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Pedersen, S. (1951). Unconscious Motives in Pro-Semitic Attitudes. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(4):361-373.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(4):361-373

Unconscious Motives in Pro-Semitic Attitudes

Stefi Pedersen

In reports on unconscious motives for anti-Semitic behavior most authors (2) seem to assume the feeling that the Jews represent the Foreigner to be the fundamental basis of all negative reactions towards them, however differently these reactions are expressed.

One of the most usual reactions of this type has been described by Fenichel, who understands that the feeling of foreign-ness vis-à-vis Jews is the result of a projection of our own repressed impulses. This feeling has an uncanny feature because we see in the Jew the return of drives once known but later repressed and denied. Since the Jew thus continually reminds us of something we believed—and hoped—to belong to the past, he becomes a serious element of irritation.

But even in this negative attitude towards the Jews—whom one must hate and despise as one hates and despises one's own unconscious impulses and drives—a certain ambivalence is apparent in the form of an intense and often badly camouflaged envy. Sometimes this envy is expressed in an absurd overestimation of the Jews' capacities, assuming that they are smarter business men, more diligent students and sexually more attractive. Altogether it seems that the role of “God's chosen people” provokes not only hatred, but also a more or less open envy in the “non-elect”.

In the conscious anti-Semite this positive side sometimes appears in the form of hatred and envy. There are, however, people whose conscious attitude towards Jews is not anti-Semitic, but nevertheless anything but neutral. Even to these people the Jew is “the foreigner”, but, unlike the conscious anti-Semites, they react with a certain infantile, admiring curiosity. This mixture of admiration and curiosity is often, I believe, an important motive when non-Jewish patients choose a Jewish analyst. A considerable part of such patients state that they prefer a Jewish analyst because he or she is more “gifted”.

In the analysis of patients with a manifestly pro-Semitic attitude I have frequently encountered a motivation for their magic attraction to Jews which is very closely related to the ambivalence complex of the anti-Semites, but with the important difference that in the former case the positive side has become manifest and the negative side repressed.

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