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Antisemitism is the prejudice against, the hatred of, or the discrimination against Jews as an ethnic, religious, or racial group, and is widely recognized as a form of racism. While the term antisemitism would seem, on the face of it, to mean prejudice against all the so-called Semitic peoples — the Arabs, Assyrians, Samaritans and Jews of the Levant, as well as some Ethiopians; it is almost universally understood to refer exclusively to anti-Jewish propaganda, attitudes, and actions.
Antisemitism has taken on a number of different forms over the centuries, with severity that ranges from hateful or inflammatory discourses that paint Jews as embodying particular stereotypical and malignant characteristics, to the outright organized mass genocide of Jews with the overt goal of depleting their populace regionally or even globally. Historically, antisemitism has had a long-standing presence in Christian and Muslim communities alike, and the unprovoked stirring of antisemitic animosity against the Jewish people has been undertaken (to a varying degree, at different times and in various nations) by both church and state, sometimes to a sufficient extent (over the decades and even centuries) as to climax into the outbreak of pogroms directed against the Jews.
While the accusation of antisemitism is occasionally used as a snarl word to dismiss valid criticisms of Zionism and of Israeli foreign policy, it is completely aptly applied in most cases of anti-Zionist crankery - typically involving variants on the International Jewish conspiracy theory, the Zionist Occupied Government, or other nonsense involving The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Holocaust denial also embodies one of several modern pseudohistorical outlets of antisemitic sentiment, as do various conspiracy theories regarding allegedly malevolent Jewish banksters.
Much less commonly, antisemitism can also be used to refer to prejudice against speakers of Semitic languages or adherents of Abrahamic religions. The most specific and literal definition would be any bias against the biblical character of Shem, specifically.
Origin of the Term
"Antisemitism" was coined in the late 1800s by antisemitic politicians in Central Europe. It was intended to replace the more colloquial term for anti-Jewish racism, "Judenhass," or "Jew-hatred." At that time, antisemitism had become a coherent political movement that succeeded in founding political parties and winning local elections. Most famously, the populist leader Karl Lueger was elected mayor of Vienna on an explicitly antisemitic platform. These movements, their leaders, and their members proudly referred to themselves as "antisemites" and there was little stigma attached to the term. This explicitly political antisemitism eventually led to the rise of the Nazi party, which expanded antisemitism into an all-encompassing racist worldview that saw the Jewish people as an almost metaphysical form of evil, eventually leading to the Holocaust.
Hatred of Judaism and the Jewish people is quite ancient. In Jewish tradition, antisemitism first appears in the book of Esther, in which the evil Haman plots to annihilate the Jews of Persia because their traditions and laws are different from others. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius wrote an entire work, "Against Apion" that sought to refute the claims of ancient antisemites such as Manetho, the eponymous Apion, and others. Ancient writers like Tacitus also wrote about the Jews in highly negative terms. In general, pre-Christian antisemitism portrays the Jews as savage, barbaric (circumcision was particularly frowned upon), warlike, fanatical, anti-social, and, in at least one case, ritual cannibals.
Christianity made antisemitism into religious doctrine through blaming the Jews for rejecting the revelation of Jesus and then engineering his crucifixion. Church doctrine held that the Jews were a cursed people doomed to walk the earth for eternity due to their sins against God. Over the centuries, this led to considerable discrimination, prejudice, and violence. In Europe, Jews were often confined to ghettos, exiled, forced to convert, killed en masse, and accused of nefarious crimes and rituals, most famously, the blood libel, which holds that the Jews kill Christian children and consume their blood in a ritualistic manner. The rise of Protestantism did not help matters, as its founder, Martin Luther, became a ferocious antisemite after the Jewish community failed to convert to his new form of Christianity.
