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Friday, 08 July 2016 15:24

'The Jew' and 'A Jew'

In antisemitic speech, you can often hear the words “the Jew” or “a Jew”. Although it may seem so, in this way speakers do not refer to individuals alone.

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.

the jew and a jew large

By Anna Szilagyi

In antisemitic speech, you can often hear the words “the Jew” or “a Jew”. Although it may seem so, in this way speakers do not refer to individuals alone. In antisemitic discourses, the references to “the Jew” or “a Jew” are references to all Jewish people. This particular form of synecdoche (use the part to refer to the whole) is also known in linguistics as the “collective singular”. It is employed to manipulate people into believing stereotypes about Jewish people. 

Synecdoches are widespread in antisemitic and in other forms of racist and discriminatory speech. These tropes allow speakers to talk about groups by referring to their particular members. Speakers can mean Jewry in general (“the whole”), but refer only to one person (“the part”), identifying her or him as “a Jew” or “the Jew”. If such references are combined with anti-Jewish clichés, the synecdoche is used to justify and spread antisemitism. 

Normally, the choice between the indefinite (“a” and “an”) and the definite (“the”) article is of primary importance. While indefinite articles refer to entities in general, the definite article indicates that we talk about one particular thing. However, in antisemitic speech, the indefinite and the definite article in front of the word “Jew” express the same meaning. In antisemitic discourses the references to “the Jew” or “a Jew” suggest that Jewish people constitute a homogenous group of which members are fraudulent, immoral, destructive, and dangerous. 

Aiming to spread anti-Jewish hatred in Hungary, the extremist website Kuruc.info, for example, frequently refers to “the Jew” or “a Jew” in its headlines and articles. In September 2015, Kuruc.info claimed that the French satirical outlet Charlie Hebdo “is making fun” of the tragedy of the toddler who drowned in the sea while his family was trying to escape from Syria to Greece. The Hungarian outlet also added: “of course a Jew can do anything”. In this case, the reference to “a Jew” (and Charlie Hebdo, which Kuruc.info identified as a Jewish publication) stood for Jews in general, and evoked the antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish cynicism, cruelty, and privilege.  

In February 2016, Kuruc.info identified the American actor and TV producer Lena Dunham as “a degenerated Jew of the many”. On this occasion, the outlet made it explicit that it used a synecdoche. Indeed, the derogatory, abusive reference to Dunham included all Jewish people. 

Another example comes from Greece. In September 2015, the nationalistic blog Antipliroforisi published an image on its Facebook page which featured several antisemitic caricatures, asking: “Who controls the world?” The answer to this question was: “The eternal Jew.” This particular synecdoche, “the eternal Jew”, has historical connotations. It played a central role in the Nazi propaganda: in 1937 an exhibition was organized and in 1940 a film was produced under the title “The eternal Jew” (“Der ewige Jude”) by the Nazis. Talking about “the Jew” and “a Jew” anti-semites can argue that Jews are evil because they are Jews. The figure of “the eternal Jew” gives emphasis to this racist and hostile claim in a powerful way, by indicating that Jewish evilness is timeless.

In antisemitic discourses, the references to “a Jew” or “the Jew” are dangerous tools of manipulation. Creating the false impression that Jews are immoral and threatening by nature, these “collective singulars” call for verbal and physical violence against Jewish people.

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