Menu
Home
Log in / Register
 
Home arrow Sociology arrow Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism Representation
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Positioning Jews in relation to the Ingroup

The Islamic Republic of Iran is home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel. In view of Iran's official policy of anti-Zionism, which is punctuated by blatant antisemitism (Jaspal, 2013a), there has been some concern about the wellbeing and living conditions of Iranians Jews. These concerns are typically dismissed by the Iranian authorities, who insist upon an unwavering distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism and who are keen to demonstrate the “equal rights” of Iranian Jews (Jaspal, 2013a). This section provides insight into how young (Muslim) Iranians perceived Iranian Jews and positioned them in relation to the ingroup.

The young Iranians who participated in this study did manifest antisemitic social representations. Hardline participants tended to be more overt in their condemnation of Jews and, in doing so, they drew heavily upon Shiite Islamic theological representations, many of which could be traced to the political rhetoric of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini's ideology held that, given the “najes” (impure) status of Jews, physical contact and business dealings with them in turn jeopardised

4  Central Bureau of Statistics, Government of Israel, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2009, no. 60, Subject 2, Table no. 24 cbs.gov.il/reader/shnaton/templ_ shnaton_e.html?num_tab=st02_24x&CYear=2009. the “purity” of Shiite Muslims (Shahvar, 2009). This social representation was clearly observable in the accounts of several hardline participants:

No, for me, as a Muslim, I can't have anything to do with Jews. In Islam, they are “najes” [impure], inferior and I don't want to jeopardise my relationship with my faith by mixing with Jews [ … ] Islam is pure. (Arash, male, hardliner)

Islam says that Jews are “najes” [impure] and from their behaviour [in Palestine],

they seem to be. (Ehsan, male, hardliner)

Arash and other hardline participants highlighted the centrality of their Muslim identity to their sense of self, which they viewed as forbidding contact with Jews due to their “najes” and “inferior” status according to Shiite Islamic ideology. Ehsan invoked the social representation of Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians in order to evidence their “najes” status. It was argued that only an impure people could possibly treat others in this way, thereby crystallising a dehumanising social representation of Jews. Similarly, Arash constructed Jews as being inferior to Muslims whose religion he, conversely, described as being “pure”. Indeed, this constituted a form of downward comparison, which could bolster ingroup selfesteem and distinctiveness (Jaspal, 2011a; Wills, 1981). There was a juxtaposition between Jewish impurity/inferiority and Islamic purity/superiority. Thus, contact with a “najes” outgroup member was perceived as threatening one's sense of continuity since individuals thought it might jeopardise their relationship with Islam, a valued component of identity.

In addition to citing the “najes” status of Jews, respondents drew upon Islamic theological representations in order to otherise and delegitimise Jews and the Jewish State:

Israel is an illegal state which should not exist. It has no reason to exist really [

… ] Since the days of the Prophet, the Jews have been deceiving the world and

Israel is another example of this, I believe. (Bahar, female, hardliner)

If we look at history then you can really clearly see that the Jews have been trampling all over Islam since the time of the Prophet and here today you see they are doing the same in Palestine [ … ] They are just doing what they always did. (Mohammad, male, hardliner)

Bahar invoked historical theological representations of Jews as having deceived and undermined the Prophet Mohammad in order to achieve their selfish and malicious aims (Wistrich, 2010). These representations were used to explain the establishment and sustenance of the State of Israel, which Bahar viewed as an “illegal state which should not exist”. Drawing upon the antisemitic social representation of Jewish world deception/domination, Bahar contested the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Crucially, Jewish deception was constructed as
the nucleus of Israel. The Prophet Mohammad, as a personification of Islam, was clearly an important symbol, whose negative experiences with Jews symbolised a broader Jewish theological threat to Islam, for some individuals. This served to construct Jews as posing both a symbolic/theological and physical/realistic threat to the Muslim ingroup.

Similarly, Mohammad confl the early days of Islam and the present day in order to argue that the Jews had consistently been malevolent and threatening, specifi towards Muslims. The routineness of Jewish harm to Muslims was reiterated in the argument that “they are just doing what they always did”. The metaphor of “trampling” constructed imagery of contempt and destruction, reinforcing the social representation of Jewish cruelty and ruthlessness. As observed, there was a constructed uniformity between the Jewish threat to Muslims in the early days of Islam and the current threat to Muslims in Palestine. Jewish malevolence and deceit were objectifi in terms of the State of Israel. Israel has been represented as the culmination of “Jewish plots” against the Islamic world (Litvak, 2006; Shahvar, 2009). For hardline participants, Shiite Islamic theology provided a principal source of social representations of Jews and Israel, and these representations depicted Jews as posing threats to the Islamic ingroup. Given the hybridised nature of the “Jewish threat”, this could be considered a threat to both individual and group levels of the continuity principle of identity (Jaspal and Cinnirella, 2010b).