The Enlightenment and the growth of secularism did away with much of this, allowing the Jews to become free and equal citizens in many areas of Europe. However, it also created new problems. Jews were often asked to choose between their Jewish identity and the deracinated civil identity demanded by the new, modern nation-states. At the same time, opponents of modernity saw the Jews as the symbol and primary beneficiaries of the new order they despised. This led to a new, political form of antisemitism that saw the Jews as undermining civilization in order to assert Jewish control over the non-Jewish world. The most famous expression of this was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious fraud that remains popular among neo-Nazis and other antisemites and has become a bestseller in the Muslim world. These issues eventually led to the creation of the Zionist movement, which sought to solve the "Jewish question" by achieving self-determination in a Jewish nation-state.
The new political antisemitism eventually merged with a distorted form of social Darwinism and racial determinism, forming the antisemitism eventually embraced by the Nazi party, which saw the Jews as a parasitical disease that was destroying the "master race," i.e., Aryan white Europeans. This led directly to the murder of six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust.
The Muslim world historically has been more tolerant of Jews than of Christians, but not invariably. The Quran contains several anti-Jewish passages, including one saying the Jews are sons of apes and pigs who will be killed on the apocalyptic day of judgement. Muhammad himself conquered the Jewish tribes of the Hijaz and, in several cases, committed atrocities against them, such as slaughtering all the male members of the Banu Qurayza.
Under Islamic law, the Jews and Christians were placed under a system that allowed them to practice their religions and retain their autonomy as second-class citizens, though they faced certain restrictions and were required to pay a special tax. This status changed, however, depending on the political and religious atmosphere in any given part of the Islamic empire. For example, the Jews of Yemen were expelled several times, the Jews of North Africa were subjected to forced conversion, and female Jewish children were often forcibly taken from their parents and raised as Muslims.
With the rise of Zionism, a number of Jews began to immigrate to the Holy Land. Around this time, Arab Nationalism began to flourish. There were a minority of Arab nationalists who sought to ally with the Zionist groups, seeing them as "fellow Arabs" with skills that could be used to modernize the Arab world without being placed under the European boot so to speak. But this did not pan out, and with things such as the betrayal of the British and the Balfour Declaration, Jews began to be viewed as a 5th column. With the Arab world carved up by Britain and France, propaganda by a certain German group became rather popular. Even the Jews that had been living in the Arab world for centuries became viewed with suspicion, and life grew steadily worse.
Then came the civil war in the Mandate of Palestine, culminating in the founding of Israel. This was not a good time to be an Arab; ethnic cleansings occurred, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced. Local Jews were blamed, and in retaliation riots broke out, and Jews throughout the Arab world were cleansed in response. The only Muslim communities with Jewish populations of note are Turkey and Iran, though most Jews left during the Iranian revolution. Whereas Israel was eager to absorb the Jews into their population, the Arab world was not so eager to do the same with the Palestinians, keeping the issue alive. Life has steadily gotten worse for most of the refugees, and since violence breeds more violence, well, today Jews do not win any popularity contests in the Arab world. And as long as the issue remains open, with Palestinians stuck in camps for decades and the Israelis and Palestinians unable (or unwilling) to settle it peacefully, it's unlikely to get better.
Most such beliefs feed off of ignorance and prejudice that arises from historical interpretations of Christianity and its teachings, and have traditionally been fanned with accusations of heresy and obvious cultural differences, as well as Biblical associations of Jewish leaders (often referred to simply as "the Jews," or that perennial sign of Nazi beliefs, "the Jew," by the dumb and those who tend to misspeak), with the death of Jesus. Antisemitism also pops up among Muslim communities, often combined with banking conspiracies and 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Anti-Semites frequently claim that Jews secretly control banks/governments/the media/the Treaty of Versailles. Tragically, on occasion some Jews fail to respond appropriately to such accusations, confirming conspiracy theorists' baseless concerns in their minds. It is similar to racism in that it frequently applies a stereotype or stereotypes to all members of a diverse group. Nazism took antisemitism to horrific extremes, resulting in the Holocaust. Modern antisemitism frequently takes the form of Holocaust denial or mass media/governmental conspiracy theories such as the "Zionist Occupational Government" (ZOG) beloved of white supremacists, but classic antisemitic tracts including the infamous 19th century Russian forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion have become increasingly popular in the Middle East. Some lunatic anti-Semite may think almost every person he/she doesn't like (or is rich) is Jewish, even when they aren't.
