Michael Harvey
Rabbi | Advocate | Educator

Why Does Antisemitism Come So Easily?

Antisemitism in the US has been on a steady exponential rise since 2016. In the wake of October 7th, Jews realized that the far right voters include actual Nazis, and the far left voters think Jews are Nazis. Since 2016, and even more so since October 7th, Jews like myself have been playing defense against some of the oldest antisemitic conspiracy theories and tropes known. The dehumanization of Jews, their minimization into caricatures, comes so fast, and so easily. Exceptions are made for their killers, grammatical vagueness when reporting on their deaths, whataboutism when expressing their pain. How does this occur? Why is it so easy to stand on the precipice of antisemitism and then find something that gives you the little push to make you descend down the bottomless rabbit-hole of which you may never return? It is not a mystery, it is history, a history that ironically is not taught, and this is why it occurs over and over again. Imagine for a moment….

Imagine for a moment that you hear a reading in the New Testament that the Jews standing at in front of Pilate yelled together as one voice: “Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” solidifying that the death of Jesus would be corporate and for all time and generations of Jews; or that Judas betrays Jesus for silver, and thus the enemy of Jesus, the Jews enacted a betrayal for money.

Imagine for a moment that your pastor gives a sermon on why you shouldn’t be a “Pharisee” meaning that it’s now acceptable for one Christian to call another Christian a “Pharisee” as a slur, but “Pharisee” means a Jew, thus you are being taught to tell other Christians, “don’t be so Jewish.” Or you hear the Gospel of John attacking “The Jews” with “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. Thus beginning a connection for you between Jews and The Devil. Or you hear your pastor tell the story of the Good Samaritan, thus learning that the Jews that pass by the victim are elitist and heartless. Or in Sunday School you read in Revelations, on the subject of Jews, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

Imagine for a moment that you read a translation of the Bible which contains a mistake by a fourth-century Christian translator, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, also known as Saint Jerome, who mistranslated the word “radiant” for “horn” in the translation of Exodus, thus creating the idea in your head that Jews have horns, and are linked to the Devil. Or on Easter, you hear the hymn in Church: “This one was murdered. And where was he murdered? In the middle of Jerusalem. By whom? By Israel.”

Imagine for a moment, your pastor quotes a man named Ignatius of Antioch for his contributions to Christianity and then reading that he stated “It is monstrous to talk(sic) Jesus Christ and to live like a Jew. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” Or your pastor references Cyprian and Tertullian who taught that “Jews, from time immemorial, have been a nation of reprobates guilty of idolatry, depravity, murdering prophets, and of course, rejecting God’s messiah.” Or your pastor praises the word of the Saint, John Chrysostom, who stated of Jews “they sacrificed their sons and daughters to devils, outraged nature…they have become worse than wild beats and for no reason at all with their own hands murder their offering to worship the avenging devils who are foes of our life…”. Imagine for a moment you learn the importance of St. Augustine of Hippo, who concreted the ideas of replacement theology stating of Jews, “Their blindness and disbelief also fulfill biblical predictions of their repudiation and replacement.”

Imagine for a moment that at a young age in Sunday School you heard the legend of the “True Cross” by Saint Ambrose, hearing the story as that “Clever jews knew the Cross had…power.  They hid it over the centuries not just because it was proof that they had crucified the Lord, but because its revelation would bring about their final defeat.” Or perhaps you learned about the first Christian Emperors, The Constantine, the Theodosiuses, Justinian, who through laws and councils forbade Jewish and Christian intermarriage, business dealings, and of course imposed the death penalty for conversion to Judaism: “if any one of the population should join with their abominable sect and attend their meetings, he will bear with them the deserved penalties.”

Imagine for a moment in your Christian history learning, you came across the Visigothic Code, that stated “Since truth itself [Matthew 7:7] teaches us to seek, to investigate, to knock [at the door of heaven and it will be opened]…[Christians must make every effort to convert Jews].  Therefore if any Jew, of those naturally who are as yet not baptized or who have postponed their own or their children’s baptism…the transgressor of these [conditions] whoever he may be shall have his head shaved, receive a hundred lashes, and pay the required penalty of exile.” Or perhaps you learned of the wonderful “Crusades” that King Richard was out fighting while Robin Hood saved the kingdom, not knowing that the Crusaders passed through Germany on their way to Jerusalem, the crusaders (proclaimed by the Catholic Church) killed thousands of Jews in the larger cities of the Rineland such as Speyer, Worms, Mayence and Cologne yelling “The enemies of the Lord said to each other: Look they have opened up the gate for us. Now let us avenge the blood of the hanged one.”

