Israelis and Germans Need to Study Contempt —The Cause of Hatred and Prejudice

By Ruth Oron and Julie Jensen, Contributing Writers

We recently learned about research based on a sample of 800 Israeli and 2000 German young people (Yediot Achronot (7/23/1997) to “identify the major factors influencing the level of xenophobia (hatred of foreigners) in both societies.”  As two representative persons, one of Germany and one of Israel, who once saw each other’s nationality with hatred, we want all people to know what we are grateful to have learned--the cause of prejudice has been explained by Eli Siegel, the great American poet and historian, and the founder of the education, Aesthetic Realism taught in New York City. 

The “major factor influencing” this “hatred” of outsiders which the article unsuccessfully tries to identify, is contempt, which Eli Siegel defined as the “false importance or glory [people get] from the lessening of things not [themselves].”  Contempt, Aesthetic Realism teaches, begins in ordinary situations.  It is what makes a wife decide she already knows what her husband is going to say and therefore finishes his sentences.  But taken further, contempt motivates Neo-Nazis to burn the homes of Turkish families living in Germany.  In the international journal,The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, explains how contempt is against the deepest purpose of every person.  She writes: 

The purpose of our lives, Mr. Siegel showed, is to like the world--which means to see those outside things and people as having the same fullness of reality and importance we give ourselves.  Yet that usually does not happen. A woman walking down a well-kept American street does not see the neighbor she waves to as having an inner life as rich as hers--vivid yearnings, raw aches, subtleties of emotion real as her own.  People do not give persons different from them that most needed sameness with themselves: full, three-dimensional reality.  This is the most ordinary, primal contempt.

The research told of in Yediot Achronot shows the great worry in both Germany and Israel about the desire in people to hate foreigners.  Dr. Devorah Carmil who conducted the study among Israelis said: “It seems that our “togetherness” is a big illusion.  These results must set off an alarm in us.”  In an historic issue of The Right Of, #165, Eli Siegel explains why people are impelled to hate: 

The purpose of hate is to justify contempt for the thing hated by having a victory over it....If it is a victory over other people, there is a great pleasure in seeing these enemies abject, with less power.

Contempt makes for the daily brutality in the Mideast between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is the cause of the animosity towards foreigners had by Israeli and German youth.  And we learned, it is what made for Nazism.  Once we give ourselves the right to lessen other human beings, we cannot say how far it might go. 

In The Right Of, Miss Reiss explains with magnificent logic something people have simply not known how to make sense of--the relation of the greatest atrocities in mankind to the feelings that can go on in people every day. She writes: 

With Nazism, people welcomed contempt massively, accommodated themselves to it sweepingly.  But contempt would not have been able to get that far had it not been present first in its ordinary way, as it is present in people now....What people need to see is: the contempt of humiliating someone, tormenting, even killing him, arises out of the quiet lessening of people which “average” citizens of any country take part in every day.

I, Julie Jensen, was born in Nazi Germany where hate of non-Germans was a staple of life--as much as saying our daily prayers.  My parents, like nearly all Germans then, worshipped Hitler and thought his program to rid Germany of foreigners, especially the Jews, was just what we needed. 

Even though I was only a child I got pleasure from the hate for the Jewish people and other people expressed in conversations my family had around the dinner table; this was sheer contempt.  While it made me feel I was somebody powerful, I learned from Aesthetic Realism the contempt I had welcomed and enjoyed was the reason for my gnawing sense of self loathing.  Eli Siegel valued tremendously Germany’s rich cultural history including the beauty of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, and he understood what Germany is trying to make sense of, World War II.  I love him for teaching me to see Germany truly, that which can be honestly respected and for lifting a burden of guilt and shame from me, enabling me to feel free and proud.  I regret, with all my heart what my country did to the Jewish people, the horrific pain and agony, the killing of millions of people. 

And I, Ruth Oron, who lost a large part of my family in the Holocaust, like many Jews, saw the German people as my enemy.  I cringed when I heard the German language, and boycotted German products, which I saw as equivalent to poison and could barely touch.  I had this way of seeing until I began to study Aesthetic Realism.  It was then I learned that the contempt which was the cause of the Holocaust was also the cause of the ugly satisfaction I had thinking I was better than other people.  As my contempt for the world was criticized in Aesthetic Realism consultations and classes taught by Ellen Reiss, the pervasive feeling of loneliness I had left me. 

I will never forget a public presentation at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in which Mrs. Jensen described courageously what she learned about the contempt she saw in her family and SS soldiers towards the Jews.  It means my life to me that my parents, visiting from Israel, were in the audience and heard Mrs. Jensen express her regret for what the Nazis did.  Later my father told me, “I want to meet the German girl”, and when he did, he shook Julie Jensen’s hand and told her in German “I thank you from my whole heart.  I am proud of you!”  I believe the emotion of my father, Shlomo Shazar, stands for the gratitude Jews all over the world will have to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for making possible honesty and true understanding on this agonizing subject. 

We are so grateful to agree about this tremendous fact: forprejudice, in its many forms, to be defeated, people need to learn from Aesthetic Realism the one kind and utterly emergent alternative--the aesthetic seeing of the world and people.  In a tremendously important document titled “Racism Can End”, Ellen Reiss explains: 

[F]or racism to end we have to be against the thing it begins with: contempt for the world itself.  Further, racism won’t be effectively done away with unless it is replaced with something that has terrific power.  What needs to replace it is not the feeling that the difference of another person is somehow tolerable.  What is necessary is the seeing and feeling that the relation of sameness and difference between ourselves and that other person is beautiful.  People need to feel, with feeling both intimately personal and large, that difference of race is like the difference to be found in music: two notes are different, but they are in behalf of the same melody; they complete each other; each needs the other to be expressed richly, to be fully itself. 

It is possible for millions of men, women, and children to have an emotion about race that is like an art emotion.

What happened to us is evidence that through this grand education people can change in dramatic and beautiful ways.  People and nations, including our dear countries Germany and Israel, can learn at last how to be kind and strong through being just to the world and all people.  This is all possible because Eli Siegel was completely unprejudiced and the kindest, most honest man who ever lived.  We want the whole world to know him and the education he founded. 

Bio: Ruth Oron, essayist and translator, born in Israel in 1943, was raised in kibbutz Ramat Hashofet and served in the Army, 1963-1964.  She began her study of Aesthetic Realism in 1977, and is now studying to teach it in classes taught by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City.  She has written articles on Aesthetic Realism as knowledge that can make for peace in the Middle East and what will make for economic justice in Israel and in America. 
Bio: Julie Jensen, Aesthetic Realism consultant, is on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.  She has participated with her colleagues in public seminars.  She has written extensively on the cause of Nazism which she has learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism.  She has been published in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known and elsewhere.  Mrs. Jensen has studied with Eli Siegel together with her husband Robert Jensen, AestheticRealism Associate, and today they continue their education in classes taught by Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman.  

This article has appeared in other publications.