Projections of National Guilt as a form of Antisemitism in German and British centre-left Milieus: An analysis of readers’ comments in Die Zeit and The Guardian as a setting for antisemitism and historical relativisation

Matthias Jakob Becker


The phenomenon of antisemitism has always been expressed in various forms. Nowadays, an obsessive hatred of Israel as the “Jew among nations” is the most prevalent form. On the Internet, especially, antisemitism in the shape of fundamental hostility toward Israel is spreading on a large scale. In this article, I present how Israel-related antisemitism is expressed in readers’ comments on British and German news websites. The Guardian and Die Zeit – two left-liberal newspapers – provide the data for my study. On the basis of a qualitative content analysis, the many implicit forms of antisemitic hate speech are hereby taken into account. Readers of the examined journals tend to align themselves with the position taken by the newspapers. Despite their apparently left-wing oriented, democratic and humanistic positions, antisemitic stereotypes could be identified within many readers’ comments. Next to the reproduction of stereotypes, my research reveals a discourse wherein commenters, when covering the Middle East conflict, tend to project onto Israel their own country’s guilt over historical injustices committed. In Germany, even in the politically moderate discourse of Die Zeit, it is common for commenters to draw comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. Through the discursive construction of a Nazi-like regime in the Middle East, the uniqueness of that period of German history (which represents the biggest obstacle to expressing national pride) can be more easily overlooked. In the left-liberal discourse of The Guardian, commenters frequently present Israel’s policies as reminiscent of British colonial atrocities. Against the background of a negative evaluation of the British Empire’s policies in related milieus, similar functions of relativisation as well as unburdening of guilt from the writer’s own national community can be found. By projecting these guilt-laden historical chapters of one’s own country onto Israel, commenters can (re-)establish the legitimacy of identifying with their national in-group.

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