Are all forms of prejudice really equal?

Those who explain anti-Semitism as “just another” form of bigotry are failing, sometimes willingly, to understand it.

Those who explain anti-Semitism as “just another” form of bigotry are failing, sometimes willingly, to understand it

“The members of the Security Council”, according to a UN press release, have “strongly condemned all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.

The 15-member body was responding to the recent shootings at the Brussels Jewish Museum.

“All forms”? Anti-Semitism is indeed routinely appropriated as “an example” of the type of atrocity to which “any” group can fall victim. That’s largely how it is discussed in schools and in the media.

But are “all forms” of inequality really equal? Prejudice generally harms vulnerable groups through myths of inferiority. Those myths include stereotypes about culture, ability, belief, or physical appearance. Images of Jewish inferiority climaxed under Nazism – Jews as lice, vermin, Untermenschen.

“Inferiority” denotes incapacity or debility. For the most part, however, anti-Semitism has not primarily taught that Jews are debilitated or incapable. The Jew is depicted as too capable by half.

For the anti-Semite, Jews call the shots “behind” global capital and finance, “behind” neo-imperialism and exploitation, “behind” predatory austerity measures, “behind” worldwide intelligence networks, “behind” Western cultural hegemony, “behind” the international media, “behind” the machinations of states and governments.

Those evils become lumped together on the right as well as the left. Ironically, only German public discussion has seriously acknowledged that parity between right-wing and left-wing anti-Semitism. In Britain and much of Europe, the comparison is reviled.

The anti-Semite’s inability to show us that network of Jewish “control” ends up not refuting anti-Semitism, but confirming it. Conspiracy theories are always constructed to preclude contrary evidence. Contrary evidence never discredits the conspiracy, but only “proves” how cleverly the secret cabal is covering its tracks.

By the 19thcentury, anti-Semitism had emerged as the pre-eminent conspiracy theory for a steadily industrialising and globalising Europe – a fragmenting, volatile continent, precarious enough to spawn legends of the subaltern global puppeteer. Jewish domination is visible nowhere because it pulls invisible strings everywhere.

That invisibility does not reveal “Jewish influence” to be a nasty myth. It instead reveals the Jew’s shrewdly honed skill. Invisibility becomes just another clever gadget in the Jew’s toolbox. Even anti-Semitism awareness campaigns become suspicious. They’re all just part of the grand plan.

Today, that legend stretches far beyond Europe. TheProtocols of the Elders of Zion is by no means a creepy but anodyne curio from the past. Its message about a Jewish plot for world domination continues to spread apace. (Those ignorant of the historical origins of the term “anti-Semitism” still often object to Jews using it. Jews, they teach us, are not the only “Semites”. But I’ll leave aside that thorny debate.)

Of course, many minorities are tarred with the brush of “taking over” their host nations. Why would Jews be different?

Unlike other groups, it scarcely matters where Jews live. Today, the Jewish invasion is ferociously condemned in countries where Jewish communities are tiny or non-existent. Jews do not “need” to invade physically.

As Christianity long taught, the Jew invades metaphysically. Jews are not merely, along with other detested groups, a menace within the material world. They are the force manoeuvring behind the material world.

One might respond: “Yes, Jews have their own stereotypes, but so does every group.” But what separates the “secret domination” stereotype is that it sparks the revolutionary imagination. Revolutions are about nothing, if not about freeing the masses from domination.

Sure, not just anti-Semites, but bigots of all types concoct agendas for “liberating” their people from one or another detested minority group.

But when decades (or centuries, depending on the country) of propaganda link Jews to conspiracies of world control, such “liberation” stories take on epic proportions. The “liberators” fancy themselves heroes within a world-historical drama, perhaps a divine mission. Now it is not just their own people whom they will free. They will unleash all of humanity from the shackles of the “eternal” Jew.

