The Normal Anti-Semite

The Normal Anti-Semite
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Why would anyone deny that they are anti-Semitic? Why is racism seen as wrong?

Historically, distaste, suspicion or hatred of Jews and other "others" has been an unremarkable feature in many societies. While the "great" events in the history of anti-Semitism—the massacre in York in 1190, the Spanish expulsion of 1492, the Kishinev pogrom in 1903 and, above all, the Holocaust—loom large in the Jewish imagination, it is the persistence of "casual," everyday anti-Semitism that reveals its deeper roots.

In 2005, the writer Simon Garfield published a book of extracts from the diaries of a selection of ordinary British citizens, written in the immediate post-war period. The diaries were solicited by the Mass Observation project, which sought to take the temperature of public opinion, both during the war and afterwards. The value of the diaries is that they were written neither as a public document for subsequent publication, nor as a purely personal document. They occupy the borderlands between uncensored emotional expression and face-saving public rectitude and, as such, give an invaluable impression of what was seen as acceptable to say in semi-public settings.

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