Over the course of a decade, the letters poured into the Central Council of Jews in Germany like a river.
“Is it possible that the excessive violence in Israel, including the murder of innocent children, corresponds to the long tradition of your people?” asked one.
“For the last two thousand years, you have been robbing land and killing people!” exclaimed another.
“You Israelis are a crowd showing contempt for humanity,” charged another, though its writer was addressing fellow Germans. “You drop cluster bombs above inhabited territory during the last days of war, and accuse people criticizing such actions of anti-Semitism. That is typical of you Jews!”
Many would view the stream of vitriol, sent to German Jewry’s central communal organization between 2002 and 2012, as little more than raw sewage. But Monika Schwarz-Friesel, a professor of linguistics at the Technical University of Berlin, saw it as raw data. Together with Jehuda Reinharz, the American historian and former president of Brandeis University, Schwarz-Friesel has recently published a study of these letters. And their findings reaffirm one of the enduring, if still surprising truths about anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere.
More than 60% of the hate mail came from well-educated Germans, including university professors, according to their study, “The Language of Hostility Towards Jews in the 21st Century,” released earlier this year. Only 3% came from right-wing extremists.
The researchers know this partly from analyzing the language of the letter writers — but also because many of the authors of the emails in their sample gave their names, addresses and professions. “We checked some of them, [and] the information [was] valid,” said Schwarz-Friesel in an email to the Forward. She and her research partner were amazed that the writers were so brazen. “I don’t think they would have identified themselves 20 or 30 years ago,” said Reinharz.
“We found that there is hardly any difference in the semantics of highly educated anti-Semites and vulgar extremists and neo-Nazis,” said Schwarz-Friezel. “The difference lies only in style and formal rhetoric, but the concepts are the same.”
This is not exactly new. Schwarz-Friesel pointed out that many Nazis were highly educated, too.