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.
By Anna Szilagyi
Antisemitism discriminates against people simply because they are Jews or perceived as Jews. However, the idea of victimising a group of people just because of their ethnic, religious or cultural background may sound too overtly racist to many. Therefore, in antisemitic speech, manipulative rhetorical devices are used to “justify” the loathing of Jews. One common deceptive rhetorical vehicle is the victim-abuser reversal. It creates the false impression that the real victims of antisemitism, Jewish people, are actually not victims but abusers.
A recent incident from the UK may highlight how the victim-abuser reversal works. In November 2015, pro-Hitler posters were plastered over a university campus in Birmingham. The posters featured Adolf Hitler, claiming that he “was right”. A student drew attention to this antisemitic incident on Twitter and, in response, she received a number of offensive messages.
One tweet read: “I’m dismayed (not surprised) that Jews always play the victims and never try to end their parasitism on others.”
This statement contains at least four victim-abuser reversals:
- The tweet states that “Jews always play the role of the victims”. This indicates that Jews are phoney, fraudulent, and manipulative people, aiming to mislead and emotionally abuse others. Although it was the Twitter user who actually attacked Jews, this form of reversal deceitfully assigned the role of the abuser to Jewish people.
- There are two adverbials of frequency in the tweet: “always” and “never”. The first, “always”, puts the victim-abuser reversal into historical context. By saying “Jews always play the victims”, the Twitter user suggests that Jewish people have never actually been victimised throughout the history. This includes the denial of the victimhood of those millions of Jews who were systematically killed by the Nazis, especially since the tweet came in response to the appearance of pro-Hitler posters.
- By saying that Jews “never try to end their parasitism on others”, the speaker reverses the victim-abuser roles once again. The adverb “never” supports the portrayal of Jews as perpetual victimisers.
- By replying this way, the tweet also hurts all those who feel offended by the pro-Hitler posters. The victim-abuser reversal shifts the attention from the real issue (the concrete antisemitic incident) to a manipulative antisemitic claim (“Jews are abusers”). In other words, the reversal falsely implies that what matters is not anti-Jewish aggression but Jewish aggression.
It is virtually impossible to think of any existing antisemitic cliché that would not build on the victim-abuser reversal: “Jews are ritual murderers of Christians”; “Jews trick and cheat others”; “Jews control the media to brainwash people”; “Jews sponsor and organise harmful underground activities to undermine the peace and prosperity of nations”. Antisemites even accuse Jews of racism, although antisemitism itself is a form of racism. “Once again, the vicious and deeply ingrained hate of the Jews against the white race is clear.” The previous quote from a French blog on “White Europe”, detected by Get the Trolls Out monitors, is an example of a victim-racist abuser reversal.
In antisemitic speech Jews are always presented as abusers who victimise others. However, the construction of Jews as abusers by antisemites is manipulative, it actually victimises Jews. By suggesting that Jewish people are dangerous, harmful and evil, the victim-abuser reversal gives justification for verbal and physical aggression against Jews.