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Combating Jew Hatred Through Non-Attention

Updated: Feb 23

"The evil message doesn't care who delivers it" -- Ram ben Ze'ev

by Ram ben Ze'ev (Conservative Values)

Image Credit: Chabad
Image Credit: Chabad

In a world where hatred and prejudice continue to plague societies, the fight against anti-Semitism remains a pressing concern. Within the Jewish Community, our sages taught us that "We won't combat Jew Hatred by focusing on the hatred," and with that in mind, I am calling for a fresh perspective on how to address this enduring issue.

Instead of pouring our energy into confronting hate head-on, perhaps the solution lies in the subtle yet powerful art of non-attention. This approach encourages us not to let hatred occupy our time or become the focal point of our efforts. As we explore the concept of combating Jew Hatred through non-attention, we will delve into its philosophical underpinnings and practical implications, ultimately advocating for a shift in our collective response to anti-Semitism.

To understand the philosophy of non-attention, we must first acknowledge that hatred is often deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Throughout history, various forms of prejudice, including anti-Semitism, have persisted, casting a dark shadow on our collective consciousness. The conventional approach to combating hatred involves actively confronting it, raising awareness, and engaging in direct, often confrontational, dialogue. While some people believe these strategies have their merits, they risk unintentionally amplifying the hate they seek to combat. As I have often posted on social media, "the evil message doesn't care who delivers it".

The philosophy of non-attention suggests that hatred thrives on the attention it receives. By constantly engaging with and highlighting the negative, we may inadvertently give it more power. In contrast, non-attention aims to starve hatred of the attention it craves. It involves shifting our focus away from hate itself and instead channeling our energy into building bridges, fostering understanding, and promoting unity. Rather than directly confronting the perpetrators of hate, we redirect our efforts towards positive change within our communities.

Understanding the Rule: "Esau Hates Jacob"

The phrase, "It is a rule that Esau hates Jacob," alludes to the age-old conflict between two brothers, whose story is found in the Tanakh (the Five Books of Moshe). Esau and Jacob's enmity serves as a reminder of the persistence of hatred throughout human history. In this context, non-attention means not perpetuating the cycle of hatred by endlessly dwelling on the conflict itself. Instead, we should seek reconciliation and a path towards coexistence, mirroring the Jewish narrative of reconciliation between Esau and Jacob.

Practical Implications of Non-Attention

  1. Education and Awareness: While non-attention encourages us not to fixate on hatred, it does not mean ignoring its existence. Rather, it calls for a shift in emphasis. We can redirect our efforts towards educating people about the history of anti-Semitism, its consequences, and the importance of tolerance. Through education, we can empower individuals to recognize and reject anti-Semitic beliefs, ultimately reducing the appeal of hatred.

  2. Fostering Dialogue: Non-attention doesn't mean avoiding conversations about anti-Semitism altogether. Instead, it encourages constructive dialogue that focuses on finding common ground and building bridges. By engaging with those who hold prejudiced views in a respectful and empathetic manner, we have a better chance of dismantling the roots of hatred.

  3. Promoting Unity: One of the central tenets of non-attention is the promotion of unity within communities. By celebrating diversity, fostering inclusivity, and embracing shared values, we can create environments where hatred finds it challenging to thrive. Community-based initiatives that emphasize cooperation and solidarity can be powerful tools in this regard.

  4. Social Media: Non-attention means not reposting, repeating or otherwise republishing the hate you find online. Why advance or share the hate you find online with those people who follow your content? It really makes no sense at all, unless your intention is to spread and increase the hate.

  5. Media and Public Discourse: The media plays a crucial role in shaping public perceptions. Non-attention urges media outlets to avoid sensationalism and clickbait that amplify hatred. Instead, they should focus on stories of hope, resilience, and positive change within the Jewish community. By doing so, they can inspire a more balanced and empathetic public discourse.

  6. Legal Measures: Non-attention does not mean neglecting legal measures to combat hate crimes and discrimination. These measures should remain in place and be enforced rigorously. However, the emphasis should also be on rehabilitation and education for offenders to address the root causes of their prejudice.

The Power of Non-Attention in Action

Two examples from history and contemporary society illustrate the efficacy of the non-attention approach in combating anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred:

  1. Denmark's Response to Nazi Occupation: During World War II, Denmark's citizens protected their Jewish neighbors by helping them escape to neutral Sweden. This act of solidarity, which saved the lives of the majority of Denmark's Jewish population, demonstrates the power of communities coming together in the face of hatred.

  2. In recent years, social media platforms like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube have implemented content moderation policies to combat hate speech, including anti-Semitic content. These policies often involve removing or restricting the visibility of content that promotes hate, discrimination, or violence. The non-attention approach in this case involves not amplifying or providing a platform for anti-Semitic voices and content. By swiftly and effectively removing such content, social media platforms prevent it from spreading and gaining attention. This approach helps to prevent the normalization and reinforcement of anti-Semitic views in the online sphere, which can have real-world consequences. While content moderation policies have faced their share of challenges and controversies, they represent an ongoing effort to combat anti-Semitism by denying it a prominent platform and not giving it undue attention. One problem is that many otherwise well-meaning people find it necessary to tell everyone when they stumble upon hate-filled content and they believe (incorrectly) that they're doing something noble when they share those posts with their followers, usually accompanied with their own commentary, which ensures their followers will read the message an absorb the hate.

In both historical and contemporary contexts, the non-attention approach seeks to undermine anti-Semitism by focusing on education, remembrance, and prevention, rather than giving the perpetrators or their hateful ideologies undue attention. By highlighting the experiences of victims, promoting tolerance, and actively countering hate speech, these examples demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach in combating anti-Semitism.

The age-old rule that "Esau hates Jacob" reminds us of the persistence of hatred throughout history. In combating Jew Hatred, it's crucial to reconsider our collective approach. Non-attention offers a fresh perspective, advocating for a shift in focus away from the hatred itself and towards building bridges, fostering understanding, and promoting unity. By redirecting our energies toward positive change, we can starve hatred of the attention it craves and create a world where anti-Semitism becomes a relic of the past. In this way, we can honor the lessons of history and strive towards a more inclusive and tolerant future.


Bill White (Ram ben Ze'ev) is CEO of WireNews and Executive Director of Hebrew Synagogue

Image Credit: Chabad


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