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Joining pressure groups for defending Israel/Zionism

While those Jews who clearly valued a sense of belonging in the national group favoured defl and interpersonal strategies in order to maintain feelings and acceptance and inclusion in Britain, some secular individuals in the study engaged in a group-level strategy for defending their attachment to Israel and for defending identity from threat. They derived positive social and psychological outcomes from participating in a pro-Zionist pressure group:

Joining StandWithUs1 [a non-profi pro-Israel education and advocacy organisation and pressure group] really did wonders for me. For a while, I was just thinking: who am I? What does Israel mean to me as a Jew? How can I deal with what other people are saying, you know, most people who are opposed to the Jewish homeland? How do I make a real change to Jews? [ … ] These were all things that really got to me and got me thinking about my future and with StandWithUs I feel the future of Israel is secure. (Rebecca, secular)

The group-level strategy of group mobilisation and participation in pressure groups enabled some individuals to combat the threats that antisemitism and anti-Zionism posed to identity. Rebecca highlighted that her awareness of anti-Zionism had raised questions surrounding her identity as a Jew and how she ought to respond to antiZionism from non-Jews. It appeared that anti-Zionism had induced uncertainty visà-vis her Jewish and Zionist identities because of the increasing stigma surrounding these group memberships in British society. Her participation in StandWithUs appeared to perform positive functions for her identity. It reduced the uncertainty

1  StandWithUs UK standwithus.co.il/uk-3/. that had been induced by anti-Zionism by providing responses to the questions that anti-Zionism had raised for her identity. More specifi , StandWithUs appeared to bolster the self-effi and continuity principles of identity, because the actions of the group induced feelings of security concerning Israel's future, providing both a sense of ingroup control and competence but also a psychological thread between present and future. Furthermore, given that anti-Zionism was perceived as indirectly threatening the security of Israel, an important component of identity for many individuals (Bar-Tal, 2000), participation in the pro-Israel pressure group reestablished feelings of security.

Attachment to the State of Israel had jeopardised individuals' sense of inclusion and acceptance, thereby posing threats to the belonging principle of identity. For these individuals, membership in a pro-Israel pressure group could mitigate the threat to belonging:

You know, I was quite a committed socialist but I just feel totally thrown out of the party because they just went on and on about Israel and as a Jewish person the reality is I do support Israel as a Jewish homeland, just like many other states were created for Muslims or for Christians and here we have the one and only Jewish state [ … ] So the Socialist Party wasn't for me because I was not for them, as a supporter of Israel. (Keiran, secular)

Participants pointed to their various social group memberships, such as their Jewish ethno-religious and political group memberships. There was a perception among some individuals that they had been ostracised from particular social groups due to outgroup hostility to either their Jewish or Zionist identities. For instance, Keiran reported feeling excluded from socialist political circles because of his attachment to Israel, which he believed to be natural “as a Jewish person”. More specifi , he believed that this social representation was central to his Jewish identity but clearly incompatible with the socialist political organisation of which he was a “committed” member. It appeared that his ethno-religious and political identities were represented by other members of his political circle as being incompatible, which had negative outcomes for Keiran's sense of psychological coherence. Crucially, this perception of incoherence was rendered salient by other people; it did not originate from a psychological level (see Jaspal, 2011b for a discussion of how relevant others can induce a perception that one's identities are not compatible). Thus, Keiran came to believe that, “as a supporter of Israel”, a stance which he believed to be central to his Jewish identity, he would not be accepted by and included in the Socialist Party, which led to his departure from the group. Clearly, his Jewish and Zionist identities featured more prominently in his self-concept, which induced the need to take a stance on the incompatibilities between his ethno-religious and political identities. Like several other participants, Keiran came to derive feelings of acceptance and inclusion from alternative group memberships, namely the Jewish community and a pro-Israel organisation that he subsequently joined. This curbed the threats to
belonging induced by his exclusion from the Socialist Party, clearly an important

group membership on the basis of his political identity.