Even my views here will be seen to confirm the legends I am trying to debunk. After all, many maligned groups commemorate their pasts and circumstances. Why don’t we just join forces against all oppression? Why snoop around to uncover this or that group’s special woes? Doesn’t the search for Jewish difference only confirm the aura of exclusiveness claimed by what always seemed to be a rather suspiciously “chosen” people?

Claims about the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust have sparked venom in the past. In most of Europe today, they are taboo. Here’s the silent bargain. We will gladly disdain Holocaust deniers. They’re loons anyway, so sidelining them is no grand sacrifice. But that concession to Jewish sensitivity comes at a price: don’t dwell “too much” on the distinctiveness of anti-Semitism.

Some might suspect here a “more victim than thou” agenda, but that’s not the point at all. Anti-Semitism is not “worse” than other forms of discrimination. Insisting on the exceptional traits of anti-Semitism in no way denies the particular histories of other historically oppressed groups.

But those who explain anti-Semitism as “just another” form of bigotry are failing, sometimes willingly, to understand it. Inequalities are not all equal. By treating all forms of discrimination as variations on the same theme, we do not challenge anti–Semitism. We sanitise it.

Prof. Eric Heinze works at the School of Law Queen Mary, University of London

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13 Responses to “Are all forms of prejudice really equal?”

  1. gregusmeus

    All types of racism have their unique elements but something I’d add for anti-Semitism is that it’s (frequently but not always) historically been hidden behind something else e.g. usurers, landless wanderers, merchants, bankers, Europeans, capitalists, bolsheviks, Zionists, etc… there’s always something slightly more acceptable to target wink-wink.

  2. Dave Roberts

    It went out of fashion when the left discovered the Palestinians. Now that militant Islam is the main enemy and the loony left is in disarray after the SWP rape scandal and the collapse of Respect it as been rediscovered.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s always been there, don’t kid yourself. No matter what the current target of the day, in the end if you go down the rabbit hole far enough, they’ll end up blaming Jews.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Indeed, there’s an ever-changing patina of excuses.

  5. swatnan

    Its a mistake to suggest that Jews are more special case for consideration in Hate Crime cases than say Muslims. These days you could say that the Muslims are the ‘new Jews’ that Islamophobia is as strong today as was Anti-Semitism. All forms of prejudice are abhorent.

  6. Istvan Pogany

    A very thought-provoking piece! However, aside from the religious and particularly Christian dimension of anti-Semitism, I wonder how unique prejudice against Jews actually is? Tutsis in Rwanda were perceived by the majority Hutus as having been privileged during the colonial era, ethnic Chinese in much of Asia (Malaysia, Vietnam etc) were routinely regarded as exercising disproportionate economic power, while the former ethnic German minorities in Eastern and South Eastern Europe were not disliked or even hated by their fellow citizens because they considered them culturally or economically inferior. Racism can have contradictory roots. It can arise just as easily from a belief in the cultural, social or economic superiority of a specific minority as from the conviction that a minority is ‘backward’, deficient or ‘inferior’ in certain respects.

  7. Eric Heinze

    Many thanks to those who have taken the time to offer responses. Istvan Pogany rightly notes that many groups are blamed for enjoying unjust privileges. Pogany is also right to recall that there is not always a single “story” behind discrimination. Discriminatory claims are often contradictory. (For example, gays’ small numbers are constantly cited as evidence that they are deviant or unnatural. At the same time, they are constantly called a threat to the very existence of civilisation.)

    The myth of special Jewish privilege nevertheless remains very different from that attributed to other groups, such as Tutsis or the diasporic Chinese. For the anti-Semite, Jewish privilege is of global scope. Jews, over a long history, have constantly been suspected of controlling not just local affairs, but world affairs, through surreptitious control over finance, politics, media, and other channels of influence.

    I agree with Swatnan’s view that “all forms of prejudice are abhorrent.” But it does not help to call Muslims the “new Jews”. There are certainly similarities (e.g., hostility during periods of immigration). However, some important forms of discrimination differ vastly between the two groups. We can acknowledge that histories of discrimination are different without having to “rank” the respective groups. That would certainly not be my intention.


