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The Dark Secret of Jew Hatred: Pleasure

The fury has reached such a frenzy that I’ve been wondering if there’s a deeper motivation at work.
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March 3, 2024
Demonstrators rally outside of City Hall after the City Council passed a symbolic resolution calling for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas on January 31, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Why do Jew haters hate Jews?

On the surface, it makes little sense. Why would anyone hate a group that has given so much to the world in so many fields?

Thousands of books and essays have been written on the subject. There are myriad explanations, but the general consensus is that Jews have served throughout history both as humanity’s conscience and as its convenient scapegoat. Whatever one hates at any point in time, just blame the Jews.

As Rabbi David Wolpe wrote in the Harvard Crimson, “People hate Jews because they are communists, capitalists, foreigners, residents, immigrants, elitists, have strange ways, are unassimilated, too assimilated, bankroll the left (like George Soros) or bankroll the right (like Sheldon Adelson). People hate Jews because they are weak and stateless, or because they are Zionists and defend Israel.”

One can always find a good reason, in other words, to hate, resent or envy Jews. These reasons are usually framed intellectually. We want to understand how the minds of haters work, even when they appear irrational, because understanding helps us cope.

But something feels different since Oct. 7. The primal seems to have overtaken the cognitive. We’ve rarely seen such hysterics. Whether on college campuses or city streets, protesters are bursting with a fanatical exuberance. The fury has reached such a frenzy that I’ve been wondering if there’s a deeper motivation at work, something as simple as… pleasure.

Some smart thinkers believe so.

“There are (at least) three principal sources of pleasure which anti-Semitism provides,” British philosopher Eve Garrard argued a few years ago in the online journal Fathom. “First, the pleasure of hatred; second, the pleasure of tradition, and third, the pleasure of displaying moral purity. Each of these is an independent source of satisfaction, but the three interact in various ways, which often strengthens their effects.”

Explaining the pleasure of hatred, she touches on the human dimension: “Most of us know only too well the surge of self-righteousness, the thrill of condemning others, the intense bonding with a like-minded hater, which we feel when a good jolt of vicious hostility has risen within us.”

On the appeal of tradition, Garrard sees the power of an ancient narrative: “Long centuries of tradition have constructed the Jew as a being who is both contemptible and dangerous, the purveyor and transmitter of evil; and various tropes have been deployed to flesh out this picture.”

This long tradition of antisemitism, she argues, gives Jew haters a comforting connection to the past, grounding their protests with a perceived historical pedigree.

For the third source of pleasure– the desire for moral purity—Garrard highlights the “purity which is readily visible to others, and can count as a ticket of entry to socially and politically desirable circles.” She adds that “Israel as the Jewish state is a real opportunity for people who want to display their supposed moral purity and harvest a suitable quantity of admiration from like-minded others.”

Given that bashing the Jewish state is a lot more acceptable than bashing Jews, Israel provides the ideal instrument to camouflage Jew hatred and maintain a semblance of moral purity.

It’s not hard to imagine, then, a certain pleasure in the hearts of Jew-hating protesters. They may be enraged, but they hardly look sad. Indeed, there’s a kind of thrill in the air that goes beyond the search for justice; a sense of exhilaration, even glee, in joining a mob to go after the world’s most maligned country; a smug contentment that you can put the blame for some much evil on one group.

But if Jew hatred feels so good to haters, what does that mean for our goal to end Jew hatred? For starters, it means being realistic. Pleasure is a tough nut to crack. The usual tactics of education and condemnation can’t compete with visceral satisfaction.

To be sure, our fight against hate must continue. We must make sure Jews are protected from bullying and harassment. We must correct the lies, expose and isolate the haters, and use all legal weapons at our disposal.

Let’s not waste time, however, hoping haters will stop hating. Their contempt is hardwired. We mustn’t forget that these haters are in the minority. The silent majority of Americans, as the latest polls show, sees Jews favorably and values our contributions to their country. Let’s seek them out and engage them and make them our allies.

As we move forward, that is the group that ought to give us strength and hope– our fellow Americans who find pleasure in liking Jews.

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