Through their participation in pro-Israel pressure groups, some individuals appeared to develop creative intrapsychic strategies for averting identity threat, such as re-considering the characteristics associated with the categories Israel and Zionism:

When sceptics talk about Israel, they just seem to think that Israelis just break international rules and oppress Palestinians and wage war and what have you. I like to remember that Israel is a leader in technology, charity, supporting other countries. It is winning the battle on cancer. It makes enormous contributions to science and technology. This is something I'm proud of, as a Jew and as a British person. (Adam, secular)

Zionism has given us voice and power to do great things. Jews are a very brainy

people. We have made great strides in science for example. (Jim, secular)

While interviewees were acutely aware of negative social representations of Israel as a belligerent “rogue state” that ignored international norms and oppressed the Palestinian people, most secular and Orthodox individuals either attenuated or rejected these representations in favour of more positive ones. Adam, for instance, attributed these social representations to “sceptics”, and constructed them as the product of anti-Zionist stakeholders with a particular agenda. This served to discredit these social representations, thereby attenuating their importance for meaning-making vis-à-vis Israel. Conversely, Adam accentuated positive social representations of Israel as “a leader in technology, charity, [and] supporting other countries” and made observations regarding Israel's “enormous contributions” to health, science and technology and particularly the fi of cancer research. Moreover, Jim re-conceptualised Zionism as an ideology which had facilitated “great strides in science” through the political autonomy and agency that it gave Jews, “a very brainy people”. He attenuated the negative representations of Zionism by highlighting its positive side which he believed had resulted in benefi for humankind.

As Adam's account demonstrated, Israel's leadership role provided some individuals with feelings of pride and a positive self-conception “as a Jew and as a British person”. More specifi , as a Jew, Adam felt able to lay claim to the achievements and accomplishments of the State of Israel because of the perceived connection and inseparability of Israel and Judaism. Moreover, there was a perception that Britishness naturally valued charity, public health and science and technology, which in turn contributed to a positive social representation of Israel from the perspective of Britishness. On the one hand, this established linkage between British and Zionist identities and, on the other, it embellished social imagery of Israel, facilitating its assimilation-accommodation and positive evaluation as a component of identity. Crucially, individuals provided positive accounts of their involvement in pro-Israel pressure groups because they believed that these group contexts exposed them to alternative, more positive social representations of Israel and Zionism, to
which they felt they had no access due to a perceived media and political bias against Israel. Given that Israel constituted an important component of identity, participants naturally sought positive representations of this identity element and distanced themselves from negative representations.

Having acquired awareness of positive social representations of Israel and Zionism, many individuals deemed it necessary to disseminate these positive social representations beyond the confi of their pressure group and to challenge alternative, more negative social representations of Israel, which they believed to permeate British society (Wistrich, 2011):

It's my duty as a Jew and a Zionist to show the world the truth about Israel and I wish to crush the Islamist, leftist propaganda that demonises the Jewish State. Our work does this and we are making big and good changes in the world, I think [ … ] The Muslim community is hard to infl but slowly we are showing people that we won't just sit back and watch blatant antisemitism grow. (Michael, secular)

Since I joined [the pressure group], I can honestly say that I've never felt downgraded or delegitimised or whatever you want to call it [ … ] It's made me realise that we know and that's what matters and we can support one another [ … ] We all know that our group and our activities are having a good, strong impact on society and on society's, I guess, perspective on Israel [ … ] I'm really proud of this campaign and I feel good about it and of course proud of us and our work. (Vicky, secular)

As outlined earlier in this chapter and in Chapter 9, Israel was widely perceived as a Jewish safe haven and as a context in which Jews could safely and openly manifest their Jewish identities, amid uncertainty about the position and safety of Jews in the world. Dismayed by the perceived coerciveness of anti-Zionism in the world, Michael regarded the pro-Israel pressure group, of which he was a member, as enabling him to “show the world the truth about Israel”. This clearly performed an empowering function for individuals in the study, and benefi the self-effi principle of identity. Michael felt able to fulfi his “duty as a Jewish man and a Zionist”, two important components of his identity.