Imagine for the moment that you had heard a rumor that Jews kidnapped Christian children and used their blood to use in the baking of their Passover Matzos, or that Jews would poison the wells of Christian towns, which caused the illness (not natural diseases of course), not knowing that hundreds of Jews were beaten and killed for these crimes with no evidence, such as by a Priest in 1171 stated with authority “come I’ll advise you how you can condemn them.  Command that the servant who saw the Jews throw the child into the river be brought here, and let him be tested by the ordeal in a tank of water to discover if he has told the truth.” And by doing so 31 Jews were taken and put into a wooden house around which were placed thorn bushes…they were told “save your lives.  Leave your religion and turn to us.”  They mistreated them, beat them, and tortured them but they refused.  As the flames mounted high the martyrs began to sing in unison [32 Jews were burned]. Perhaps you missed the Third Crusade in York in which “The zeal of the Christians against the Jews in England…broke out fiercely.  It was not indeed sincere, that is, solely for the sake of the faith, but in rivalry for the luck of others or from envy of their good fortune.  Bold and greedy men thought that they were doing an act pleasing to God, while they robbed or destroyed rebels against Christ and carried out the work of their own cupidity with savage joy and without any scruple of conscious….At the advice of their rabbi…many killed themselves, after first setting fire to the tower.  Those who were left offered to convert, but were mercilessly slaughtered by the aroused mob.”

Imagine for a moment you heard the rumor that Jews had been “kicked out of every country they were in,” and that perhaps this was about them in some way instead of those removing them. Such as in 1182 in France, when Philip Augustus declared that all the Jews of his kingdom should be prepared to go froth by the coming feast of St. John the Baptist [June 24].  And then the King gave them leave to sell each his moveable goods before her time fixed, that is, the feast of St. John the Baptist.  But their real estate, that is, houses, fields, vineyards, barns, winepresses, and such like, he reserved for himself and his successors, the kings of the French. Perhaps you’ve been the Louvre, and did not know that some of the Jewish wealth in 1182 stolen was used build the it.

Imagine for a moment you’ve seen the yellow Jewish star on pictures of Jews in the Ghettos of the 1930s, not knowing that the practice originated far before it, such as when Pope Innocent III, demanded that Jews be easily distinguished from Gentiles, in order to prevent intermarriage and consequent losses to the Christian religion.  The result of this law was the a number of states legislated that the Jews wear the “badge of shame.” Or you’ve wondered by Jews were not allowed to hold public office for so long in so many countries, not knowing that the decree came straight from the Catholic church, “Since it would be altogether too absurd that a blasphemer of Christ should exercise authority over Christians, we, in this chapter, renew, because of the boldness of transgressors, what the Toledo Council has prudently decreed in this matter.  We forbid that Jews be preferred for public offices since by pretext of some sort they manifest as much hostility to Christians as possible.”

Imagine for a moment you were told that Jews lived peacefully in Christian countries, not knowing why, that it was the law, such as by La Siete Pardidas: “The reason that the church…permitted the Jews to dwell among them and with Christians, is because they always lived, as it were, in captivity, as it was constantly [a token] in the minds of men that they were descended from those who crucified Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Perhaps you had heard that Jews were responsible for the Black Death, not knowing that the blame for the plague came from the Christian Church stating that a Jew had actually scattered poison: “Agimet took this package full of poison and carried it with him to Venice and when he came there he threw and scattered a portion of it in the well or cistern of fresh water…in order to poison people who use the water…he confesses further that he put some of this poison into the public fountain of the city of Toulouse and in the wells that are near the sea.” The result was “In the matter of this plague the Jews throughout the world were reviled and accused in all lands of having caused it through the poison which they are said to have put in the water and the wells…and for those reason the Jews were burnt all the way from the Mediterranean into Germany…So finally the Bishop and the lords and the imperial cities agreed to do away with the Jews.  The result was that they were burnt in many cities, and wherever they were expelled they were caught by the peasants and stabbed to death or drowned…”

Imagine for a moment you’ve read the historic date of 1492, when “Columbus sailed the Ocean blue” not knowing that in Spain at that same date, In the year of 5252 [1492], in the days of King Ferdinand…he ordered the expulsion of all the Jews in all parts of his kingdom…When the edict of expulsion became known in the other countries, vessels came from Genoa to the Spanish harbors to carry away the Jews.  The crews of these vessels…acted maliciously and meanly towards the Jews, robbed them, and delivered some of them to the famous pirate of the time who was called the Corsair of Genoa.  To those who escaped and arrived at Genoa the people of the city showed themselves merciless and oppressed and robbed them, and the cruelty of their wicked hearts went so far the they took the infants from the mothers breasts.”

