The Dark Secret of Jew-hatred: Pleasure

David Suissa

David Suissa

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 its convenient scapegoats. Whatever one hates at any point in time, just blame the Jews.

“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,” Rabbi David Wolpe wrote recently in The Harvard Crimson.

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. Understanding helps us cope.

Something has changed, however, since Oct. 7. The primal seems to have overtaken the cognitive. We’ve rarely seen such hysterics. Whether on campuses or city streets, the haters have gone bonkers 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 writes: “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 pleasure of tradition, Garrard writes: “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 familiar and ancient tradition gives Jew hatred a sense of legitimacy, so the hater is free to protest without reservation.

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

Is it plausible, then, that Jew-hatred would bring such pleasure to the haters? My eyes and my gut tell me yes.

The anti-Israel protesters we’re seeing on college campuses and major cities may be enraged, but they’re not sad or unhappy. Indeed, there’s a kind of thrill in the air; a crowd-driven exhilaration in the service of going bonkers against the world’s most condemned country.

No matter how self-righteous and justice-seeking the protesters appear, like every human, they have a pleasure gene. They’re more likely to yell for hours if they get a dopamine hit in return. Behind the screams and the fury, the experience itself must feel good for them to keep showing up.

So, if Jew hatred is a source of pleasure, what does this mean for our fight to end Jew hatred? For starters, it means being more realistic. Pleasure is a tough nut to crack. No amount of education or condemnation can overcome visceral satisfaction.

To be sure, the fight 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.

But let’s not waste time hoping haters will stop hating. Their anger is hard-wired; it feels too good. Most importantly, let’s remember that Jew-haters are in the minority. The silent majority of Americans, as the latest polls show, see Jews favorably. Let’s find them and engage them and make them our allies.

As we continue the fight, that is the group that ought to give us strength and hope — the fellow Americans who find pleasure in liking Jews.

David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal.


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