By: Irene Cohen
Dog whistles in politics is usually a type of phrase that is suggestive or a coded message used to gain support from the group they’re appealing to without setting off any alarms to their opposing group. The name comes from an actual dog whistle that emits frequencies that dogs can hear, but humans can’t.
Some of these dog whistles or phrases connect to the same antisemitic trope, so I will address several dogwhistles that mean approximately the same thing. I will cover four tropes, including the following: Jewish people being money hungry, Jewish people controlling the word in general, Jewish people being at fault for many world tragedies or violence, and the caricatures of Jewish people emphasizing all these aspects.
First I’ll start out with one of the most common/normalized tropes: Jewish people being money hungry or greedy. The insinuation of Jewish people always wanting more money is incredibly common. Specifically, Jewish people wanting gold and treasure. Many anti-semites often refer to Judas as a representation of Jewish people, selling out Jesus for 30 silver pieces. The phrase “Jew down” is also incredibly offensive. It refers to someone bargaining for the lowest price, sometimes unfairly low, because they are such penny pinchers. “Jewish” or “Kosher tax” is another one, referring to the idea that food companies are conning non-Jews to support the Jewish “agenda” by having a kosher certification that taxes them. “Jewish lightning”, which coincides with the trope of Jews being greedy, is when a home or some sort of insured building is burned down. The burning of the building gives those who insured it money, saying Jewish people are so greedy that they burn down their own buildings for money.
Another idea is that Jewish people form a secret society that controls everything in the world, from politics to media like some sort of hegemony. It also implies that all Jewish people are connected in some way and are like a political group instead of a religious one. Does this sound familiar? It’s how many describe the idea of an Illuminati or a New World Order. Not everyone who believes in that conspiracy is necessarily anti-semitic, but it is too easy to arrive at that once you get lost in it. “Cabal” and “clannish” are more words that more or less mean the same thing, but with more religious undertones. “Cosmopolitan elite” is less outright, and is less organized. Cosmopolitan means: “of or meshing many cultures”, and elite being those who are in the upper echelon of society. All of these imply that Jewish people are conniving and disloyal.
Jewish people are also used as scapegoats following many world tragedies. “Blood libel”, for one, is the accusation towards Jewish people of using Christian childrens’ blood in some sort of Jewish ritual. Even if false, children being killed is an easy way to get a lot of people against anyone. In modern times, it might not be so outright. An example of this in a story most of you should know, is Rapunzel. Mother Gothel kidnaps Rapunzel, a young girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, to use her hair in a sort of ritual to stay young. “Poisoning the well” is also a phrase used to insinuate that Jewish people have caused tragedy for non-Jews. It originates from the Black Death, where Jews were accused and persecuted of poisoning the wells of the towns to infect them, and because they were in on it they weren’t affected as much. Jewish people probably did have a lower death rate from the plague, but this was likely because they practiced ritual hygiene unlike most Europeans at the time.
Jewish caricatures and depictions have been a way to dehumanize Jewish people for a long time. Sometimes Jewish people are portrayed as rats or other vermin, snakes, and spiders. All of these animals have a negative connotation, most being pests that people are either disgusted by or scared of. Portraying them as such makes them less connected from humanity through the eyes of others, making them easier to hate, a tactic used by many oppressive groups time and time again.
Another way of painting Jewish caricatures is making them seem as “other” as possible, exaggerating the features that are more distinct than other populations, many times seen as a larger or hooked nose, curly dark hair, or drooping eyes. Exaggerating these features, again, helps people separate Jewish people from themselves, making it easier to persecute them unfairly. We see this again in “Rapunzel”/’Tangled’. Like the blood libel example, we see Mother Gothel again being portrayed as a Jewish stereotype/caricature, with her thick, black curly hair, drooping/hooded eyes, and a nose bigger than most Disney women. She is also the villain of the story. Many Jewish people, such as myself, have remarked how much she looks like a relative of theirs, or themself. This is not the type of representation a child should have to see.
Sometimes, the caricatures are drawn with not only exaggerated features, but exaggerated actions. A prime example of this is the “smirking merchant”, an anti-semitic comic of a man with a “kippah”, which is traditional male Jewish headwear, a hooked nose and an evil smile with his hands rubbing together in a way that signifies greed.
All of these dog whistles and tropes I brought up are painted in extremely broad strokes; most of them running much deeper than I could portray in a single article. Most of these connect to the idea that Jewish people are morally reprehensible, and that they don’t care about non-Jews and act in their own self-interest, or the interest of the Jewish conglomerate. The idea that Jewish people are socially above non-Jews serves to oppress the Jewish people further. Anti-semitism can sometimes be a harder form of bigotry to understand because it is so distinct, but I hope this article helps you to understand the harm it can cause.
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