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October 29, 2020



Commentary: Work on antisemitism by US professor reminds us of antigypsyism in the Czech Republic today

22.9.2020 8:08
The Czech edition of Antisemitism:  Here and Now by Deborah E. Lipstadt (2020)
The Czech edition of Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah E. Lipstadt (2020)

"An antisemite is someone who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary," joked Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University who has served as a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in one of her recent lectures. In her 2019 book Antisemitism: Here and Now, the Czech translation of which has been published by Triton this year, we find many associations with our life in the Czech Republic about which we have also written.

Lipstadt analyzes her jocular observation in more detail: "It's funny, but it forces us to reflect. This regretful observation ... gives us a simple, useful tool for identifying bias. Imagine somebody does something that you find inappropriate. You are able to feel, absolutely legitimately, aversion for their actions or attitudes. If, however, you feel that aversion is even a little bit more intense because the person is of Jewish origin, that is antisemitism."

This comment of Lipstadt's and similar ones are important for us not to forget that antisemitism, and racism in general, does not just appear on the websites run by different extremists, but is omnipresent. Here in the Czech Republic, it is the case that Romani people tend to be recognizable at first glance by their skin tone, or sometimes by the way they speak or by having a typical surname - and these distinguishing features are almost always enough for the "feeling of aversion" to begin.

If, God forbid, a Romani person does something that many ethnic Czechs also do - like brawling in a pub, for example - then that feeling of aversion multiplies exponentially. However, if you call that feeling, correctly, antigypsyism, many antigypsyists here will pummel you with their protestations that their aversion is not about antigypsyism, but is about "the truth".

For us, the most valuable observation by Professor Lipstadt is on a subject that news server has covered for some time. That is the idea that an attack on one minority is also an attack on all minorities.

Lipstadt describes this as follows:  "For anybody who appreciates an inclusive, democratic and multicultural society, the very existence of prejudice in any form is already a threat. It logically follows that if Jews become the target of hateful rhetoric and bias, then other minorities also no longer feel safe; it is likely not to end with the Jews. The reverse applies as well: If another minority becomes the target of hate and prejudices, Jews should not feel immune from that; it is likely not to end with those other groups either. Antisemitism abounds in a society that lacks tolerance for others, whether they are migrants or racial or religious minorities. If it becomes the norm to believe that one group in the population is an abomination, it is just a question of time before that hatred is turned against other groups as well."

May this be a lesson to those few Jewish people here who, along with a large part of Czech society, define themselves as against migrants and Romani people. In this country, what was obviously a campaign against Romani people subsided during the so-called crisis of migration - suddenly an "external enemy" appeared, so the "internal enemy" could breathe freely for a moment.

However, the hope that unjustified attacks on Romani people would end and never return was misplaced. The campaign against Romani people is slowly but surely starting up again, just waiting for its first big bang.

Unfortunately, there are many people who need an enemy (external or internal) in order to make sense of their own lives. Lipstadt also describes one more error, and here in the Czech Republic it is also widespread.

Certainly you have all encountered the allegation that if the Roma were just to behave differently (as if they all behaved exactly the same to begin with!) then nobody would have anything against them. We have warned over and over that the actual cause of many ethnic Czechs' feeling of superiority to Roma is not the behavior of Romani people, but antigypsyism and racism.

This inversion of cause and effect is very convenient for racists. Lipstadt sees this clearly when she writes that:  "It is important that you comprehend that antisemitism (but this applies to any bias) exists independently of any behavior by Jewish people. Sometimes it can happen that allegations made against a specific Jewish individual, or against a specific group of Jews, are justified. Some Jewish individuals are indeed obsessed with money, or treat their subordinates badly. Of course, the same can be said of several non-Jews. To allege that if Mr X is obsessed with money 'he understandably must be Jewish, isn't that the truth?' is antisemitic. Antisemitism is not about begrudging people who happen to be Jewish. It is hatred toward Jews because they are Jews."

The same applies, understandably, to hatred toward Romani people in the Czech Republic. Professor Lipstadat also analyzes other phenomena with which we, too, are familiar, for example, the influence of the Internet on public opinion.

We, too, have covered the Internet and its negative feature, the social media networks that make it easy for extremist opinions which were once on the fringes to now come center stage and influence public opinion much more than before. Lipstadt also examines in the book whether antisemitism is a left or a right-wing matter.

After discussing the examples of the British leader of the left, Jeremy Corbyn, and the right-wing Trump in the USA, Lipstadt comes to the conclusion that antisemitism and support for it are not associated with any particular place on the political spectrum. I highly recommend reading this book, not just because of everything described above, but because the entire work is very instructive and interesting.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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