April 12, 2024

How Antisemitic Tropes Have Wormed Their Way Into Society

And the crucial thing about all these comments? The people saying them seemed to frame them as compliments. It’s part of a phenomenon linked to hatred of Jews that David Baddiel explains as “punching up» in his book Jews Don’t Count.

The key to understanding this concept is this: Jews are not seen as underprivileged or marginalised, we are caricatured as rich capitalists. We are also thought of predominantly as “too white” for progressive social justice campaigners. Long-held, “subtle and unconscious” antisemitic tropes in society are now so ingrained that many now hold these as truths (e. g. all Jews are wealthy).

However, due to the fact that they do not specifically outline us as the ‘underdogs’ (how can a rich person who controls the media be an underdog, right? ! ), many people don’t regard these tropes as offensive or antisemitic.

It only takes a quick delve into the history of antisemitic and the treatment of Jews to see that so many of the ‘comments framed as compliments’ that fellow Jewish people and I have received are just as antisemitic in their origin as any of Kanye West’s statements.

But the problem is, they are, and it only takes a quick delve into the history of antisemitic and the treatment of Jews to see that so many of the ‘comments framed as compliments’ that fellow Jewish people and I have received are just as antisemitic in their origin as any of Kanye West’s statements.

To help illustrate exactly what I mean and educate both Jewish people and non-Jewish people on where these tropes come from, I spoke to Binyomin Gilbert, Programme Manager for Campaign Against Antisemitism, a volunteer-led charity dedicated to exposing and countering antisemitism through education and zero-tolerance enforcement of the law (and the people behind that petition to get Adidas to cut ties with Ye).

Below, he talks me through exactly where each, perhaps well-intentioned but nevertheless harmful, Jewish trope comes from so that we might all arm ourselves as allies to call out and educate wherever we can.

“Don’t worry, you don’t look Jewish”, or “you’ve got a totally normal nose though. ”

I’m blonde with blue eyes, and because of this, I am often surprised when I explain that I am Jewish. Over the years, variations of “Don’t worry, you don’t look Jewish,” or “But you’re blonde? ” have come up repeatedly. They seem to infer that somehow, I have managed to dodge this piece of ‘bad luck’ and have managed to, thankfully, look more like a normal human.

“Jews are often depicted as having particular features, especially exaggerated large or hooked noses, but also certain hairstyles and other features,” Binyomin explains. “Some historians have traced the nose caricature in particular back to the thirteenth century CE, with some medieval depictions of the devil supervising the Crucifixion of Christ eventually merging with contemporary and later portrayals of Jews, who were also imagined as having been indifferent to or supportive of the Crucifixion, putting them on the same side as satan against divinity. ”

“There was also a further theological aspect, as Jews were believed to deal only with – and represent – the physical, material world and not the higher, spiritual realm that was supposed to be the concern of Christians, and grotesque features were a physical representation of that lowliness,” he adds. «Later, in the nineteenth century, big Jewish noses started to interest scientists who studied the supposed physical characteristics of different ‘races’, and in the twentieth century, ‘Jewish noses’ would become a vital part of the visual style of Nazi propaganda, especially in the crude caricatures of Jews from the notorious publication Der Stürmer. »

The crucial point here is that some Jewish people do have larger noses, and some don’t, in the same way as any other race or religion might have larger or smaller facial features depending on any number of gene variations.

The crucial point here is that some Jewish people do have larger noses, and some don’t, in the same way as any other race or religion might have larger or smaller facial features depending on any number of gene variations. It is largely due to prior propaganda that society upholds the view that all Jews look a certain way.

“Oh, your Jewish, you must have an amazing house”, “Oh, very savvy of you, that must be your Jewish side coming out”, or “You’ll have no problem getting a job then. ”

I touched on various comments about wealth and success made to me at university, but they haven’t just been confined to the walls of higher education. In my first ever job, a fresh-faced 21-year-old who thought I was about to change the world with my mediocre degree and singular summer job, my manager asked me “Why I even needed to work” if my parents were Jewish and on occasions too numerous to count I have been congratulated on a “savvy” business move before having it immediately chalked up to my being Jewish.

Similarly, at work drinks one Thursday evening, a colleague (one who I still really like, by the way) patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry, I trust you to hold my wallet” before telling me in a jolly tone that I probably don’t need it anyway as my “Batmitzvah money” will be stowed away somewhere.

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