Psychologists Hope to Combat Antisemitism as an Illness

by Phyllis Chesler

Although I’m a co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969), and a pioneer feminist psychologist, I stopped attending professional meetings a long time ago. There are many reasons why, including an increasingly toxic view of Judaism and Israel by academics who were in no way experts in these subjects. This led to the formation of Jewish Women’s Caucuses within the professions which were often viewed as mimicking or trying to steal the thunder from women of color.

After I published The New Antisemitism in 2003, I received a flurry of emails from professors whose reputations, funding, friendships, even jobs, were in jeopardy given that their views of Israel were too-positive because they were fact-based. I found a New York Times education editor who was interested in interviewing these endangered academics. But within weeks, she told me that she’d “been stopped at the highest levels.”

Many Jewish psychologists, both academics and clinicians, tend to be highly assimilated progressives, often leftists, proudly non-religious, “culturally” Jewish. About 10 years ago, as a favor to two psychoanalyst friends, I delivered a lecture on antisemitism to a large group of New York City analysts. I barely escaped with my dignity intact. The disbelief, anger, accusations, rejection of what they perceived as a too-Zionist point of view, one which almost rendered trendy little me as a dangerous oustjuden, an embarrassing greenhorn, was something amazing to experience.

The American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives did pass a resolution on antisemitic and anti-Jewish prejudice in 2005, and amended it in 2007, which resolved to “encourage research,” “take a leadership role,” and “include appropriate information on antisemitism in its multicultural and diversity training materials and activities.” However, nothing much changed within the ranks.

Despite all their social justice work, most psychologists – professors, therapists, psycho-analysts, etc. rarely noticed something that their colleague, psychologist Neil Kressel, had already documented in 2012, namely, that virulent antisemitism also exists among Muslims; that American text books on prejudice and racism do not include Muslim antisemitism, and for that matter, rarely include antisemitism itself as a form of racism. In 2016 and 2017, Kressel published a series of studies which documented the lack of scholarly anti-racist interest in antisemitism. “There is not a single reference to any of the books published in the last two decades that focuses on recent antisemitism,” he wrote. “In addition, there is not a single reference to antisemitism coming from Muslims, Arabs, or the Muslim world.”

Thus, antisemitism does not seem to exist in the academy, is not important, not even a unique form of prejudice. But false concepts such as “Islamophobia,” peddled by the Muslim Brotherhood and by Hatem Bazian at Berkeley are accepted as divine truth. Anti-Zionism, which today is a current form of antisemitism, is hotly debated and denied as such. The chancellor at Rutgers University just apologized to the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter for condemning antisemitism. The SJP explained to the Rutgers administration that anti-Zionism was core to their identity as Palestinians and as such, condemning it was tantamount to erasing them.

At such a time, we need another kind of academic warrior, one who fights for facts, not narratives. A hero, willing to risk quite a lot for the sake of the truth.

Pushing back

Enter Julie Ancis, a counseling psychologist, a feminist, the past chair of APA’s Section on the Advancement of Women, and a life-long “politically correct” leftist. Ancis has published textbooks about prejudice and racism. She has taught multi-cultural counseling, composed syllabi, and published well-received articles and textbooks on this subject. She is currently the director of Cyber Psychology at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Nevertheless, over the years, she has been swimming against a strong undertow of anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist, and pro-Palestinian propaganda among her psychologist colleagues. No matter what the subject (counseling rape victims of color, best therapeutic techniques with immigrants), the conversation always becomes one about Israeli evil and Palestinian suffering.

In our recent interview, Ancis called it “the politicization of limited knowledge for the purpose of signing on to BDS actions so as to delegitimize Israel. Professionals are mimicking or mirroring antisemitic sentiments with absolutely no knowledge or with complete ignorance on the subject. Their focus as professionals is only on one country – Israel. Most painful is the deafening silence when it comes to antisemitism in all email discussions.”

Asaf Romirowsky, the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, agrees with Ancis.

“We’ve seen the growth of scholar-activists replace scholarship with propaganda,” he told me. “The generations that believe in intellectual integrity, honesty, actual research, and accountability are passing on. You cannot be seen as both progressive and Zionist. We are up against a well-oiled propaganda machine which is monolithic and which allows no debate. We are fragmented. And, the David and Goliath narrative has shifted. Israel is now Goliath.”

Long-sensitive to the concerns of black, brown, and native students, patients, and their therapists, Ancis kept quiet about her own mounting unease with the “oldest hatred.” She is white, female, and Jewish, and this has rapidly made her, and others like her, targets of suspicion.

In 2016, however, Ancis “came out forcefully against” the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel. She wrote to a group of counseling psychologists about their Statement on the Black Lives Matter Movement. She wanted to know whether the psychologists were “endorsing the official platform of BLM.”

“One area of concern is that the platform includes inflammatory language related to Israel as an ‘apartheid’ and genocidal state,” she wrote. “The platform also calls for a fight for Anti-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) bills with the goal of helping Palestinians and fostering ‘free speech’ when in fact BDS is antithesis to both… I respectfully request clarification and ask that we become more critical consumers of information, and that we try not to perpetuate oppression while advocating for justice.”

In her view, that’s when her formerly fashionable anti-racist work began to be “disappeared.” Her studies and textbook were no longer always included in syllabi or in other books.

The illness of hate

Still cautious, patient, fair-minded, not one to poke the hornet’s nest, Ancis bided her time – but no longer. She just put out a call before the Memorial Day weekend for a Coalition of Psychologists Against Antisemitism. Her stated goal was: “1. Combatting antisemitism. 2. Informing the field of psychology about antisemitism. 3. Providing a framework for Jewish affirming training, education, research, and practice.”

Within five days, more than 135 psychologists expressed interest in joining. Ancis said she also received email from “psychologists in a variety of divisions expressing their appreciation and concerns with antisemitism, silence around anti-Jewish hate, and reports of challenging interactions with those who are advocating BDS within the division.”

These psychologists may bring a unique set of skills to the table.

For example, if they jettison partisan politics and politically correct narratives, they may very well help us see antisemitism as an irrational belief or fear, one suffered by the antisemite, not caused by the Jew. They may also employ a valuable expertise in terms of empathic listening—and processing conflict without resorting to jargon or propaganda.

The task at hand is daunting because Israel and the Jews are trying to defend themselves from outrageous lies and slanders.

Israel is allegedly a settler, colonial, imperialistic, Jewish supremacist aggressor; a Nazi apartheid state that perpetrates ethnic cleansing and that has erased the history of the only indigenous people of the region – the Palestinians. Demands to boycott Israeli products and Israeli academics and to shame, harass, and attack Jewish students and professors who refuse to sign on to such genocidal propaganda have been underway for nearly 20 years.

As Israel won war after war in self-defense, Jew haters funded a lethal propaganda campaign, one in which Israel would increasingly find itself totally surrounded by ill-deserved hatred, not only in the Sunni and Shi’a Muslim worlds but also at the United Nations, among celebrity artists, academics, in the media, the internet, and among student social justice activists on campus in the West.

Like so many, I had assumed that the hatred and persecution of the Jews had ended, that Jewish history would never again repeat itself.

I was wrong.

In 1990, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Theodore Isaac Rubin suggested that antisemitism is an illness – a madness – a virus, a plague, infectious, something evil that is not caused by Jews.

We must shed our illusions permanently as we search for the antidote.

First published in IPT.


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