What is anti-Semitism: an explainer of anti-Jewish ideas and hatred

Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest hatred, dating back thousands of years, but many don’t know how it works or what it means.

A pure dictionary definition is: “hostility or prejudice against the Jewish people.” But the story is much more complicated than that.

“There is not a single thing that is anti-Semitism,” said Dr. Karen Auerbach, associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “There have been anti-Jewish ideas and sorts of forms of anti-Jewish systems of thought that have changed over time with common themes, common tropes but with different political context and used in different ways.”

While Auerbach says that anti-Semitism works like other forms of hatred in that it separates Jews from each other, it is different in that Jews are portrayed as a nefarious group that seeks to control the economy, religion, health systems, media and, fundamentally, the world.

“We know that we, the Jewish people, are often chosen as the scapegoat when something goes wrong within a group,” said Rabbi Eric Solomon of Temple Beth Meyer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Despite making up only 2% of the US population and 0.2% of the world’s population, anti-Semites believe Jews have influence over politics, economics, capitalism, communism, the COVID pandemic -19 and a number of other conflicts and current events.

Auerbach added that what is difficult to recognize about anti-Semitism is that it is often much less obvious than other forms of hatred because these ideas have existed for so long as part of the fabric of our culture itself.

“It’s very deeply rooted in Western culture and civilization and so I think it’s often difficult for people to relate to because there are so many assumptions that these ideas about Jews are so deeply rooted in. rooted,” Auerbach said.

Auerbach said these ideas date back to ancient times, but they really began to take shape in the Middle Ages when people began to characterize Jews as evil figures. Then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, this idea of ​​Jews as powerful elites really began to take hold, most notably with the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 1900s. This essay, which is still in print and widely circulated today, points out that a cabal of Jews sought to control the world.

Modern manifestations of this anti-Semitism have already led to violence, including at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, as well as a stabbing in New York around Chanukah last year. The most recent attack in Colleyville, Texas, meanwhile, was prompted by a terrorist who believed Jews had a direct line to the president and could free a prisoner.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, more than 500 anti-Semitic incidents were reported to the ADL in 2021.

Another form of anti-Semitism has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic: the trivialization, reversal, or outright denial of the Holocaust.

“It just becomes a point of reference for other forms of suffering rather than a historical development that involved the mass murder of 6 million people,” Auerbach said. “I think because it’s so present in our culture and in public debate, it kind of loses its impact or we lose our understanding of what the Holocaust was.”

Last week, attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said during a protest against vaccination mandates: “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you can cross the Alps to get to Switzerland. You can hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.”

In order to fight anti-Semitism, Auerbach wants more people to learn about Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

“It’s a story of great diversity among cultures from place to place who incorporated, became part of and transformed elements of the surrounding cultures and societies in which they lived,” she said.

She also said she wants more people to listen to Jewish voices, especially when talking about anti-Semitic incidents.

Rabbi Solomon, meanwhile, urges all people, whether Jewish or not, to speak up when they witness anti-Semitic incidents.

“Silence in some people’s eyes is agreement, and we refuse to be silent,” he said. “And that little sliver that continues to perpetuate hate, like a swastika, must be trampled on with our voices together.”

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