concept – here seems to be the notion of antisemitism becoming “embedded”, something that the CST’s Mark Gardner effectively describes (for lack of a better term) as a psychological dynamic

“When Israel is in the news, two things seem to happen. Firstly, it dominates the thinking and actions of anti-Jewish bigots, be they white, Muslim or of whatever origin. Secondly, some get so carried away by their hatred of Israel that they lose control and attack Jews, revealing deep prejudices which they probably never knew they had.

“When Israel is not dominating the news, this layer of Israel-related antisemitism is stripped away, and we see the bedrock of unadulterated antisemitism that persists year in, year out. This then provides the starting point for even worse incident levels should a significant ‘trigger event’ occur, such as the Gaza conflict in 2009.”

Perhaps I am wrong, but this is the first time I can recall CST using this kind of language. ‘Bedrock antisemitism’ implies something permanent, almost immutable, and idea one certainly comes away with after reading Anthony Julius’sTrials of the Diaspora Robert Wistrich’s A Lethal Obsession.

All of this, of course, makes ‘countering antisemitism’ – or devising means of intervening against it – a highly complex and nuanced affair.

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