Both the left and right are guilty of antisemitism. Ruth Fischer, a Communist leader of Weimar-era (1919-1933) Germany, called for "Jewish capitalists" to be hanged from lampposts; ironically her contemporary Hitler, considered Communism to be a Jewish plot - but he also liked the stereotype of the Jewish banker.
How Antisemitism differs from plain old racism
“”Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.
While most racists believe that the victims of their hatred are inferior to them (e.g. no white supremacist thinks that black people secretly control the world), antisemitism ascribes some traits of "superiority" to its victims. In the mind of the antisemite "the Jews" own or control "the money", "the media" and are behind Capitalism, Communism or both. Also characteristic for antisemitism (though this may be found with some racists as well) is that Jews can do what they want because they are always "evil" for it. If Jewish men have sex, they are the "evil perverters of the youth." If they don't, either they must not be "normal" or they're in some "diabolical pact" that prohibits them from having sex. If Jews are poor, in the eyes of the antisemite, they are "useless moochers." If they are wealthy, they "control the banks" and are "usurers". While many antisemites grant that Jews are (supposedly) more intelligent than average people, they are again accused of using that intelligence for their nefarious schemes.
Antisemitism does not necessitate the presence of Jews. In Japan, for example, there is virulent antisemitism within the right wing but there are hardly any Jews to be found. The same is true for much of the Muslim world, although that animus is driven by some legitimate anger over Zionism and Palestine. And even more surprisingly, antisemitism may indeed work while never uttering the word "Jew". Some simply replace "Jews" for "Zionists" (see below), while others use the evil bankster trope without ever saying or implying that the "banksters" are Jews. (Hint: If your opponent starts quoting the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion they might just be a tad antisemitic.) This kind of antisemitism has also infected mainstream political culture in Malaysia to a small extent. And it can be found to some degree or other around the world.
Some antisemites attempt to discredit Israel and the ethnic origin of many Jews by claiming that Ashkenazi Jews (i.e. those descended from a German bloodline) actually descended from the Turkic Khazar Empire and therefore are not the "real" Jews. This myth has no evidence behind it. Although Jews did settle in the Empire and the Khazar ruling class adopted Judaism, Jews had already inhabited Europe long before the Turkic Khazar Empire came about. There is historical and genetic evidence that discredits this pseudohistorical "theory" too. This myth is often used as a way to justify the elimination of Israel and/or to explain why the British/Aryan/[insert race here] are the chosen people of the Bible, and not the Jews.
A similar myth espoused by some people, such as Louis Farrakhan, is that Jewish people who come from Europe are not the original Semitic peoples, and that many Arab Muslims are more closely related to the original Semites. Based on this myth, they claim that even if they hate Jews, they like Muslims, so they aren't antisemitic, you are. Regardless of who the "real" Semites are, the term antisemitism was popularized in Germany in 1873 specifically to replace Judenhass ("Jew-hatred") with a more scientific-sounding word.
Zionism and anti-Zionism
Israel is odd because (tongue entirely in cheek) it was a successful Jewish conspiracy and is run by Jews. Criticism and support of Israel is plagued by hardliners on both sides who are leveraging different causes and labels. There are hard-right Israelis who call for the creation of Greater Israel and just place it under the label of "Zionism" so any criticism is conflated with calls to eradicate Israel altogether. Those who'd dismantle Israel happily use that equivocation, claiming they are only "anti-Zionist" in terms of thinking Israel is big enough already.
Many antisemites use anti-Zionism as a kind of cover and entry-level recruiting tool. In addition, most antisemites see Zionism not as a modern movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, but as some kind of ancient, all-encompassing world conspiracy — in their language, the term "Zionism" means more or less the same as The Jews.™
On the flip side, Israel's staunchest gentile defenders in the United States tend to be extreme evangelical Protestants, who eagerly look forward to the "ingathering" of Jews in Israel followed by their massacre and/or forced conversion to Christianity. No, seriously: John Hagee, one of these tireless soldiers for Christ and Israel, got into a little trouble after opining that the Nazi Holocaust was all part of God's plan to punish European Jews for being too irreligious, or something. Strange bedfellows.
