The Cold-War Origins of Contemporary Anti-Semitic Terminology

, May 2, 2004

No. 517   May 2004

  • Several important manifestations of anti-Semitism originate in the ideology and political culture of the former Soviet Union, whose legacy has survived its demise. A special type of political language which it devised has served as the bridge which links the earlier Soviet-styled anti-Semitism to that of the present.

  • By defining the terminology of political discourse about Israel and the Jewish people in general, the Soviets set in place the cultural foundations for a new type of political anti-Semitism that has penetrated mainstream culture.

  • In 1907, Lenin explained his use of language as a weapon: “The wording is calculated to provoke in the reader, hatred, disgust, contempt. The phrasing must be calculated not to convince but to destroy, not to correct the adversary’s mistake, but to annihilate his organization and wipe it off the face of the earth.

  • Certain basic terms have penetrated the popular mainstream idiom and have made a profound impression upon largely uncritical mass audiences. They include racism, fascism, genocide, occupation, peace camp, and their permutations.

  • Political anti-Semitism offers common ground to such disparate groups as militant Islamists, leftists, members of the European right with a compromised past, not to mention some who never have met a Jew.

  • In this environment, Israel must wage a just war of defense. It must respond to the challenge of language conditioning and prevent others from defining its reality through the use of ideologically embedded language.

 

Definition of the Problem and its Historical Context

Anti-Semitism in recent historical memory has generally been associated with the European ultra-nationalist movements which did not accept Jews as equal citizens or recognize them as belonging to their respective nations. Notably, Nazi Germany combined anti-Semitism with a racist totalitarian ideology and implemented a plan which resulted in the destruction of European Jewry. Today the present surge in anti-Semitism comes from the other end of the political spectrum. Its contemporar

Joel Fishman

Dr. Joel Fishman is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs.  He served as the assistant editor of volumes X (July 1920-December 1921) and XI (January 1922-July 1923) of The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1977).