Just as many reformist participants denied being anti-Zionists, partly as a means of establishing distinctiveness from the hardline outgroup, most individuals in the study categorically denied being antisemitic, although they did acknowledge that antisemitism existed within Iranian society. Despite this desire for positive selfpresentation, participants' accounts, both those of reformists and hardliners, did exhibit elements of antisemitic thinking:

I'm not against Jews at all, you know. They are here and they've always been here [ … ] You know, there's a long of arrogance in Jews. They think they're the ones who have been chosen by God and that's rubbish [ … ] Iran was not a Muslim country and everyone converted. They decided to keep their faith. Why? They don't attend Islamic classes and don't even want to know about this. (Ashkan, male, hardliner)

Although Ashkan was keen to dissociate himself from antisemitism by claiming that he was “not against Jews” and by recognising their long-standing connection with Iran, he clearly attributed negative characteristics to Jews as an ethnoreligious group. These negative characteristics served to differentiate the Jewish outgroup from the (positive) ingroup (Bar-Tal, 2000). He essentialised Jews as an “arrogant” people due to the Jewish theological belief that they were “chosen” to be in a covenant with God (Frank, 1993), a social representation that he rejected. Individuals in the study seemed to reject this sense of (Jewish) distinctiveness, implied by “chosen-ness”, partly because they wished to emphasise the positive distinctiveness of Islam. By recognising the “chosen-ness” of the Jews, some
individuals clearly felt that their own sense of positive distinctiveness, on the basis

of their Muslim identity, could be subject to jeopardy.

Several participants drew upon common discursive “othering” strategies that have been observed in previous research into talk about immigrants and ethnic minorities (LeCouteur and Augoustinos, 2001; Potter and Wetherell, 1987). For instance, Ashkan constructed Jews as refusing to “integrate” by engaging in a historical self-imposed isolation from other (Muslim) Iranians. More specifically, he highlighted the retention of their Jewish faith (in contrast to Iranians who had converted from Zorastrianism to Islam) as evidencing their “self-imposed isolation” and “negative difference” from other Iranians. Thus, the very notion of Jewish religious distinctiveness seemed to be threatening for some individuals, who appeared to expect religious minorities, such as the Jews, to embrace the Islamic faith. Moreover, in contemporary terms, Ashkan lamented the exemption of Jews from attendance in Islamic religious classes in Iranian public schools and the tendency for Iranian Jewish pupils to decline to attend such classes. The constructed negative valence of Jewish distinctiveness is noteworthy. In short, there was an expectation among some individuals that Iranians Jews ought to relinquish their ethno-religious heritage and assimilate to Muslim Iranian culture, which was represented as the only means of truly integrating in Iranian society. In short, in regards to Iranian Jews, “integration” really meant assimilation (Bowskill, Coyle and Lyons, 2007).

Accordingly, even those individuals who most adamantly denied allegations of antisemitism nonetheless perceived Jews as lacking national authenticity – they were simply not regarded as being “true” Iranians:

I have no problem with them [Jews] [ … ] but they are not really Iranians are they? They are not true Iranians. Their faith is somewhere else. Their loyalty is somewhere else. (Elham, female, reformist)

Social psychological research highlights the importance of establishing feelings of authenticity in relation to important social identities (Chryssochoou, 2014; Markowe, 1996), especially through “identity validation” from other ingroup members (Jaspal and Cinnirella, 2012). For Elham, Iranian Jews could not be considered Iranian due to their minority Jewish faith. Thus, there was a coercive social representation among participants that Islam was inextricably associated with Iranian-ness, even among those (largely reformist) individuals who lamented the excessive influence of Islam upon Iranian politics. Thus, Iranian national identity and Islamic religious identity appeared to be inter-connected in the minds of young Iranians, which rendered the psychological coherence principle of identity susceptible to threat when the inter-connectedness of these identities was somehow questioned.