The 3D Test
Obviously, not all criticism of Israel and Zionism is antisemitism, but it can be difficult to determine the line as "Zionism" is used as a dog whistle and many antisemites will hide behind criticisms of Israel (legitimate and otherwise). So there exists a need to demarcate. One such attempt at doing this is the so-called 3D Test proposed by Natan Sharansky.
- Demonization. Exaggerations or outright lies intended to portray Israelis or all Jews as subhuman or evil.
- Delegitimatization. Claims that Israel has no right to exist or the Jews are not "real" Jews or descendants from the Jews that left Israel 2000-2500 years ago, commonly using the Khazar myth.
- Double Standards.
Important: While having a heavy or even exclusive focus on Israel is not in itself evidence of a double standard (people volunteering at animal shelters don't necessarily hate the homeless), focusing on the plight of the Palestinians while handwaving away or outright denying the extent of ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Islamic world post '48 very much is. On the flip side, highlighting the Jews that fled while engaging in apologetics or outright denial of the ethnic cleansings the Palestinians faced is also double standard.
This does not mean the test is without critics.
Freedom of speech at stake, or is it?
The problem with the 3D test is the implementation. Both the term "double standard" and the term "demonization" are arguably very open to interpretation. Free speech "extremists" like Christopher Hitchens were opposed to laws against Holocaust denial for that reason - once you start outlawing speech, it becomes hard to draw the line and define which speech is just disgusting, racist, and stupid and which should be a crime. However, the test can still be applied without it being made law. While applying the 3D test cannot and should not replace a critical mind with regard to statements that may or may not be antisemitic, but it provides a handy tool for laypeople who don't want or can't visit a three year course on the history of antisemitism to decipher all the dog whistles.
Adopting a law codifying the essential definition of the 3D test, France has made it de facto illegal to advocate for boycotts of Israel.
Israel as untouchable
As one example, Phillips labelled the Independent Jewish Voices (a rather tame organization) as "Jews for Genocide" simply on the grounds that they'd criticized Israel. Never mind that Israel's security is one of their five founding principles and combating anti-Semitism makes up two more of the five founding principles.
- International Jewish conspiracy
- Anti-Defamation League
- Blood libel
- Evil Jew
- Holocaust denial
- Passion play
- Albert Einstein, Wikiquote.
- See the Wikipedia article on Etymology of Antisemitism.
- See the Wikipedia article on Blood libel.
- See the Wikipedia article on Islam and antisemitism.
- See the Wikipedia article on Invasion of Banu Qurayza.
- See the Wikipedia article on Dhimmi.
- See the Wikipedia article on Yemenite Jews.
- Küntzel, Matthias, "National Socialism and Anti-Semitism in the Arab World", Jewish Political Studies Review 17:1–2 (Spring 2005).
- "The ultimate question leftist opponents of Zionism like to hurl at liberal Zionists, the one the former believe the latter cannot answer, is, to use Finkelstein’s formulation: 'How does one excuse ethnic cleansing?' If one is a liberal, committed to human rights, how can one justify the expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948 as Israel was born? [Ari] Shavit’s answer comes in the form of the two chapters that sit at the heart of the book. First comes 'Lydda, 1948,' a meticulously assembled account of the three July days when soldiers of the new Israeli army emptied that city of its Palestinian inhabitants and, according to Shavit, killed more than three hundred civilians in cold blood and without discrimination. Piecing together the testimony of those who did the killing, Shavit writes: 'Zionism carrie[d] out a massacre.'" The Liberal Zionists, book review by Jonathan Freedland, The New York Review of Books.
- Who runs Hollywood? C'mon
- The Khazar Myth and the new antisemitism, Robert Plaut
- Farrakhan responds to charge of antisemitism (Al-Jazeera)
- Wikipedia article on Antisemitism, 6 June 2015.
- We can't find the blog post itself- yet- but she admits to having written it here.