Coping with Antisemitism: Re-Establishing Belonging and Self-Esteem

Israeli Jews are acutely aware of the fundamentally anti-Zionist stance of most Middle Eastern nations. It has been argued that the perception of outgroup hostility, in the forms of both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, can be threatening for identity in a multitude of ways. Individuals in the study exhibited strategies for regaining feelings of belonging and self-esteem, which appeared to be most susceptible to threat.

The perception that Jews and the Jewish State were ostracised by its neighbours resulted in a threatened sense of belonging, partly because of the aforementioned psychological need for both individuals and groups to seek acceptance and inclusion from relevant others and outgroups, respectively (Baumeister and Leary, 1995; Jaspal, 2013a). Accordingly, it appeared that participants re-oriented the national group towards Europe, as an alternative source of belonging:

Europe, like English people, they are not against Israel but I think they are in a difficult situation where they have lots of Muslims or Arabs in their country and they have to listen to them, their concerns. (David, male)

The Arabs hate us, they think we are inferior to them [ … ] they are never going to accept us, ever. We have to accept this and move on. Even the Jordanians who are supposed to be our friends display those signs [ … ] The politicians may care, I don't [ … ] Our system, our mentality, it's more European, it's Middle Eastern, European. (Dudi, male)

As outlined earlier, several individuals in the study argued that Europeans were not inherently anti-Zionist but that they been led into a “difficult situation” due to sizeable Muslim minorities in their countries. David attributed anti-Zionism in Europe to “pressure” from Muslims and Arabs who voiced their “concerns” regarding Israel and Jews. Interviewees believed that Britain and other European nations were a “soft touch” in relation to Muslim and Arab immigrants who,
conversely, exploited the soft touch approach of their host societies to spread antiZionism. Thus, anti-Zionism and antisemitism were distanced from Europeans and attributed to the Muslim outgroup, which was consistent with the threat representation that had developed in relation to Muslims.

Dudi and others appeared to resign themselves to the social representation that Arabs and Muslims would never fully accept the State of Israel due to perceived antisemitism. Dudi exemplified this notion by observing that Jordan, a country with which Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994, continued to be antisemitic, despite this official peace treaty. Participants essentialised Arabs and Muslims as inherently antisemitic and genuinely believed that there was little scope for changing attitudes among these hostile outgroups. Like Dudi, several individuals reported indifference to the perceived antisemitism of their Arab and Muslim neighbours. They coped with perceived antisemitism by positioning their ingroup within the political context of Europe, rather than the Middle East. Dudi argued that Europe was a more suitable “fit” for Israel due to a perceived similarity in political system and “mentality”. Moreover, individuals in the study did not generally perceive European to be antisemitic. The re-positioning of the Israeli ethno-national ingroup in the superordinate category European was a common strategy for demonstrating indifference to the exclusion of Israel by its Middle Eastern neighbours, thereby diminishing the threat to belonging. Thus, the positioning of Israel in the European superordinate category appeared to provide feelings of belonging, which compensated for threats to belonging due to the exclusion of Israel by Middle Eastern countries. However, it is recalled that participants also lamented the external categorisation by outgroups as European when Israelis were accused of colonialism in Arab territory. This demonstrated the agency and flexibility of self-categorisation in order to optimise identity processes and to protect identity from threat (Breakwell, 1986, 2010).

It appeared that some participants felt that recent acts of antisemitism had further united Jews in their struggle against outgroup hostility. This too provided a sense of “one-ness” and belonging:

I never thought about Jews living in Europe or in America, because home has always been Kiryat Gat [ … ] You know, it's a small town [ … ] Hearing about the anti-Jewish shootings in France, that made things change [ … ] I feel that they are going through what we are here [ … ] I felt that we can be stronger than them [antisemites]. (Daphna, female)

Daphna reflected on her reaction to the news of the aforementioned shooting at the Jewish day school in Toulouse. While she had not previously felt much solidarity with diaspora Jews given that her sole focus had been the town in which she had grown up, Daphna reported feeling increased solidarity with diaspora Jews following the shooting. More specifically, this sensitised her to the notion that Jews outside of Israel were facing similar challenges to Israeli Jews, such as terrorism, attacks and killings purely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity. Moreover,
there was an emerging social representation among individuals that diaspora Jews were more susceptible to the threat of antisemitism because they lived outside of the State of Israel, a perceived safe haven for Jews. Participants highlighted the increased solidarity and empowerment which they felt in response to attacks against Jews. There was a perception that, collectively, Israeli and diaspora Jews could collectively mitigate the threat of antisemitism and terrorism. This reiterated the group mobilisation strategy for coping with threat, as described by Identity Process Theory.