It is noteworthy that most participants did regard Iranian Christians as more authentic members of the Iranian national ingroup, which highlighted the particular suspicion held towards Jews. There seemed to be an inability
to accept the “Iranian-ness” of Iranian Jews, due to the long-standing social representation of Jewish otherness and questions surrounding the loyalty of Iranian Jews since the establishment of the State of Israel. This suggested that the continuity principle motivated individuals to continue to exclude Iranian Jews from the national ingroup. Like Elham, several individuals perceived Iranian Jews as disloyal members of the national ingroup, implying that their Jewish identity interfered with their loyalty to the national ingroup. According to most individuals' accounts, the root cause of Jewish disloyalty to Iran was their supposed affi and devotion to the State of Israel:

They are a bit of an enemy within Iran, like a hidden enemy because they love Israel and even when you hear them talk about Israel, they will never say they're against it. They might say so but you can tell in their voice [ … ] They will just be very open when they fi get to Israel and forget there's even a country called Iran. They secretly support Israel. It's all very secretive. (Bahman, male, hardliner)

A prevalent social representation among hardliners was that Iranian Jews constituted an “enemy within”. Some individuals perceived Iranian Jews as posing a threat due to their invisibility within Iranian society. Thus, while some enemies could be easily identified and stopped, Iranian Jews were said to be hidden within Iranian society and, thus, more threatening.

Bahman attributed the “disloyalty” of Iranian Jews to their covert “love” of Israel, which he evidenced by referring to their supposed proclivity to avoid overt opposition to Israel. More specifically, he appeared to argue that they paid lip service to the Iranian policy of anti-Zionism but upon close scrutiny “you can tell in their voice” that they were not truly opposed to Zionism. There was a perception among participants that the Jews' stated opposition to Israel was insincere and inauthentic. Given the perceived hybridised threat of anti-Zionism and centrality of this policy to Iranian national identity among hardline participants, they tended to regard the “insincerity” of Jewish anti-Zionism as evidence of their “otherness” and as contributing to the “Zionist threat”.

Like Bahman, several participants noted that the vast majority of Iranian Jews had emigrated to the State of Israel, which they interpreted as a form of treason or disloyalty towards Iran. There was a perception that the remaining Jews in Iran would also soon leave for Israel. Accordingly, Bahman hypothesised that Iranian Jews would manifest their true national loyalty to the State of Israel upon arrival in the country and “forget” Iran, a country to which they allegedly manifested no commitment. Incidentally, it has been demonstrated that Iranian Jews appear to manifest a strong attachment to their Iranian national identity (Jaspal, 2014b). However, there was widespread suspicion among participants that Iranian Jews were covertly supportive of Israel and that, accordingly, they routinely engaged in acts of espionage against Iran, thereby posing a hybridised threat to the Iranian Muslim majority. It is noteworthy that, in addition to construing the Jewish exodus from Iran as evidence of disloyalty and threat, some participants appeared to
express a sense of envy in that they too wished to depart Iran due to the economic conditions in the country, but felt disempowered and helpless.

As alluded to by Bahman, the threat perceived to be associated with Iranian Jews was less conspicuous due to their ability to “blend in”:

The hide their faith and just blend in. They look Iranian, they sound Iranian but they are not really [ … ] I don't really like it when they don't show their religion. (Neda, female, hardliner)

A guy I knew for years at school – his name was [mentions an atypical Persian name] – he had a weird name but we never guessed he is a Jew or anything different from us. He never told us anything. Then one day we hear he's left for Israel and I just thought “What?” He left like he was just waiting for this day. It's like a deceit because you can hide who you are and then when you can, leave us and leave your country [ … ] It made me think about what he thought about Iran maybe. (Shohreh, female, reformist)

There was considerable suspicion surrounding the position and intentions of Jews in Iran. Neda highlighted the alleged ability of Iranian Jews to “just blend in” due to their Iranian appearance and Persian language abilities. It is noteworthy, however, that most Iranian Jews do speak the Persian language as their first language and do not actually speak Hebrew at all (Jaspal, 2014b). However, some individuals' accounts seemed to suggest that their use of the Persian language constituted a deliberate, malicious ploy to “blend in”: “they sound Iranian”. Moreover, she and others implied that, although Iranians “look Iranian”, this too was some form of ploy to give the impression that there are authentic members of the ethno-national ingroup. There was a social representation that Iranian Jews were feigning membership in the Iranian national group, which was underpinned by participants' belief in the national inauthenticity of Iranian Jews.

