Abigael Benchaya

Being Jewish in the 21st century

The difference between being Jewish compared to being a part of any other community in the world, is that society deems that one cannot be proud and Jewish simultaneously. The entirety of the Jewish community is bound to carry the collective guilt and shame of their predecessors. It’s a heavy burden to carry, but one that can never be forgotten as we never know when we may have to defend or apologize on behalf of those at fault.

With the progression of time, antisemitism rises at an alarming pace. More notably in recent years, there has been a 34 percent increase from 2020 to 2021. That averages to more than seven antisemitic incidents per day. 

Society supports self-love for African Americans, Christians, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ+ community, as they should, however, when Jews demonstrate a love for their traditions, land, or religion, without simultaneously acknowledging the faults, they receive backlash. Jews are not allowed to mention antisemitism without being accused of over-exaggeration or their struggles being undermined. Antisemitism is often not perceived from exterior communities as it comes in many different forms. Whether Jews are accused of controlling the media, benefiting from the slave trade, or creating the Holocaust, there is always new rhetoric that gains popularity and fuels further hatred from a larger expanse of people. Because the topics of these tropes cover such a large range, there is always at least one idea that a person can relate to and create a personal connection with. 

Although the Jewish community makes up around 0.2 percent of the worldwide population, they are nevertheless accused of being on a quest for world domination and already being in control of powerful industries. When Jewish people seek a position of power, suspicion arises along with conspiracy theories of the true intent behind it. There have been many books and theories “exposing” the true Jewish intention of complete global domination including detailed collaboration and coordination from the entire Jewish community. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in the early 20th century, detailed meetings between Jewish leaders conspiring to take over the world. This would be done by infiltrating the government, media and other industries. Proof of these meetings was never provided, but the conspiracy theory in itself was enough to convince some of its basis and plant a seed of belief in others. Many of these books were published leading to a dramatic increase of fear and disgust of the Jewish community, this hate ultimately laid the foundation for Nazi ideology which was soon to follow. 

With the rise of antisemitism in the 1920s, it was easy to blame the Jews for Germany’s loss in World War I, which led to the genocide that soon followed in World War II. The Germans needed a scapegoat to take accountability for the outcome of the war who soon became Germany’s foreign minister of affairs, Walter Rathenau, a German Jew. Rathenau was murdered on his way to work, which was justified using the theory of the Elders of Zion. Adolf Hitler, the head of the political party, painted a utopian future for Germans and blamed communists and Jews for past issues. The genocide of the Jewish people soon followed, ending in the murder of 6 million Jews.

Even with countless documentation, photos, witnesses, and victim testimonies, many believe in the gross exaggeration or the fabrication of the Holocaust by the Jewish people. The Institute for Historical Review was created in 1978 with the goal of refuting the existence of the Holocaust. Holocaust deniers believe that the Holocaust was fabricated by the Jewish people in order to gain reparations and international sympathy. This problematic belief leads to doubt and suspicion in the Jewish community as a whole. The end of the war is not equivalent to the end of antisemitism that was due to propaganda globally spread. Those beliefs were still held throughout many communities. Jim Keegstra was a teacher in the 1980s who taught and spread his antisemitic views, notably the outright denial of the Holocaust. He taught for 14 years before any concern was raised to the school board by a parent. Without strict regulations, many more of these cases fly under the rug for more years than is acceptable.

Although the antisemitic ideas that prevailed in the 20th century seemed outrageous at first, the more they spread, the more reputable they became. Many antisemitic theories have evolved and remain very pertinent even today. Whether it is the distortion of the holocaust or conspiracy theories of the intent of Jewish individuals, these ideas have real-world effects. When discriminatory ideas rise in popularity, violent attacks are quick to follow.  Some of these ideas have evolved so far from their original form, they are no longer considered as being antisemitic by those who perpetuate them. People believe that they must spread “the truth” about the Jews when the ideas they have stem from centuries of hate. 

It is important to recognize which ideas aim to discern Jewish identity and which are based in antisemitic rhetoric. This distinction is often not made and creates deep-rooted dislike for the entire community. When faced with an internal bias or prejudice towards any community, one must determine which external factors have influenced that opinion, which is based on facts or from a deviation from the truth.

About the Author
My name is Abigael Benchaya, I am 19 years old and just finished my first year as a law student at the University of Montreal. I have always considered it necessary to speak out about what I feel is wrong and being a fellow in Hasbara has allowed me to do that.
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