  8. Amar Mahmood

    When we take about prejudice and racism in this country we often talk about it in relation to minorities but never in relation to the majority. I have read about a sociological concept known as white privilege which discusses the numerous ways in which white people as a whole benefit from a racist society. To have white privilege means to not have to think about race. It means that you will have better opportunities in life because you are white. Authors such as Robert Jensen, Tim Wise and Peggy McIntosh have written extensively on how much easier white people have it in society.

  9. sasboy

    All forms of prejudice are ugly in their own unique ways.

  10. Istvan Pogany

    Eric is, of course, right in noting that Jews are often ascribed with diabolical powers by anti-Semites, who frequently discern Jewish power or influence behind major economic, political or other phenomena. For the anti-Semite, virtually anything – including war, economic recession or social problems – can be ‘explained’ by reference to Jewish influence or conspiracy. In this important sense, anti-Semitism does differ from most other forms of racism.
    However, Swatnan’s suggestion that Muslims are the ‘new Jews’ is undoubtedly true at a certain level. Muslims have replaced Jews in much of Europe as perhaps the most visible and widely vilified minority group. Like Jews in the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century, Muslims are frequently portrayed in terms of overwhelmingly negative and simplistic stereotypes by European societies that frequently view cultural and religious difference as a threat to their sense of identity.


  11. BradD99

    The radical left seems to intentionally ignore anti-Jewish bigotry across the Middle East. For reasons I cannot explain, somehow the radical left has decided that anti-Jewish bigotry across 99% of the Middle East is acceptable and should either go unmentioned or be semi-defended, while Israel gets demonized constantly, in every reference, every day.

    Seriously, make a list of the leading “progressive” or “radical left” voices, and check their references to Israel. Every single reference is full-on, one-sided, anti-Israel hate. Any positive or even neutral info about Israel goes unmentioned across the entire “radical left” Internet.

    How is this not antisemitism?

    Why are there thousands of LGBT groups that are close to silent about anti-gay bigotry across Muslim countries because they are too busy obsessively demonizing Israel? How does that make sense? Yet it happens, and of course they all deny it’s antisemitism. But it is! What else would it be?

  12. BradD99

    Why is the concept of a “Jewish yet democratic country” demonized across the far-left world?

    Nobody demonizes the concept of a “Japanese yet democratic country” or “Arab yet democratic countries” or “Muslim yet democratic countries” or an “Italian yet democratic country” etc.

    Yet the very concept of the world’s only Jewish yet democratic country being Jewish gets demonized, obsessively, every day, across the far-left world.

    How is this NOT just anti-Jewish bigotry?

    NOBODY on Earth screams that Muslim-majority countries have no right to be Muslim.
    Yet TENS OF THOUSANDS of far-left groups scream that the one tiny Jewish-majority country is somehow wrong to be Jewish.

  13. BradD99

    The new antisemitism is now this:
    1) Obsessively, hatefully demonizing every single thing about Israel in every mention of Israel
    2) Never applying those same standards of criticism to Arab countries, Muslim countries, etc.
    3) Being silent about anti-Jewish bigotry across the Middle East
    4) Never mentioning wars against Israel, terrorism against Israel, etc.
    5) Whitewashing the motives and behavior of deranged Islamic terrorist organizations
    6) Harassing anybody who feels Israeli Jews have the right to not be blown up anymore
    7) Not objecting to Muslim countries, Arab countries, the Japanese country, the Italian country, or any ethnic/national/etc. countries, except the one tiny Jewish country.
    8) Insisting that Israeli democracy is invalid, unless Israel agrees to accept millions of Israel-hating Palestinians into Israel, specifically to make Jews a minority, AND THEN suddenly accepting democracy. (In other words, rejecting democracy if Jews are a majority, pretending to care about democracy when really only seeking “solutions” that erase Israel as a Jewish state.) But of course not insisting that any other country on Earth merge with another group until it ceases to exist.


    Somehow, this anti-Jewish crap is now acceptable on the radical left.

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