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Home arrow Sociology arrow Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism Representation


This chapter highlights the diverse conceptualisations of Jewish identity among British Jews, which appear to differ in accordance with one's orientation as Orthodox, secular or anti-Zionist. While Orthodox Jews conceptualised their Jewishness in religio-spiritual terms, secular Jews construed their Jewish identity in ethno-cultural terms. The self-identifi anti-Zionist Jews manifested a more ambivalent relationship to their Jewishness – they all acknowledged Jewish “origins” but perceived this identity in different ways. Some of them manifested a close attachment to their Jewish identity in religio-spiritual terms, but delineated this unequivocally from Zionism, while others viewed their Jewishness as a nominal identity of little phenomenological importance.

Secular and Orthodox Jews acknowledged the threat of antisemitism and antiZionism but, like the Israeli Jews whose accounts were described in Chapter 9, they construed these forms of prejudice as a fundamentally Muslim, rather than European, phenomenon. While the Orthodox viewed antisemitism as more threatening than anti-Zionism, both had a negative effect upon them because of the centrality of Jewish spirituality and the symbolic importance appended to Israel, as the Jewish State. Conversely, secular Jews regarded anti-Zionism as more threatening for identity, because the destruction of Israel was perceived as debilitating for the
Jewish people, regardless of how they construed their Jewishness. In particular, antiZionism was regarded as challenging the self-effi and continuity principles of identity. The self-identifi anti-Zionist Jews who participated in this study appeared to make strategic rhetorical use of their Jewish identity in order to challenge Zionism without facing accusations of antisemitism. Indeed, their Jewish origins provided a “safe position” for the manifestation of anti-Zionism.

In explaining the origins of their anti-Zionism, it is useful to invoke tenets of Identity Process Theory – individuals appeared to derive feelings of positive distinctiveness on the basis of their anti-Zionist position, given the widespread stigma appended to Zionism and to the State of Israel in the West. Moreover, there was some evidence that negative emotions, such as guilt, and the desire for supporting “human rights” induced an anti-Zionist stance. Crucially, individuals felt that anti-Zionism was consistent with their left-wing political orientation, which was a “core” identity for many anti-Zionist Jews. This safeguarded the psychological coherence principle of identity. Thus, anti-Zionism may be considered an identityenhancing strategy. Similarly, secular and Orthodox individuals attempted to cope with the threat of antisemitism and anti-Zionism by engaging in various coping strategies. Some attenuated the public manifestation of their Zionist identity and confi this identity to private spheres, which allowed them to avoid encountering antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the public sphere. A similar strategy manifested by respondents included the passing strategy, as discussed in Chapter 9, whereby individuals denied their Jewish origins in order to safeguard a positive identity. Participants reported compartmentalising their Jewish and Zionist identities in order to shield their Jewish identity from the stigma that they believed to be associated with Zionism. A long-term strategy manifested by many secular participants, in particular, was their decision to join and actively participate in pro-Israel pressure groups, which provided a “safe” social and psychological space for manifesting their Zionist identity and an attachment to the State of Israel. This allowed them to re-construe the meanings of their identity in positive ways and to de-construct the social stigma appended to Zionism and Israel. Although antisemitism and antiZionism was clearly threatening for many of the British Jews who participated in this study, there is no doubt that many of them had developed creative and resilient strategies for curtailing the negative social and psychological effects of these forms of prejudice.

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