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The nature of hate

The nature of hate
At the basis of antisemitism lies a sentiment that is rooted in human nature - hate. Hatred of a specific social group or ethnic group has held and still holds a major place in human dynamics. Before we turn to explore the specific form of hate that targets Jews, Judaism and Jewishness, let’s first ask ourselves several basic yet complex questions. Why do people hate? How is hatred triggered? Is it innate or learned? And how is it expressed? Hate is a very old sentiment. It basically has several functions. One of the most important functions is to discriminate against others and to exclude others from the in-group in which oneself is based and situated.
Hate is linked to many stereotypes, cognitive stereotypes which are triggered by either generalizing some kind of biological characteristics or some behavioral characteristics and you generalize from sort of one characteristic to the whole group, so you can kind of exclude let’s say all Turks, or all Jews, or all Roma, or all women, or all physically challenged people. So, that functions on the basis of socialization. Hate is not inborn or natural. Children are socialized into sort of their in-group and they learn that people belong to this group and other people don’t belong to this group. That happens at home via the parents, via kindergarten but then, of course, peer groups are most important. Children can be very aggressive.
So, this is something which basically should then change if you’re growing up as a sort of adult. But then in the adult age, hate actually has other functions than sort of being more aggressive or less aggressive. In the adult age it can be functionalized and instrumentalized in political discourse and basically used really by politicians to discriminate, to exclude certain groups from whatever kind of benefits or political means which they should have. So basically hate can be expressed in various ways from very soft and coded discourse to physical violence. There’s kind of a continuum which hate can take.
Gordon Allport already in his Nature of Prejudice described that very well - that there is sort of not really a big difference between the coded language, and then the explicit language, and then the legal exclusion. And basically then, this can lead to murder, violence etc. This is basically triggered by such cognitive and emotional schema which can be enforced and reproduced over and over again via discourse, via images, via the triggering of such stereotypes and cliches.

Prof. Ruth Wodak

Before we turn to explore the specific form of hate that targets Jews and Judaism, let’s ask ourselves the following questions:

Why do people hate? How is hate triggered? Is it innate or learned?


  • Allport, Gordon W., The Nature of Prejudice (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1958).
  • Levin, Jack and Gordana Rabrenovic, Why we Hate (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2008).
  • Sternberg, Robert J. and Karin Sternberg, The Nature of Hate (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • Waller, James, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Murder (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • Wodak, Ruth, “Prejudice, Racism, and Discourse,” in Anton Pelinka, Karin Bischof and Karin Stögner, eds., Handbook of Prejudice (Amherst, N.Y.: Cambria Press, 2009), pp. 409 – 443.
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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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