Like Michael, several respondents interpreted anti-Zionism as an intergroup struggle between Jews and hostile outgroups, such as Islamists and left-wing political groups. Michael's membership in a pro-Israel pressure group enabled him to challenge anti-Zionist outgroups and their “demonising” social representations of Israel. Moreover, this membership enabled him to implement what he construed as necessary social change. Even in face of the apparent futility of attempting to change negative social representations of Jews and Israel (among the Muslim community, for instance), Michael felt that he was doing something to mitigate anti-Zionism by retaining active membership in the pro-Israel pressure group. Participants viewed pro-Israel group mobilisation as contributing positively to the mitigation of antiZionism and antisemitism, which were collectively threatening for identity. Participation in pressure groups was intended to improve social representations of Israel, an important component of identity, and thereby bolster the self-esteem principle of identity. Individuals derived a positive self-conception on the basis of their pressure group membership, as exemplifi by Vicky's account. Moreover, her group membership essentially shielded her from the negative social representations disseminated by hostile outgroups, which might habitually lead to decreased selfesteem. It is noteworthy that the secular and Orthodox participants in this study did identify strongly with their Jewishness and the State of Israel and, thus, antisemitism and anti-Zionism were construed as threatening for self-esteem. For Vicky, her pressure group membership facilitated a re-focusing upon the mutual support that members could provide to one another, rather than the negative social representations disseminated by outgroups. Vicky derived pride and self-esteem from the knowledge that their group activities were performing positive functions for their Jewish and Zionist identities. This perception was echoed in Michael's account. Thus, the ingroup's “campaign” to improve social representations of Israel constituted an important source of self-esteem for Vicky and others, suggesting that their pressure group membership protected them from threat.

It is noteworthy that, through participation in pro-Israel pressure groups, some individuals regarded the challenging of anti-Zionism as their “duty” as Jews, that is, as an act that was central to their identity as Jews. It appeared that the link between Jewishness and Israel had been reiterated within the context of pro-Israel pressure groups, as individuals widely reported having been further sensitised to this link during their participation in the group. For many respondents, the link between Jewishness and Israel was construed as natural, given the ethno-religious underpinnings of the establishment of the State of Israel. However, they believed that dominant social representations of Israel in British society had caused a weakening of the perceived link between Jewishness and Israel. This could be attributed to the trepidation of some individuals at the notion of acknowledging their Zionist identities in British society. Yet, participation in pro-Israel pressure groups empowered some individuals to challenge negative social representations of Israel, not by attenuating their importance as suggested by the accounts of Adam and Jim, but by actively and forcefully challenging the authority of anti-Zionists to criticise the State of Israel.

I've come to deal with this because I just think to myself “how dare you criticize Israel?” when you endorse horrendous things yourself? It is incredible as far as I'm concerned. What would you know about peace and freedom? (Catherine, secular)

We are one and we know that we must stand together when we are faced with antisemitism [ … ] Together we know the Torah, we know Scripture. What antisemites say is not so important to us in that we do, we can see through their lies [ … ] We come together when need be. (Aaron, Orthodox)

Both membership in pressure groups (as was the case for many secular informants) and close affiliation to religious circles (as was the case for Orthodox Jews in
the study) enabled some individuals to reject and counteract negative social representations disseminated by hostile outgroups (Breakwell, 2001). Catherine described how her strong and cohesive Jewish identity and her involvement in her local synagogue had provided her with feelings of solidarity with other Jews, allowing her to challenge the authority and legitimacy of outgroups who disseminate anti-Zionist and antisemitic social representations. Similarly, Aaron focused on the sense of solidarity which he felt enabled Jews to challenge the legitimacy and validity of antisemitism (“we can see through their lies”). Individuals felt able to immerse themselves in scripture which provided a buffer against antisemitism, depriving it of its power to threaten identity.

The threats to self-esteem, belonging and continuity associated with negative social representations were defl through the process of rejecting the social representations themselves. Catherine questioned the legitimacy of the assertions of anti-Zionists by arguing that Muslim anti-Zionists had no right to criticise the State of Israel given the human rights records of Muslim countries. This essentially de-authorised Muslim anti-Zionists from criticising Israel's stance on “peace and freedom”, since they themselves allegedly had no experience in this domain. The outright rejection of dominant social representations echoes the interpersonal strategy of negativism, which refers to “the state of mind which one is in when one feels a desire or a compulsion to act against the requirements or pressure from some external source” (Apter, 1983, p. 79). In short, individuals were able to protect their identity by counteracting such “pressures” from hostile external sources.

 
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