Karen Sutton
Karen Sutton

Conspiracy is not a Jewish thing — not now, not during the Holocaust, not ever

Current conspiracy theories, as preposterous as they may sound, claim that Jews “are at it again.” In fact, a study published last May showed that one in five English people believed that COVID is a Jewish conspiracy.

The charges that Jews are once again busy spreading  “deadly germs” to their unsuspecting Christian neighbors have historically marked an inauspicious sign of the times. Jews have always functioned as the metaphoric “canary in the coal mine.” History bears out that aphorism — when the political or social climate turns against the Jews, it is usually an indicator of a wider unhealthy condition. Although presently the coronavirus has done much to spark the canards about Jews as maleficent and power-hungry, for hundreds of years these notions have been propagated.  To Christian European society, Jews were “the other.”  Mainstream Christians believed that Jews acted as a unified and united group.  Spreading plagues or poisoning wells was just a means.  The “end” would be when Jews brought down their Christian neighbors and ascended to their proper place at the top rung of the social, political and economic hierarchy.

When the clergy or nobility shared these accusations with the mainstream public, the peasants could almost always be counted on to do what needed to be done.  From engaging in local pogroms to the mass murders of the Chmielnicki Revolt, the pattern was set and could be replicated with greater precision and force as state-of-the-art technology was weaponized against the Jews. Thus, it is little wonder that Jews everywhere are now a wee bit disconcerted as the oldies are replayed as new tunes.  So historically entrenched is this wave of “conspiracy antisemitism” that it is not surprising it has resurfaced in this volatile political climate and in the midst of a global pandemic. And so too, that the Holocaust actually “happened” is also called into question by Holocaust deniers and dubbed a trumped-up “conspiracy by Jews” to gain material benefits, including a Jewish State.

Rather than rehashing the alarmingly familiar diatribes against Jews and (now also) Israel that are circling the outskirts of mainstream society, it might be more helpful to review some of the more germane elements of “new” and “old fashioned” antisemitism that have made us feel both unsettled and vulnerable.

The very word antisemitism was first coined by William Marr in 1879 to connote a conspiracy.  Marr uses the word Semite to refer to the Jewish people as a “distinct people,” although, in fact, Arabs are also Semites.  Beneath his theory is the view that Jews do not act ingenuously but always (and eternally) with a hidden agenda and a self-serving motive.  Antisemitism is not like racism and other forms of prejudice; it differs by holding that the Jews think they are the hidden masters of the universe and pull all the strings that shape world events.  Both Ferdinand Rothschild one of the wealthiest men in the world and Karl Marx, the father of communism which advocates the abolition of private property, are used and reused as splendid examples of the same case in point. Definitely, the polarization of viewpoints by these two “unit-ified” Jews demonstrate the absurdity of antisemitism as a theory.

In his published tract, “Victory of Germandom over Jewry,” Marr broadcast his startling, refurbished “discovery,” namely, that international Jewry was collaborating to destroy the German people.  Marr claimed that the wealth, culture and traditions of the great Teutonic nation were for centuries being undermined by the Jewish people.  In so doing, he became the maestro of modern antisemitism.  By restoring old tropes of conspiracy antisemitism to new nationalistic and racist tunes, Marr’s work became an instant hit and a classic piece, played over and over again by anti-Semites worldwide. In the United States, we heard it from  Congresswoman Marjorie Greene although she` denies being an anti-Semite.  The terrorists of today hum the same tune as they kill “seemingly” innocent Jewish men, women and children.

In October 2019, The Dor Hadash Congregation that meets in “The Tree of Life” Synagogue in Pittsburgh hosted a ‘Refugee Shabbat’ as part of the national HIAS initiative to support refugee resettlement. The white supremacist who carried out the attack saw the publicity for this event online and became enraged. He posted “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people.  I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” Tragically, Robert Bowers’ online posting did not stay virtual. Just after reading the post, he got the address from the HIAS website,  went right over to the synagogue, opened its welcoming (unlocked) door and carried out his murderous agenda.

So why is this relevant here and now?  For one thing, much of the Covid-19-related conspiracy theories are conveyed on well-established anti-Semitic and Holocaust denier media channels such as TruNews, and Palestinian Authority TV.  The fact that Asians have been physically assaulted and targeted as a “conspiracy group” indicates an expansion and extension of the hate-mongering groups’ agenda. Websites of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Christian Channel Tru-News (a far-right website) now include a global community to contextualize their views and make them relevant to the current conditions.  We must be ever vigilant in pressuring mainstream social media to adopt zero tolerance on posting any and all messages that include conspiracy or hate content.  On this Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021, we remember that although Jews came from diverse political, social, economic and religiously observant backgrounds, none were spared. Patriots who had served their host countries were deported to death camps for one reason only — their Jewishness.  Therefore, in the face of any attack, no matter how seemingly trivial, it is with this unity of purpose that we can create a gauntlet of defense…not only for Jews but for all those facing attack.

About the Author
Dr. Karen Sutton is associate professor of history at the Lander College for Women, a division of Touro College, in New York City.
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