There is a saying that “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.” In a different way, antisemitism has many fathers, as it has built upon earlier layers of hatreds.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines antisemitism as “Prejudice, hostility, or discrimination towards Jewish people on religious, cultural, or ethnic grounds.” There can be different reasons why one might hate Jews, some of which are universal and others which are specific to Jews.
There are forms of hatred that are not exclusive to Jews. Rival groups often display hatred for one another, and human history is replete with bloody wars to demonstrate this point. Minority groups that serve in specific economic roles in a society can engender hatred, a phenomenon seen in the expulsion by Idi Amin of the Indians of Uganda and in the resentment against the Lebanese of West Africa, the Chinese diaspora in Malaysia and Indonesia and historically, the Jews of Europe. Sometimes people simply do not like those who are different from themselves, a basic xenophobia.
As a minority group Jews have gotten caught up in others’ disputes, falling on the wrong side of ethnic rivalries as German speakers in Czech lands, French speakers in Flemish Antwerp and English speakers in French Montreal. Judaism’s unchanging nature has set Jews at odds with the dominant religions, philosophies and ideologies in the places and times in which they lived.
There are other aspects of antisemitism which are unique to Jews. Judaism serves as a foil for both Christianity and Islam, and this impacted each one’s approach to Jews. In the New Testament, Jesus turned over the tables of the presumably corrupt money changers in the Temple and Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty shekels. Jews are presented as hypocrites, are accused of belonging to the “Synagogue of Satan,” of killing God and are described as being “cursed by the Law(s)” of the Torah. Later, Christian theologians developed “replacement theology,” in which the Christian Church had superseded the nation of Israel as God’s own people.
Similarly, in Islam, the Quran tells of Mohammed’s army killing the Jews of Khaybar and in the hadiths, “The Day of Judgment will not arrive until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims will kill them.’” Islam teaches that it alone is the correct version of Abrahamic monotheism, and that Jews (and Christians) are to be second class citizens in Muslim lands.
Anti-Jewish sentiment has evolved over time, by blending earlier prejudices with new conceptions. Medieval Christianity built on earlier Christian ideas and developed an anti-Judaism that portrayed Jews as exploiters of Christians through usury and as a physical and spiritual threat to Christians, leading to blood libels, host desecration accusations, massacres during the Black Death, inquisitions and expulsions. The secular anti-Judaism of the Enlightenment philosophers maintained earlier negative stereotypes of Jews and held Jews responsible for creating the groundwork for Christianity and the suffering it brought. Conspiracy theories were developed that claimed Jews were attempting to take over the world through schemes, financial and otherwise, while racial anti-Semitism saw Jews as inferior, irredeemable and destructive to their host societies.
All these variations have one thing in common: they have built up foundations for the the hatred of Jews. But what of anti-Zionism?
Second in a series of four articles