As alluded to in earlier sections of this chapter, a common strategy for deflecting identity threat associated with outgroup hostility was for Israeli Jews to challenge the legitimacy of outgroups' social representations concerning Jews and the State of Israel:

Who are they to tell us we are guilty of oppressing the Palestinians? They kill their own people. They don't even allow their people to vote. Iran is a very dark place, it's a place of darkness. (Nora, female)

Muslims may say that we commit a genocide and when they do all I say is “look within yourselves fi You kill each other in the name of religion, you kill men, women and children, so you are nobody to judge the State of Israel. (Ron, male)

Individuals greatly lamented outgroup criticism from Muslims, which they perceived as hypocritical. Nora rejected the polemic social representation that Israelis oppress the Palestinian people by challenging the legitimacy of the perceived disseminator of this social representation, namely the Islamic Republic of Iran. As noted throughout this book, the Iranian government has been a vocal critic of the Israeli government's treatment of the Palestinians (Jaspal, 2013a). More specifi , Nora challenged the credibility of the Islamic Republic by drawing attention to the social representation that the Iranian authorities “kill their own people” and “don't allow their people to vote”. This served to construct the policies and behaviours of the Islamic Republic as even more offensive than the accusations levelled against the State of Israel. Furthermore, by describing Iran as “a place of darkness”, Nora imbued Iran with imagery of evil and oppression, thereby de-authorising the Iranian government from making such accusations against Israel.

Similarly, Ron challenged the polemic social representation that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people by challenging the credibility of the perceived disseminator of this representation, namely Muslims, and thus the legitimacy of the representation itself. Ron invoked the notion that Muslims “kill each other in the name of religion” and that this killing is indiscriminate. He drew upon the social representation (hegemonic in the Israeli Jewish context) that militant organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah kill people indiscriminately and even utilise their own people as “human shields” in order to forward their religious and political agenda (Bar-Tal and Labin, 2001). This too served to de-
authorise Muslims, who were homogenised as perpetrators of violence, from making threatening accusations against the State of Israel.

Although most individuals appeared to be resilient in face of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, a contextually sensitive examination of participants' accounts indicated that individuals sometimes utilised interpersonal strategies for deflecting identity threat associated with outgroup hostility. Interviewees appeared to engage in a synthesis of “passing” and shifting between relevant group memberships in order to obscure their Jewish Israeli identities:

Sometimes I don't tell people straight away that I'm Jewish, an Israeli [ … ] I just think sometimes it's best not to say that so all these stereotypes just come rushing to their head. It's best not to because it doesn't feel good. (Dudi, male)

We were getting on well, I was having a good time, but I was dreading the question “where are you from?” I just told them my race, I'm a Persian and didn't say more. Not that I'm a Persian Jew [ … ] I just thought it's easier to avoid the topic, a pretty big topic though. (Gili, female)

I'm Israeli and I'm French [ … ] If I have to talk to a Muslim while I'm in Europe, I'm French. If I'm in England with English guys then I can be Israeli [ … ] I hate the, the break, the break in our relationship. It makes me feel bad. (Adam, male)

Several participants in the study indicated that they sometimes concealed their Jewish and Israeli identities in order to avert confrontations with potential antiZionists, which could induce identity threat. In refl upon interactions with Muslims in Europe, Dudi reported concealing his Jewish ethno-religious and Israeli national identities because he believed that by mentioning them he could evoke negative “stereotypes” and thus jeopardise emerging relationships with people in this context. Having experienced a rupture in interpersonal relations upon disclosure of his Jewish Israel identity, Dudi reported that this threatened his self-esteem: “it doesn't feel good”. Similarly, Adam reported that the disclosure of his Jewish Israel identity could cause a “break in our relationship”, which suggested that both the continuity and self-esteem principles were susceptible to threat.

While Dudi reported concealing his Jewish Israeli identity as a strategy for averting threat, some participants reportedly employed more creative strategies such as feigning membership in other social categories or shifting between their ethno-national group memberships. For instance, Gili strategically invoked her Persian Jewish ethnic heritage in order to avoid having to disclose her Israeli national identity to outgroup members. Given her Persian Jewish heritage, her Persian appearance and knowledge of the Persian language, she felt able to “pass” as an Iranian and thereby safeguard her relationship with her interlocutor. Moreover, due to the association of Muslim identity with Iranian identity, Muslim identity would be assumed. As Breakwell (1986, p. 116) has observed, “[p]assing normally refers to the process of gaining access to a group or social category [ …
] by camouflaging one's group origins”. Indeed, Gili and others did camouflage their Jewish Israeli identity in order to avoid identity threat. Adam strategically shifted between his identities and attenuated his Jewish Israeli identity in favour of his French citizenship in order to protect identity in an interaction with a Muslim person, whom he suspected of opposing Israel.

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism clearly posed threats to identity, which in turn induced a multitude of coping strategies. These strategies varied in their level of long-term efficacy – some were clearly short-term strategies designed to protect identity in transient everyday encounters with outgroup members (e.g. passing), while others were intended to encourage some form of social change which would result in favourable social and psychological conditions for Israelis, such as group mobilisation. Yet, all of the strategies shared the same goal – to protect identity processes from threats associated with perceived antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

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