Several respondents seemed to believe that Iranian Jews deliberately concealed their Jewish ethno-religious heritage in order to gain acceptance and inclusion within Iranian society. Incidentally, this observation served to construct Jewish ethno-religious heritage as a “barrier” to inclusion and acceptance in Iranian society – in short, participants seemed to regard Jewishness as incompatible with Iranian-ness. Iranian Jews were simply not regarded as being authentic members of the ingroup but rather as imposters. It is noteworthy that participants' accounts of Jewish inauthenticity and identity incompatibility echoed Nazi-era social representations of Jews as threatening and invisible imposters who had managed to adopt German customs at a superficial level but who nonetheless remained “foreign” (Herf, 2010).

Like Shohreh, some participants reported feeling misled and, in some cases, betrayed by Iranian Jews who had not disclosed their Jewish ethno-religious heritage. Shohreh recounted her surprise at the discovery that a former school friend was Jewish (rather than Muslim) and that he had emigrated to the State of
Israel. Clearly, what troubled Shohreh was her lack of knowledge about his “true” ethno-religious identity, on the one hand, and his decision to leave Iran for Israel (which many respondents perceived as an enemy state) on the other. Because Jews were generally perceived as posing a threat, there was a sense that ingroup members needed to be aware of Jews and their presence among Muslims in order to identify and halt the threat potentially posed by them. Like other participants in the study, Shohreh believed that her former school friend had deliberately “concealed” his Jewish identity and argued that his subsequent emigration to Israel constituted evidence of his lack of commitment to Iranian national identity, disloyalty and “deceit”. Shohreh implied that Iranian Jews willingly deceived Muslims regarding their ethno-religious heritage in order to lead a “comfortable” life in Iran until the opportunity for departure to Israel arose. It appeared that examples of Iranian Jews leaving Iran for Israel had instilled in the minds of some individuals the social representation that Iranian Jews were inherently disloyal to Iran and therefore unworthy of trust or integration/ acceptance in Iranian society. There was a general perception that they posed a hybridised threat to the Iranian ingroup.

The paradox in participants' accounts concerned the desirability of ethnoreligious self-disclosure among Iranian Jews. Although some individuals were concerned about the concealment of Jewish ethno-religious heritage among Iranian Jews, there was also a sense that Jewish identity should remain suppressed and silenced in order to protect the position of Shiite Islam in Iran:

Sara (female, reformist): There are already quite a few synagogues in Iran and most are secret, I think [ … ] I did see one [ … ] I don't know. I didn't like it much [ … ] The Jewish culture is not an Iranian culture really and it can in a way contaminate the Iranian culture, the Shia culture [ … ] It should be a personal thing at home.

Interviewer: Should this be the case for all other religions? I mean, Christianity, for instance?

Sara: No, Christianity is different, I think. They are not the same as Jews.

Sara was one of several individuals who lamented the visibility of Judaism in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although it was generally acknowledged that Judaism was covertly practiced in Iran, subtle indicators such as “Hebrew writing” on the entrances of small synagogues and “Hebrew singing” in Jewish religious gatherings were nonetheless construed as offensive. The offence lay in the social visibility of Judaism in an officially Shiite Islamic country. Echoing the theme of incompatibility between Iranian-ness and Judaism, Sara argued that because “the Jewish culture is not an Iranian culture” there should be no visible manifestations of Jewish identity. She regarded the manifestation of Jewishness as posing a symbolic threat to both Iran and Shiite Islam given its alleged ability to “contaminate”. This perception was consistent with the long-standing religious representation
that Judaism, among other religions, is “najes” or impure and therefore liable to cause contamination (Shahvar, 2009). Indeed, this representation was voiced by several, particularly hardline, participants in the study. Yet, Sara was quite clear in identifying Judaism and Jews as posing a particular threat of contamination, and excluded Christianity from the threat representation. Rather, Christianity was neutrally perceived as “different”. Most individuals attempted to present themselves as endorsing religious diversity by acknowledging the right of Jews to practice their religion. However, this “right” to religious freedom was modified

– Sara and others argued that Judaism ought to constitute “a personal thing at home”, rather than be manifested in public space. The confinement of Judaism to private space was generally construed as a legitimate means of limiting the ability of Jews to “contaminate” Iranian and Shiite Islamic norms and values, thereby curtailing threats to the continuity principle of identity.

