Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

What is Anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is unique among prejudices.

Do Jews face employment discrimination?

Last month, Resume Builder, an American resume-writing company, conducted an on-line survey of 1,131 hiring managers and recruiters. The purpose of the survey was to assess attitudes toward Jews within the surveyed companies.

The results were shocking. According to the researchers, key findings were as follows:

  • 26% of hiring managers said they were less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants. The top reason was the belief that Jews have too much power and control.
  • 26% made assumptions about whether a candidate was Jewish based on his or her appearance.
  • 23% said they wanted fewer Jews in their industry.
  • 17% said that leadership had told them not to hire Jews.
  • 33% said anti-Semitism is common in their workplace.
  • 29% said anti-Semitism is acceptable in their company.

The survey revealed a high level of hostility toward Jews, as well as a pervasive pattern of discrimination against them.

Origins of Anti-Semitism:

Anti-Semitism has been called “the world’s oldest hatred.” Given man’s propensity for conflict with his fellow man, it may be that the mere act of being around for a long time—-over 3,500 years in the case of the Jewish people—-is itself the basis for much of the antipathy against Jews. But the modern version of anti-Semitism was born with the failed would-be German politician Wilhelm Marr.

Marr’s dubious contribution was to coin the term “anti-Semite.” Although the term “Semite” properly refers to a language group—-Marr, and those who followed him—- infused the term, incorrectly, with race. Marr’s essential point was that Jews were alien to the German “volk” and therefore a foreign element. In his popular political tract, “The Victory of Judaism over Germandom” he argued that Jews were a threat to Germany because they were a powerful force that undermined the interests of the German people. This theme has informed public hostility to Jews and continues to this day, within Europe and in the world as a whole.

Modern Anti-Semitism:

One of the best explanations of modern anti-Semitism was offered by New York Times op-ed writer Bret Stephens in his April 2022 keynote address at an on-line conference of the Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies: “Defining Anti-Semitism—and Why It Matters”. Much of what follows is drawn from Stephen’s address.

According to Stephens, anti-Semitism is unique among prejudices: it is a prejudice based on a conspiracy theory of overwhelming and pervasive Jewish power. Stephens outlined five aspects of putative Jewish power:

  • Just as Jews killed Christ, they have the power of life and death over others.
  • Jews control the finances, industry and media of nations.
  • Jews have the power to manipulate the great powers of the world, such as the United States. So for example, anti-Semites obsess over the role of lower-level Jewish State Department advisors such as Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Anti-Semites have accused these and other Jews of “manipulating” the US into its invasion of Iraq. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists are less concerned about the central decision makers—-George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell—-none of whom was Jewish.
  • Jewish power endangers the whole world. For example, anti-Semites argue that al-Qaeda launched its 911 attacks due to US support of Israel. In fact, Osama bin-Laden’s widely published manifestos listed that factor as only one of many gripes against the US.
  • Jews use their power in a secretive manner in order to surreptitiously take advantage of others.

Marr’s accusation that Jews are foreign to the countries they inhabit has been resurrected to claim that Israel is an illegitimate state because Jews are foreign to the Middle East and have stolen the land from its native inhabitants, the Arab Palestinians. This is a myth because Jews are native to the Middle East. Their tenure in the land of Israel preceded, by millennia, the Arab invasions of Palestine in the sixth century. Stephens argues that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism largely overlap. This explains the anti-Semites’ obsession with demonizing Israel above all other nations involved in territorial disputes.

Conditions for a Viral Epidemic of Anti-Semitism:

Why has anti-Semitism flourished in recent years? Stephens says that anti-Semitism is like a virus that flourishes when certain societal trends exist. Among these are the following.

In the past, the predominant view was that America is a melting pot of ethnicities, races, and national origins. But the contemporary “woke” view is a duality: Americans are either white or people of color. In this view, white people are generally exploitive of people of color. Despite the Jews’ origins in the Middle East, most American Jews are Ashkenazi—-that is, their immediate ancestors were European. Thus, anti-Semites see Jews as white, and therefore as oppressors. Anti-Semites speak of Jewish white supremacy and white privilege.

Today anti-Semites have transformed traditional notions of success into privilege. They view this privilege as suspect, unearned, and deserving of being taken away. Jews fit neatly into the category of privileged because, as a group, Jews are often economically, socially and politically successful. Anti-Semites do not acknowledge that privilege may be earned by education, hard work, devotion to family, thrift, and other salutary values.

Anti-Semites benefit from today’s field of discourse that is narrowed by political correctness. That is, intellectual heterodoxy, skepticism, irreverence, and questioning of prevailing views are banned or punished by demonization, exclusion and job threat. Thus, in today’s political climate, sane voices are less likely to challenge anti-Semitic canards.

Finally, conspiracy theories of both the left and right have become mainstream. These include theories such as birtherism, election denial, and public manipulation by government health authorities during the COVID pandemic. According to Stephens, “If people will believe anything about anything, eventually they will believe the worst about Jews.”

Recently, social commentator Jordan Peterson reiterated the familiar theme that anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine. It is a harbinger of the worst to come for society as a whole.

What is to be done? The first step is for Jews and their supporters to define anti-Semitism.

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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