conflict & communication online, Vol.9, No. 1, 2010
ISSN 1618-0747







In the 20th century, the study of antisemitism has attracted a great number of theorists and researchers. Few forms of group hatred have inspired as many sophisticated and diverse theoretical approaches as antisemitism. With its complexity and occasionally paradoxical and contradictory nature, antisemitism remains a sad but thought-provoking reality. Mirroring the theoretical attention, antisemitism was also a focus of interest for early empirical work on group hatred and prejudice (e.g., work by researchers such as Allport, Berkowitz, Festinger, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford among others). However, with the rise of the civil rights movement in the USA and the world-wide movements for women's and gay rights, other forms of prejudice and discrimination took the foreground. The resulting marginal position of empirical research on antisemitism contrasts strongly with the aforementioned theoretical developments. Moreover, a search in the Web of Science ® supports the notion that empirical research on antisemitism remains on the periphery of discrimination research today. Searching only articles or reviews from peer-reviewed journals in sociology, psychology and related disciplines resulted in the following numbers of hits: 1909 for the term "racism," 656 for the term "homophobia," and 612 for the term "sexism," but only 208 for the term "anti-Semitism" (common spelling).

Very recently there has been growing interest in the specific nature and implications of antisemitism in the heavily empirical field of social psychology (indicated by two 2009 articles in the flagship journals for this domain: Cohen, Yasim, Harber, & Bhasin in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Imhoff & Banse in Psychological Science). To bring together researchers active in this renewal of empirical antisemitism research, Michal Bilewicz and I organized a symposium entitled "New Developments in Psychological Research on Antisemitism" for the 2009 Annual Meeting of the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP) in Dublin. Three of the researchers who participated in this symposium have agreed to also contribute an article to this special issue on antisemitism research. As a guest editor, I am pleased with the wide variety of approaches we have brought together, ranging from highly qualitative methods (Milbradt, Jikeli) to highly quantitative approaches (Imhoff, Kempf), with one paper taking a middle position in which both forms of data are used (Oehmer).

In his essay "Antisemitism in youth language: the pejorative use of the terms for 'Jew' in German and French today," Günther Jikeli analyzes interviews conducted with Muslim youth in France and Germany to determine whether the use of the term "Jew" as an insult is merely arbitrary or can be linked to antisemitic thinking. Jikeli argues that the latter is the case. Whereas Jikeli tackled the issue of whether the slur "Jew" can be used in the absence of anti-Semitism, the following article discusses whether there can be anti-Semitism without any reference to Jews. Björn Milbradt directs attention to what he perceives as grey areas in the contemporary antisemitism literature: the identification of rhetoric as antisemitic even if no explicit mention is made of Jews. This is a hotly contested issue and has given rise to controversial terms like "structural anti-Semitism." Milbradt takes the example of the highly circulated independent movie "Zeitgeist," which can be accessed for free on the internet. He claims that this movie presents a prime example of how antisemitic associations are activated, and also that an antisemitic viewpoint is suggested in the film without ever becoming explicit. My own paper (Imhoff) is devoted to the question of whether the theoretically well-established distinction between two different facets of modern antisemitism can be supported empirically. Wilhelm Kempf introduces a methodologically innovative approach to tackle the question of whether - and under what conditions - anti-Israeli attitudes might be identified as antisemitic. Through use of latent class analyses he extracts specific patterns of anti-Israeli attitudes that might be more indicative of antisemitism. This paper also serves as a link to the final study, by Franziska Oehmer. Although not directly dealing with the question of antisemitism, Oehmer explores the media depiction of Israel and the Middle East conflict. Using German newspaper reports on the Lebanon war in 2006 as sources, she aims to find out whether there is a strong tendency to depict Israel as the perpetrator in a bidirectional war, a pattern that could serve as evidence for an antisemitic victim-perpetrator reversal (cf. Imhoff, this issue).

This collection of contributions and its methodological diversity bears an important message regarding qualitative and quantitative research: ideally these two streams should not compete against, but rather complement each other. If a specific hypothesis about the functioning of antisemitism can be supported by media analysis, interview interpretations, and statistical methods, this speaks for the validity of this hypothesis. I sincerely hope that the future will bring even more mutual inspiration and an exchange of ideas across methods and disciplines. As an initial step in that direction, Wilhelm Kempf has taken the lead and organized an even more exciting follow-up symposium at this year's ISPP Annual Meeting in San Francisco. In this symposium, we will also get a chance to direct our attention to what can easily be forgotten in the midst of research: how to connect our findings with the reality outside the laboratory and help develop efficient strategies to combat antisemitism in all of its many forms.

Bonn - Berlin
Im April 2010

Roland Imhoff

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