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Monday, 25 July 2016 15:07

Faking Heroism

Our Linguistic Self-Defence Guide Against Antisemitism teaches people how to spot and resist manipulation when they come across antisemitic speech. We use real-life examples, detected by Get the Trolls Out monitors, and reveal the subtle rhetorical tricks that are typically employed to brainwash the public into hating and discriminating against Jewish people.

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By Anna Szilagyi 

Although there is nothing heroic about fuelling hate and discrimination, many are lured into antisemitism because it is falsely represented by its spreaders as extreme courageousness. In antisemitic speech, Jewish people, who are actually attacked, are constructed as abusers, while the role of the victim is assigned to those who attack them. Oftentimes, the victim-abuser reversal is further reinforced by rhetorical tricks that create the false impression that non-Jews are not only victims of Jews but victims who heroically resist their abusers.

In antisemitic speech, the fake sense of heroism is commonly evoked by negative statements which contain the word “not” and voice rejections. In February 2016, in Greece, for example, an abbot, Elder Methodios of the Esphigmenou  Monastery, gave speeches at two antisemitic rallies. First, in Athens, where he said: “We [Greek people] don’t need their [Jewish people] money... We don’t need their money!” Later on in the month, the abbot repeated the same claim at a demonstration in Thessaloniki: “We don't accept Jewish money”. In the latter case, the abbot meant that his monastery was not accepting money from the EU — which he identified as a Jewish institution — for restoration work. 

In the case of negative statements, the trick is that speakers reject non-existent phenomena, however, due to the negative structure, it may seem so that they are talking about real issues. The Abbot’s dramatic “refusals” for example conveyed the false impression that Jews were trying to buy Greek people in general and his monastic community in particular. Additionally, by “rejecting Jewish money”, the abbot portrayed himself and non-Jewish Greek people as victim-heroes for whom moral values matter more than money, while he constructed Jews as business-minded oppressors.    

At the rally in Thessaloniki, Abbott Methodios also argued: “We are not animals, we are human beings that God made us free. We are not slaves of the Jews.” In this case, because of the negative structures, the audience could be manipulated into believing a wide range of arbitrary claims, including that Jews treat Greek people as animals and enslave them. Even if these arguments have nothing in common with reality, the negative structure reinforce them in a powerful way.

In January 2016, the parliamentary representative of the extremist, far-right Golden Dawn party urged Greek people “not [to] be afraid to say the word “Jewish”. They are our greatest enemy.” In this case, the negative structure implied that Jews victimise Greek people by threatening them. In addition, by encouraging Greeks not to be afraid to pronounce the word “Jewish”, the politician presented antisemitic speech as a heroic act.  

In November 2015, the representative of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party and the mayor of the Hungarian city Szentgotthárd also constructed an antisemitic utterance as heroism. The Hungarian politician commented on the terrorist attacks in France this way: “What happened in Paris is clear evidence that certain business circles, dare I say business circles which are likely backed by the Jewish state, are trying to pit Christian Europe against Islam.” On this occasion, instead of a negative structure, the phrase “dare I say” indicated that the speaker is doing something “courageous” by articulating antisemitic clichés. 

The deceitfully created role of the victim-hero is a key component that attracts people in antisemitism. Do not be misled by this construction. The fake heroism evoked by antisemitic speech boosts racism and discrimination.

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