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Gaslighting the Jewish people

After thousands of years of facing hate, Jews are more than qualified for recognizing and defining antisemitism.

A scene from the 1944 film "Gaslight." Source: Public domain/Wikimedia.
A scene from the 1944 film "Gaslight." Source: Public domain/Wikimedia.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

After 2,000 years of antisemitic persecution, one would think that no one—especially Jews—would deny the existence of antisemitism.

Unfortunately, there are those, even Jews, who do precisely this. Their refusal to recognize blatant antisemitism is shocking, but it becomes heinous when they don’t just deny antisemitism, but gaslight those who do.

“Gaslighting” is the practice of undermining a person’s sense of reality. Gaslighting Jewish people in regard to antisemitism involves taking obviously antisemitic events, incidents or policies and telling Jews there was no antisemitism involved.

This is a particularly horrible act of abuse. Instead of supporting the abused, gaslighters reverse the accusation and blame the victim for “crying wolf” and demonizing their abuser.

Worse still, gaslighting Jews allows antisemites to continue victimizing the Jewish community and even emboldens them to intensify their acts of hatred. It puts more Jews in danger.

Denying blatant antisemitism is not only dangerous in regard to individual acts of hate. It is just as harmful when the hate is directed against Zionism and the State of Israel.

No country is as unfairly demonized as the Jewish state. It is imperative to characterize this demonization of Israel for what it is—antisemitism. Legitimate criticism of Israel is perfectly acceptable and should be encouraged, but slander and defamation is a very different thing, and must be confronted.

Today, one of the most common slanders of Israel is that Israel practices apartheid against the Palestinians.

For decades, this accusation was confined to Palestinian apologists and blatant antisemites. Recently, however, Amnesty International repeated the claim, normalizing it in spaces where it had previously been ignored.

The Zionist community took deep offense at this slander and accused Amnesty International of antisemitism. Almost immediately, anti-Zionist Jews began gaslighting Zionists for doing so. They claimed Amnesty’s accusation was legitimate criticism and not an antisemitic attack. This defense of Amnesty emboldened other antisemites to repeat and spread the accusation.

The most widespread form of gaslighting is the anti-Zionist world’s attacks on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

The definition, which has been adopted by numerous governments and organizations, includes (1) denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor; (2) applying double standards by requiring of Israel behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; (3) using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism, e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or the blood libel, to characterize Israel or Israelis; (4) drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Anti-Zionists gaslight Jews who support the IHRA definition by claiming that Israel’s supporters use it to falsely label criticism of Israel as antisemitism. They further claim that the definition is itself antisemitic because it unfairly targets Jews who legitimately accuse Israel of various crimes.

This is a remarkable and monstrous claim. It both denies antisemitism and asserts that combating antisemitism is antisemitism. Moreover, it holds that fighting antisemitism is a form of oppression because it prevents legitimate criticism of Israel and is used to “cancel” Israel’s critics. This, it reverses victim and perpetrator and demonizes the former.

The Zionist community and Israel advocates must recognize when they are being gaslit and push back against the gaslighters. Above all, they must assert the Jews’ expertise on this particular subject. After thousands of years of facing hate, Jews are more than qualified for recognizing and defining antisemitism.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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