1. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    How to write an antisemitic character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Elder One, Sep 12, 2016.

    Hi.

    I have been writing a story (novel) where the MC (an american) gets himself romantically involved with a British woman of Jewish ancestry. The story is set in the 1960s

    However, I want to make his sidekick/friend have some antisemitic views to increase the tension and conflict between them. I don't want to make him a Nazi/fanatic however. Can anyone help me make him believable? Any tips or material I can read is hugely appreciated.
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Any minority group can be blamed for all the woes that befall us at any time. The Jews were simply the target that Hitler aimed for. You don't have to go the full Nazi nine yards to be anti-Semitic.

    If you look at the recent Brexit poll in the UK, a lot of the "Leave" campaign was focussed upon "them coming over here and stealing our jobs, raping our women and not respecting our way of life, and then sponging off the state, while they send all their money back to their family in xxxxx". You can probably find an urban myth to support any accusation that you feel like making, including being disloyal to the country that they're now residing in.
     
  3. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Welcome to the site!

    The most important thing: Double Standards.

    A bigot's favorite thing in the world, whether he realizes it or not, is the fact that there are a handful of his hated group who are as evil as he claims all of them are. Your guy's probably memorized the names of dozens of Jewish gangsters who were making headlines at the time (or very recently), and if your protagonist tries to tell his "friend" that the few who are criminals don't represent the many who are innocent, he would probably think that the protagonist was playing the No True Scotsman card: "You're wrong, they were Jewish! How dare you say that they weren't?"
     
  4. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, as someone who has actually been subjected to anti-Semitism, I can assure you that it does come in multiple flavors and strengths to suit any taste.

    It sounds like you're looking for a milder, smoother brew that goes down relatively easy but is still annoying enough to make us pound our heads on our desk. My thought is that the type you're looking for is the garden-variety uninformed anti-Semite. This person probably grew up in an ethnically homogenous area where he met few if any Jews - this could be a rural area in the American South but I'd personally shy away from that trope. Maybe a small city in Maine - or Wisconsin - the only real key is is low Jewish population. Or maybe he could be from some other ethnically homogenous immigrant enclave in a larger city (Irish, Italian, take your pick.) My grandmother is Irish Catholic and always told stories about being "the only Catholic growing up on Jew Hill", and talked about her father getting angry when she once dated a Jewish boy (apparently he never referred to the poor kid as anything other than "that k*ke from up the mountain" - note that slur, by the way, you'll need it if you're going back in time).

    Anyway - this person has low exposure to Jews, and the Jews he has met have probably all been people he's bought high-end goods from and who are richer than him (jewelers, general store owners, financial professionals, etc.). This is because there are relatively high numbers of Jews in those professions - which is where non-Jews would have gotten exposure - and because he's not in a Jewish enclave he's not going to have met poor Jews. And if he's not from New York or the Northeast - there's a good chance that the Jews he has met are fast talking transplanted New Yorkers who rub up against his Midwestern sensibilities (or whatever).

    All of this goes to feed into his generic view that Jews are greedy, rich and rude - reinforced by the fact that everyone around him thinks similarly and is somewhat vocal about it - and he will continue to carry this approach with him as he moves away from his home base and encounters more Jews. That, and obviously he might think they're weird because they don't show up to church on Sunday and practice some weird "hocus-pocus" religion that he has no working knowledge of (although be careful with that). I would avoid cliches like him believing in stupid things like Protocols of the Elders of Zion (knowing that requires one to be educated in one's bigotry), or being a staunch Evangelical who thinks Jews are all going to hell. That's not to say such people don't exist - they do, trust me - but the more of those you add, the more sinister your character is going to look. If you don't want us to hate the dude, I'd go for uninformed rather than misinformed.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2016
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  5. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    All your answers so far have been elucidating. Thank you all for your time.

    I should have added to the original post that this is a spy/espionage novel I'm writing, The MC and his friend are agents operating in pre-war Lebanon amidst the tensions between the maronite christians and muslims(including palestinians leaving from Israel), that led to the war itself. That should make everyone able to give me more specific advice.
     
  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually that leads me to a question - is your anti-Semitic character American, European, or Lebanese?
    This is going to make a BIG difference.
     
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  7. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    He's as American who has been to Lebanon since the 1958 crisis.
     
  8. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    Maybe they could just say things like "how's the kike." Sort of casual racism.

    http://rsdb.org/race/jews

    Maybe this link will help
     
  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay so my fist answer stands, but maybe re-inforced by some perceived negative experiences in Israel or with Israelis.

    Actually you could probably play some funny contrast games between his American-brand anti-Semitism and the local version. For instance, he could think that some of the locals are stupid for believing that Jews need blood for passover matzoh and then in the same breath say something negative about Jews. "I mean, come on, Jews are greedy bastards but they're not sickos."
     
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  10. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    - general reference to the selfish rich and/or money lending /slum lords in american cities all being jews

    - or more specifically if his issue is with Isreal rather than jews en mass he could refer to the area as palestine , or british palestine , or make barbed comments about jewish terrorism leading to the formation of the state

    plus of course with the holocaust so recent he could make offensive reffeences to "taking showers" or other elements of the nazi treatment of the jews
     
  11. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    I think you could add references to Zionists and/or Zionism to the list.
     
