People seem to recall exactly where they were when first hearing about major human caused tragedies
Like most of you, I’m still in shock. Actually, I’m in double shock – I’ll explain later.
I am sure we all remember where we were when we heard about 9/11 and when we heard about the assassination of JFK (if you’re old enough). Well, this is another of those life changing moments – at least if you are part of the civilized world.
My wife and I were enjoying a long overdue leisurely vacation in New York City. I woke up Saturday morning doing what I always do, unfortunately even on vacation. I checked my iPad for a quick scan of the news. The first thing I saw was a headline reading “Netanyahu Declares War.” I was about to close my iPad in disgust as I assumed it was a hit piece related to the internal turmoil on judicial reform in Israel. I thought now the hyperbole is getting out of control – war against peaceful protests – get serious. Do we really need to raise the temperature on this?
Then my eye caught the word terrorist. I’m sensitive to that word as I’ve been writing about and have done some research on terrorism dating back about 15 years. I opened the full article and read in total disbelief and shock. This couldn’t happen in Israel of all places. With all of the best intelligence apparatus. I have met with members of security agencies in Israel and just could not imagine what they must be going through. But this is not the time to look at the security failures – that time will come.
I was so looking forward to putting together and launching this first edition of the Association For Jewish Psychologists’ newsletter – Schmooze. It would combine serious talk around issues such as the psychology of antisemitism with some lighter, comic relief in Jewish humor.
But then our world changed. Overnight we experienced the most horrific murdering of Jews because they were Jews since the Holocaust. I’m sure many of you have been bombarded by the images and words about these barbarous events that took place. Even my colleagues who work in the area of psychopathy, who have encountered unspeakable horrors as part of their work, were horrified at this.
Many professional associations have expressed their outrage at the unspeakable unprovoked carnage. Shamelessly, our own APA did not have the courage to call out this massacre for what it was – sheer terrorism by Hamas. There is no political agenda to this savage attack, and it should not be dignified as a “political act.” APA apparently wanted to “balance” its response to placate the certain elements within APA, and that should be called out.
I mentioned that this event provided me with a double shock. The first, of course, was the genocide itself. The second, and just as heinous, is the response to the unprovoked attack, not just by the obvious enemies of Israel, but on the campuses and streets of not just one or two cities, but of cities across North America and beyond.
This really struck home when I called my daughter who lives in Jerusalem and asked how she was doing and if there was anything she needed. Did she want to come back to Canada?
She quickly responded that she was doing fine and she’s staying there. Everybody is looking after each other, caring, supporting each other, offering both physical needs and psychological support. “In fact,” she said, “I’ve been looking at what’s going on in the streets and campuses back there and I was wondering if you were okay, do you need any help? I’m feeling safer here than you must be feeling there.”
I had to chuckle at first, but then it sunk in, she is probably right. I watched some of the protesters on the news at American and Canadian campuses and what they were saying, and most likely believing. They confidently declared “Israel deserved it,” “The pictures are fakes,” “From river to sea,” “Let them suffer,” and more barbaric statements that I never thought we would hear in our democratic countries.
Which gets me to the role of psychologists, this newsletter, and groups such as the Association of Jewish Psychologists (AJP) and Psychologists Against Antisemitism (PAAS). I’ve heard from many psychologists who want to know what they can do to help. As psychologists we have much to contribute. Whether it’s the support of trauma victims, understanding and combating antisemitism, research on psychopathy and serious criminal offenders, dissemination of and combating propaganda, conspiracy theories, Jewish history, influence and persuasion, psychology of cybertechnology, military psychology, stress research, and much, much more.
Irwin Cotler, an internationally known and respected human rights lawyer, is Canada’s envoy on fighting antisemitism. He is just wrapping up his three-year term and when recently asked about what he learned and reported to Parliament at the end of his three years, he reported that he learned 6 things about antisemitism. I will slightly paraphrase his quotes (National Post, Saturday, October 14, 2023, ):
- We’re experiencing and witnessing the highest rise in antisemitism since audits of antisemitism began in the 1970s. This is true in Canada. It’s true in the United States, and it’s true in Germany.
- Antisemitic beliefs — the number of Americans who believe in six or more antisemitic tropes, tropes such as Jews control the media — has doubled. I found that quite disturbing because beliefs can lead to action.
- There is the internationalization of antisemitism, where there’s an intersection of that hatred. For example, when you had in May 2021, a convoy going through the streets of London, England, saying, ‘the Jews will rape your daughters,’ you have similar convoys then going through the streets elsewhere.
- The marginalization of antisemitism. We must be engaged in the combatting of all forms of hatred, be it hatred against Indigenous people, Blacks, people of colour, Asian Canadians, and Muslims. When I began my mandate, I found that the Privy Council, when it issued calls to action to combat racism and hatred, the calls to action referenced all these other groups and antisemitism was left out. In my initial examination of different departments and agencies of the Canadian government, antisemitism was being marginalized in the overall combating of racism and hatred.
- The laundry of antisemitism under the cover of anti-racism itself, where we had the absurd situation of the anti-racism agency in Canada actually giving a grant to a racist, Laith Marouf, who was not only anti-Jewish but anti-Francophone, anti-Indigenous.
- The most disturbing — is that the conventional paradigm for combating antisemitism was to combat antisemitism from the far right, the far left and radical Islam. That tripartite paradigm is still true. But what is different is the increasing mainstreaming of antisemitism in political culture, popular culture, entertainment culture, sports culture, media culture, and in particular in the campus culture, and this happening with an absence of outrage.
And there our work lies ahead. As psychologists I feel we have special knowledge and expertise in dealing with some of these issues. At the very least, we can try and correct some of the distortions and deliberate lies and conspiracy theories that are feeding young, uninformed people. What we are seeing in pop culture, university campuses, and now seeping into government offices is frightening. We all understand the connection between distorted beliefs and actions, as recognized by Irwin Cotler.
At AJP we hope to unite Jewish psychologists and friends of Jewish psychologists that share our values. As well, we hope this newsletter will be a vehicle for many different voices in our community. We welcome secular and observant, political left and right, behavioral and psychoanalytic, American, Canadian, Israeli, and all other nationalities. What we ask for is that we respect each other’s opinion. I welcome comments on our articles and/or counter articles.
In addition to news and relevant articles, we hope to disseminate some research findings, research opportunities – such as the new fund sponsoring research on antisemitism through the American Psychological Foundation (AFP), activism initiatives, meetings of interest, and yes, even in these dark times, some Jewish humor.
Have a happy, happy Hanukkah everyone!
Steven Stein, Ph.D.
Editor and Vice President
Association of Jewish Psychologists