Skip to main content

What is antisemitism? A look at the many ways the age-old hatred manifests

By October 30, 2023Article

Read the original article here.

By : Anna Kaufman

Arye Ephrath lived a large portion of his first three years as someone else. Born in Slovakia on the day the first Jews in his town were ordered to train stations to be deported to Auschwitz, Ephrath has a unique story of survival.

He hid his religion by posing as the daughter of a Christian family, complete with a pink bow and the name Anna. His parents were sheltered by a separate family who had a large stack of hay in the backyard under which they dug a ditch to live for eight months. When the Red Army came to liberate Slovakia and Eprath was finally reunited with his parents, they barely recognized him.

Now, he spends his time educating others on the teachings of hatred that permitted the atrocities of the Holocaust. “I am perhaps one of the youngest of the survivors who was actually alive at the time − and the generation is disappearing,” he said. “It really is not just a need to tell the story but a duty.”

Though the Holocaust is arguably the most salient historical example of anti-Jewish hatred, it is only one concentrated instance of a prejudice that has existed for centuries. Antisemitism often twists and contorts into new forms as political and social discourse evolve, making it difficult to spot sometimes. At its core though, it is built on the same durable contempt and loathing.

Here is a primer on antisemitism and some examples of its manifestations in modern society.

What is antisemitism?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental organization founded to promote Holocaust education and remembrance, defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Though the term “antisemitism” was not coined until the 19th century, hatred of Jews dates back to ancient times. “Antisemitism has really taken many forms throughout history,” Ari Ingel, the director of Creative Community For Peace, a nonprofit that works to eradicate antisemitism in the entertainment industry said.

He added: “In the early days, Jews were seen as the Christ-killers. Under communism, Jews were the capitalists. Under Hitler and Nazis, Jews were the ultimate race polluters.”

Over the years, antisemitic sentiment has amounted to pogroms or violent, sometimes government-sponsored campaigns against the Jewish people. In the ancient world they were often incited by blood libels − rumors that Jews used children’s blood for ritual purposes, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports.

A long-held belief among Christians, particularly in Catholicism, that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, also wrought historic persecution. In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of all Jews from Spain, and during the Crusades Jewish people in Western Europe were targeted violently by Christian mobs.

The modern era has attached a more political dimension to that prejudice. Jews are often classified as ‘globalists’ and hatred of Jews can be couched as a distaste for liberal or cosmopolitan global political trends, which certain segments of the Jewish community have a rich history of supporting.

Antisemitism in America: A growing force

Each year the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) compiles a report on incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism or assault in America. In 2022, the ADL tracked a 36% increase in these instances from the previous year. The total stood at 3,697 − the highest number on record since the organization began tracking incidents in 1979.

“Antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine,” Dan Granot, the director of government relations at the Anti-Defamation League says. Hate works a bit like Russian Nesting dolls, prejudices often stack up inside one another. So where there’s antisemitism, there’s often white supremacy, xenophobia and other brands of prejudice.

As conspiracy theories have taken on greater importance in our politics in recent years, it’s no surprise that antisemitism is on the rise Granot says. “In many ways, antisemitism is a conspiracy theory. If you believe that on one hand, Jews are so powerful that they rule the world – they are in charge of every bank, and every government in a secret world order, but at the same time that they’re weak or subhuman,” he explains.

What does it mean for something to be antisemitic?

While a working definition like the one IHRA provides can be a helpful pillar to lean on, experts say manifestations of hate are constantly evolving.

“I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding among most people of what antisemitism is, particularly because it’s such a unique form of hatred,” Granot says. What makes it so unique? It subscribes to what Granot calls “contradictory logic” that Jews are both “excessively powerful, but also that they’re weak or even subhuman.”

Not all antisemitism is Nazi symbolism and violent rhetoric, some of it is “soft-core” − a misplaced joke, or a harmful assumption − subtle and pernicious. Some common examples include stereotypes that all Jews are wealthy, or conversely that they’re stingy.

“In many ways, antisemitism like other forms of hate is a caricature of a people and it only looks at the most successful or the most visible and takes those characteristics and presumes that they exist across the entire people,” Granot says. “It oftentimes just disregards very clear and important historical aspects of the Jewish people that led them to be in certain industries.”

The important thing is to open up a conversation, to breed understanding, and to call out prejudice, Ingel says. “You get two Jews in a room you get 17 opinions, that’s the Jewish culture,” he jokes, “We have a lot of opinions we have a lot of debate … the Jews have thrived and survived because of that. It’s an inherently democratic people that are open to discussing things from all different angles.”

Are anti-Zionism and antisemitism connected?

Antisemitism has become more complicated in the 21st century with the creation of the state of Israel.

The Jewish state can sometimes be painted as a stand-in for Jews all over the world, some of whom have never been to Israel, have no family there, and feel no connection to it.

The “dual loyalties” trope is oft-pedaled in American politics, accusing Jews in the U.S. of having fealty to both Israel and the United States. When conflict breaks out, as it has between Israel and Hamas this past month, Jews are sometimes blamed or forced to defend the actions of the Middle Eastern country. They can be on the receiving end of harassment, veiled or explicit threats and violent acts.

IHRA’s definition covers this by listing, “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” as an act of antisemitism.

In Charlottesville, terror took on new life

“One of the things about antisemitism is that it’s almost impossible if not impossible to defeat. Every generation it rears its head again,” Granot explains. That was on full display in August 2017, when crowds of white nationalists marched through the streets of Charlotteville, Virginia chanting “Jews will not replace us.” They were gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.

Ephrath said he couldn’t believe his eyes when the videos began to surface of marchers armed with Tiki torches spewing hateful chants. “It left a very deep effect on me,” he said.

“America paid dearly in money and blood to rid the world of fascism in WWII, how can it be that not a generation later there are American citizens who dare march openly in an American city carrying swastika flags and chanting nazi slogans?” he said.

Antisemitism is both persistent and resilient

If antisemitism is both contextual and periodic, as Granot explains, it becomes all the more difficult to tamp out. It rises in times of political and economic uncertainty, he says.

When people are in search of a scapegoat, or an overarching conspiracy theory to explain something − the Jews are a frequent “fill in the blank.”

“When there is a lot of divisiveness, when there’s a lot of uncertainty like we’re seeing in America now, unfortunately, antisemitism seems to raise its ugly head,” Ingel says.

Send this to a friend