This desire to confine Judaism to the private sphere stemmed from the perception that Jews, due to the alleged commitment to Zionism and to the State of Israel, would spread Zionist propaganda and, thus, pose a symbolic threat to the Islamic Republic. This itself constituted a paradox given that most reformist participants expressed mistrust of the Islamic theocratic system and a desire for political change in Iran:

I don't think the Islamic system is the right political system for Iran. A change would be good because it would make me feel I actually have a stake, a role in my own country [ … ] Jews in Iran want to bring the Islamic Republic to an end really. They were the main supporters of the Shah who was a tyrant. (Behzad, male, reformist)

Iranian leaders are just misleading the people in many ways right now [ … .] The Jewish people desire change. They wish to change our country and make it into something that will benefit them, I think. (Darioush, male, reformist)

I want to see change in this country because I don't trust our leaders at all [ … .] As long as they [the Jews] keep it all discreet it's OK. As long as they don't spread their views and religion and ideology in this country, I mean the Zionist ideology. I prefer things to remain the same here. (Tannaz, female, reformist)

The quotes clearly demonstrate individuals' mistrust of the Iranian government, on the one hand, and their resistance to any political change associated with Iranian Jews (or Zionists), on the other. While individuals seemed to support some form of political change, they were fearful that such change could be instigated by Jews. Reformist participants, in particular, manifested their mistrust of the Islamic theocratic system and perceived their leaders as deliberately attempting to mislead the Iranian people in order to serve their own corrupt interests. This social representation was so powerful that many individuals overtly questioned the adequacy and suitability of Islamic theocracy for Iran. Behzad's account
implied that a change in Iran's political system could enhance feelings of control and agency and perform an empowering function for the Iranian people, thereby bolstering the self-efficacy principle of identity.

Yet, despite their criticisms of the Islamic political system in Iran, these individuals were deeply suspicious of Jews, whom they accused of attempting to disrupt the Islamic political system. It is noteworthy that when Iranian Jews were perceived as instigating such change this was construed as “disruptive” rather than empowering. Behzad anchored Iranian Jews to the “tyranny” of the former Shah of Iran, who was toppled in the Islamic Revolution which led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Thus, the notion that Iranian Jews should wish to “bring the Islamic Republic to an end” was evaluated negatively because it implied that the Jews would also back the Shah's tyranny. Tannaz feared that Jews attempted to “spread their views”, which were implied to be incompatible with dominant thinking among Muslims in Iran, “their religion and ideology”. Thus, there was a perception that Jews, by virtue of their ethno-religious heritage, were necessarily supportive of Zionist ideology and would attempt to disseminate this ideology, potentially destabilising Iran. Given the perceived incompatibility between the norms, values and social representations attributed to Jewishness and those associated with Iranianness, this prospect jeopardised the psychological coherence principle of identity. Moreover, the perceived sense of competition between ingroup and outgroup norms rendered them a symbolic threat to the ingroup.

Interviewees widely argued that, if Iran were to recognise Israel and to reestablish relations with the country, this would be the outcome of Jewish lobbying within Iran. This would appear to be a dire over-estimation of Jewish political influence in Iran, given their near invisibility in the country and the fact that they only return one MP to the 290-seat Iranian parliament. However, like Tannaz, most participants were deeply suspicious of Jews because they over-estimated the level of power and control that they might hold within the Islamic Republic, that is, outgroup efficacy was accentuated vis-à-vis ingroup self-efficacy which was attenuated. Thus, despite the potential positive outcomes of internal political change for self-efficacy among disaffected Iranians, the notion that Iranian Jews might exercise their self-efficacy (in instigating such change) was deemed to be unacceptable. The over-estimation of self-efficacy among Iranian Jews seemed to threaten ingroup self-efficacy (Jaspal, 2013a).

Similarly, Darioush lamented the change that Jews were allegedly attempting to instigate in Iran because he, like other interviewees in the study, perceived the Jews as being foreign to Iran and, thus, their attempt to instigate change as external rather than internal. Ingroup and outgroup boundaries were clearly at play here

– “our” country would be changed by “them”, an outgroup. There was a general desire for continuity, rather than change instigated by Jews. Thus, although political change may well be desirable given the distrust of Iranian leaders, this would only be desirable when initiated from within the country by national ingroup members (i.e. Iranian Muslims).


 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
 
Subjects
Accounting
Business & Finance
Communication
Computer Science
Economics
Education
Engineering
Environment
Geography
Health
History
Language & Literature
Law
Management
Marketing
Mathematics
Political science
Philosophy
Psychology
Religion
Sociology
Travel