  12. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a note, to avert other prejudices: My Midwestern city had and still has a large Jewish population. Off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you what percentage of the kids at my high school were Jewish, but it was big. They were just other kids . . . though we Gentiles were fascinated with the fast days ("Wow, you're saying you can't eat until you can see two stars in the sky at one glance?") and it was cool and fun if one of your Jewish friends invited you to their bar or bas mitzvah. Anyway, no big deal, in my part of town at least.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    REALLY good points. if I were doing this myself, I'd actually look up the demographics of the area I selected and target the character really carefully. If you're going to write a character who has prejudices, it's a good point not to stereotype that character's OWN group in the process (which is why I recommended against making him a Southerner or and Evangelical - but yeah - if he were from somewhere in the Midwest, you do research to target him down to a particular place and get to know that place).
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
  14. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would recommend against that if you're dealing with an American in the early 1960s. If you were dealing with a MODERN American anti-Semite, then definitely you'd want to include that. However, at this point, I don't think it was quite as saturated with that narrative (I could be wrong). I also think a "casual" anti-Semite at that point in history (or frankly even now) would probably not rail against Zionism using the word "Zionism" - although since the story is SET in the Middle East I'm assuming this guy is more sophisticated. But the minute you have a guy start going off on Zionism as an ideology rather than casual stereotypes of Jews, you jump his prejudice to a higher level of sophistication that I don't think you want in someone meant to be likable.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
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  15. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    It would be worth finding out what 1950's lebanese or palestians said about the jews/isrealis (yeah i know - i mean how they said it, the slang they used, any predjudiced beliefs they had about them) if these guys are working with the locals he'd probably have picked up at least some of his predjudiced terms from them

    as in a " I can't belief you are seeing a [local predjudiced term for a jewess], hey is it true that they all [locally prejudiced belief about jewish women] "
     
  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, having not been around then, these are all REALLY good but you have varying degrees of religiousity in there, so you have to decide whether you want your character to base part of his anti-Semitism in religion or not. See highlights below.
    Definitely all good, realistic material - but you've got different grades and flavors of awful in there.
     
  17. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    I don't see why someone who spoke against Zionism would automatically become unlikeable, where someone who is anti-semitic would not.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a "chicken and egg" question here, I think.

    Personally, I would find an actively anti-Zionist character unlikeable automatically in a way that's even more offensive than a casual anti-Semite (I'm speaking as an admitted Zionist here - so take me with a grain of salt - but someone who speaks coherently against Zionism is someone I'm going to see as less redeemable, because he's taken the time to educate himself in his error, whereas the casual anti-Semite is teachable). However, you are right that one can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic - there are even anti-Zionist Jews. I don't really want to get into a debate on Zionism here, but as a reader who does believe that Israel has a right to exist, and who has a number of Israeli friends, that's how I'm going to read it. Others will read it differently.

    However, our assignment HERE is to cast an ANTI-SEMITE who is SOMEWHAT LIKEABLE DEPITE HIS PREJUDICE.

    So, we're STARTING from the idea that this person has an issue with Jews as an ethnicity and/or a religion. That's baked into the cake. If this person then starts talking philosophically about Zionism as a justification for his anti-Semitism, we have then elevated him from an uneducated person (who we will forgive for his parochial lack of sophistication) to someone who has deepened his anti-Semitism with study, and developed a rubric by which he uses current politics to justify his problems with Jews as ethnicity (we are going to be less likely to like this guy, because he's expanded his prejudice to an ideological level).

    That's not to say you couldn't write a character who is both anti-Semitic and philosophically anti-Zionist - actually, that's very easy. However, if we want our anti-Semitic character to also be likable at some level, we're going to need convince readers that he's not a totally horrible person and that he can change. The more active "justifications" he has for his anti-Semitism, the more rooted his convictions will seem, and the less likely we are to believe that he can change. So, as I said, if the character is ALREADY an anti-Semite and you want readers to like him at some level, I think it's best to not give him a political beef with Zionism - especially in the 1960s. He's going to need the thinnest, shakiest foundations for his beliefs - and so for that I would use the sort of garden-variety common stereotypes about how Jews supposedly behave.
     
  19. Francis de Aguilar
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    Francis de Aguilar Active Member

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    I am going to respectfully pull out of this as I wish to avoid political debate on this forum.
     
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  20. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    People, calm down. The last thing I want is for this thread to result in fellow forum members antagonizing each other.

    I am grateful of all the advice given in this thread, I believe there is enough for me to go through the first draft and possibly tweak it later.

    Thank you all for your attention here.
     
  21. Nicola
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    Nicola Member

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    Maybe deconstruct the types of things said against Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (alienation, spitting, name-calling)

    He or she could make a loud racist comment in a crowded place while she is there, make jokes based on stereotypes, have a nick-name for her which he/she claims is merely affectionate but makes both her and her partner feel sad.
     

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