what internalized antisemitism looks like

Antisemitism is a 3000-year-old bigotry. It’s a virus that has infected everything in our society and embedded itself into the very structure of our world. It’s present in the languages we speak, the literature we read, and the media we consume. And we all — whether we are Jewish or not — have internalized at least some of it. 

 

BITING YOUR TONGUE 

One of the most pervasive stereotypes about Jewish People is that we are whiny, loud, and “cry antisemitism” (because, after all, we are supposedly too rich and powerful to be oppressed). So it’s no wonder that for many of us, it feels much more comfortable and much safer to bite our tongue when we experience antisemitism. 

But we shouldn’t have to bite our tongue. Antisemitism kills Jewish People and is a pillar of white supremacy. We are well within our right to call antisemitism out when we see it or experience it, no matter where or who it’s coming from. 

 

FEELING UGLY 

Beauty is subjective and antisemitism is a racialized bigotry. 

Antisemitic stereotypes depict Jews with big hooked noses, droopy eyelids, thick curly hair, and hunched backs, among other things. And while it’s true that there is no one way to look Jewish, many of us have internalized the idea that “Jewish features” are inherently unattractive. 

Eurocentric beauty standards are harmful and rooted in white supremacy. There is nothing inherently ugly about Jewishness, whatever it looks like on any given person. 

 

DOWNPLAYING JEWISHNESS 

Jewish identity is complicated and intersectional. It can be religious, cultural, tribal, and/or ancestral. Historically, many Jews have had to downplay all or parts of their identity to assimilate for safety. 

For example, in the late 1800s, Jewish immigrants to the US (who were fleeing antisemitic violence) found the prospect of religious freedom enticing, and therefore presented themselves as a religious group only. Today, many of us choose to dismiss or downplay our roots in order to gain acceptance from the non-Jewish world, particularly among leftist circles, where for some reason our origins are considered controversial. 

Our Jewishness is not just a singular thing. We shouldn’t have to get rid of any of it, because there is nothing wrong with it. Nor is our identity a commentary on anyone else’s. 

 

DISTANCING OURSELVES 

For as long as antisemitism has existed, the antisemitic world has pushed the “good Jew/bad Jew” trope. So-called “good Jews” validate the antisemite’s beliefs. 

For instance, during the period of Nazi Germany, the Association of German National Jews actually supported Nazism, believing that in doing so, they could save themselves (it didn’t work). After WWII, the American Council for Judaism fought to prevent Jewish refugees from immigrating to Mandatory Palestine (even though essentially no other country was taking them) to appease the non-Jewish world. 

Today, many Jews desperately try to prove that they’re the “right kind” of Jew, thus distancing themselves from Jews who are deemed “bad Jews” (for example, claiming you’re not like Orthodox Jews, or that you’re not like Israelis, as if being Orthodox or Israeli is inherently bad). 

 

OVERCOMPENSATING 

This goes hand in hand with distancing ourselves from so-called “bad Jews.”

Feeling the need to constantly prove that we’re “the right kind of Jew” is rooted in internalized antisemitism. We shouldn’t have to lay out all of our values and beliefs on the table every time we meet a stranger before they choose to look at us as fellow human beings. We shouldn’t have to prove that we are good enough for you. We shouldn’t have to forego our safety or right to self-determine for the non-Jewish world to approve of us. And though it might feel safer to do all these things, ultimately we will never dismantle antisemitism this way. 

 

JUDGING OTHER JEWS 

The Jewish People are diverse and far from a monolith. However anyone chooses to engage with their Jewishness is no one else’s business but their own. 

There are ~14.7 million Jewish People in the world with ~14.7 million experiences. Our diaspora spans the entire globe. Our cultures and histories are rich. And they are all valid.

We don’t have to agree with everything another Jewish Person does but our opinion doesn’t erase their Jewishness. The Torah — the origin story of the Jewish People — tells us to “judge your neighbor fairly” [19:16-17]. Later rabbinical writings, such as the Pirke Avot, tell us to “judge everyone favorably.”

The non-Jewish world already dissects our entire peoplehood and identity. We don’t have to do the same to our fellow Jewish siblings. 

 

ALIGNING WITH ANTISEMITES 

The phenomenon of Jewish People aligning themselves with antisemites is nothing new and is a survival mechanism. But having antisemitic friends has never saved us.

The Association of German National Jews, for instance, was not saved from the Holocaust, despite supporting Hitler. 

Today, many Jews have chosen to align themselves with people, movements, or organizations that are virulently anti-Jewish, such as the “alt-right” or BDS (which consistently targets Jews that have nothing to do with Israel).