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Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism: Representation, Cognition and Everyday Talk

This book explores antisemitism, the age-old prejudice, and anti-Zionism, which has been described as a “new antisemitism” (Chesler, 2003; Fischel, 2005), through the analysis of representation, cognition and discourse. The research summarised in this book approaches antisemitism and anti-Zionism from a multifaceted perspective, examining these forms of prejudice in two specific case studies (Iranian Muslims and British Pakistani Muslims) and the responses to these forms of prejudice among Israeli Jews and British Jews. This book marries social psychological theories of representation, cognition and everyday talk in order to provide a complex and fine-grained qualitative account of antisemitism and anti-Zionism among the specific groups that are explored.

This book has three inter-related goals, namely to understand representations

and cognitions about Jews and the State of Israel and how these categories feature
in people's everyday talk. This is important because it links three important levels of antisemitism and anti-Zionism that have rarely been examined in unison. Much of the existing work on antisemitism tends to be more descriptive than theoretically-oriented (e.g. Chesler, 2003; Fischel, 2005; Wistrich, 1991, 2010) and few are social psychological in focus (though see Cohen, 2009; Cohen et al., 2011). This book constitutes an attempt to redress this imbalance.

There is some research into the distinct ways in which Jews and Israel have been represented in visual art, literature, newspaper media and in others channels of societal information (Lindemann and Levy, 2010a; Wistrich, 1999b). However, the ways in which these categories are anchored to societal phenomena and how they come to represent “tangible” realities are less obvious. The examination of social representations is important because when these representations become politicised and institutionalised, as they are in Iran, for instance, it is likely that laypeople will begin to accept them and potentially act upon them (Baum, 2009b). Similarly, some of the psychological research in the area of antisemitism and, more recently, in the domain of anti-Zionism have outlined specific psychological processes in a linear manner without taking into consideration the important role of social stimuli, such as the social representations, and the pivotal role of social context (e.g. Cohen et al., 2011).

Cognitive accounts of antisemitism and anti-Zionism have considered various facets, many of which are summarised in the next two chapters. However, these forms of prejudice have never been considered in the context of identity processes, namely the processes that underlie the construction of a positive sense of self. This is fundamentally a social cognitive process because it functions principally at the level of thought albeit through interaction with the social world (Jaspal and Breakwell, 2014). Through the lens of Identity Process Theory and other theories from social psychology (see Chapter 4, this volume), this book examines the motivational principles underlying identity construction in order to understand how and why people may manifest antisemitic and anti-Zionist prejudice and how and why people may respond to it in the ways in which they do. This is consistent with emerging research into identity processes and intergroup relations (Jaspal and Yampolsky, 2011; Oren and Bar-Tal, 2014).

The social cognitiveapproach often ignores or overlooks the fact thatcomplexity, fluidity and, in some cases, contradictions characterise our cognition and everyday discourse. People may manifest views which appear to be contradictory or difficult to decipher unequivocally, perhaps because they are shielded or camouflaged by discursive and rhetorical devices (Potter and Wetherell, 1987). For instance, are individuals, who claim that they are “not racist” but who proceed to make comments that may plausibly be described as racist, racist or not? Often, language is constructed in ways that will shield the individual from stigma and rebuke from others – prejudicial assertions made be offered in ways that appear to be less prejudicial than they are. In addition to exploring representation and cognition, it is important to examine closely the discourse employed by individuals. This can help us to understand the content of their accounts, on the one hand, and how
processes of self-presentation may shape their accounts, on the other. A project that ambitiously aims to examine how representation, cognition and everyday talk relate to one another in the context of antisemitism and anti-Zionism requires an equally ambitious, complex and integrative theoretical approach. This book offers such an approach.

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