Imagine for a moment you’ve heard of the Inquisition in which thousands of Jews were forced to convert or face torture or death, but you did not hear the primary source material of witnesses of what occurred, such as in the story of Elvira del Campo who “was caught practicing Jewish rites.  She was tried in Toledo for not eating pork and for putting on clean linen on Saturdays.  She admitted so doing, but although she was of Jewish origin she denied any intention of committing heresy.  Character witnesses, including clergymen, testified that she was a good Christians.  She probably was. She was at the time pregnant; her baby was born the end of August in prison and the case was not take up again till the winter.  We do not know what happened to the infant.  She was told that the torture would be continued until she told the truth and was admonished to tell it, but though she was questioned repeatedly she remained silent. “

Imagine you did not get to learn that five years later, In 1497 all the Jews of Portugal were compelled by the King to become Christians, yet these “New Christians” continued in secret to practice the Jewish Faith.  The Christian masses, fired by religious fanaticism, frightened by plague, and enraged by the economic competition of these secret Jews, attacked them when they could and in 1506 – Two thousand were butchered and cremated.  Account of Geronymo Osorio, a Catholic prelate wrote:

“Such an insensibly overwhelmed this wretched people that they were scarce able to lament their ruin or deplore their misery; nay, those who lay concealed, though they beheld their parents or children dragged away to torture and death, durst not even utter a mournful grown, for fear of being discovered.  In short they became so stupefied with terror that there was little difference betwixt the living and the dead.  The houses were plundered, d and the blood rioters carried off great quantities of gold and silver …they broke into the churches, and dragging the Jews from thence, either cruelly butchered or threw them alive into the fire.

Imagine for a moment you’ve read about the historic achievements of Martin Luther, rebelling against tradition and hailed as a hero in Christian circles, but not knowing that he is also quite famous for his rabid antisemitism that directly led to German Nazi antisemitism: “What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?  Since they live among us and we know about their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we can not tolerate them if we do not wish o share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy.  In this way we cannot quench the inextinguishable fire of divine rage nor convert the Jews.” “First their synagogues…should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that mono one may ever be able to see a cinder or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it.” “Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.  For they perpetrate the same things there that they do in their synagogues.  For this reason they out to be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies, in order that they may realize that they are not masters of our land, as they boast, but miserable captives, as they complain of us incessantly before God with bitter wailing.”

Imagine for a moment you heard the name Wilhelm Marr knowing that it was he who coined the term “antisemitism” as he considered race theory to be science and he chose Antisemitismus as a “scientific” term to replace the rather vulgar Judenhaß. But perhaps you didn’t learn why, that he felt threatened by the progress Jews had made. In 1878, he published a pamphlet titled “The Victory of Judaism over Germandom.” It stated, in part of Jews: “There is no stopping them. . . .German culture has proved itself ineffective and powerless against this foreign power. This is a fact; a brutal [inescapable] fact. State, Church, Catholicism, Protestantism, Creed and Dogma, all are brought low before the Jewish tribunal, that is, the irreverent daily press [which the Jews control]. The Jews were late in their assault on Germany, but once they started there was no stopping them.”

Imagine you’ve heard the denial or minimization of the Holocaust not reading the history of its beginnings in the 19th century as around the world, old prejudices were being justified in the name of race science and eugenics. Supporters of race science argued that some races were superior to others, and that the differences between groups were not a matter of beliefs or circumstances, but instead, the differences were biological and passed on in the blood. Suddenly, people who believed society was better before Jewish emancipation had what they considered a scientific term for their beliefs: antisemitism. The move from anti-Judaism against the religion to antisemitism, with this notion of race, was only possible when Europeans conceived of the idea of race. And once they had conceived of the idea of race in the 19th century, Wilhelm Marr had the notion that Jews constituted a race. And thus, antisemitism can be seen as a form of racism.

Imagine for a moment you’ve heard the Qanon conspiracies not knowing that they originate from a falsified document about Jews called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion In 1903, portions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were serialized in a Russian newspaper, Znamya (The Banner). The version of the Protocols that has endured and has been translated into dozens of languages, however, was first published in Russia in 1905 as an appendix to The Great in the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth, by Russian writer and mystic Sergei Nilus. Although the exact origin of the Protocols is unknown, its intent was to portray Jews as conspirators against the state. In 24 chapters, or protocols, allegedly minutes from meetings of Jewish leaders, the Protocols “describes” the “secret plans” of Jews to rule the world by manipulating the economy, controlling the media, and fostering religious conflict. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, anti-Bolshevik émigrés brought the Protocols to the West. Soon after, editions circulated across Europe, the United States, South America, and Japan. An Arabic translation first appeared in the 1920s. Beginning in 1920, auto magnate Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, published a series of articles based in part on the ProtocolsThe International Jew, the book that included this series, was translated into at least 16 languages. Both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, later head of the propaganda ministry, praised Ford and The International Jew.

Imagine for a moment you’ve heard “Talmud” passages from a book entitled “The Talmud Unmasked” which is full of false teachings by a writer who could not even read Aramaic (the language of the Talmud) and created imaginary doctrine of Jewish texts that supposedly show hate and distain for Christians, including absurd notions that “Jews do not regard non-Jews as human beings, “the Talmud contains blasphemies against Jesus and offensive passages about Christians,” and that “Judaism despises non-Jews.” Perhaps you were unaware that this book is available and regarded as true even today.

Imagine for a moment you drove around and saw “Jewish hospitals”. But not knowing that Jews had to create their own hospitals, universities, schools, libraries, and social clubs because they were barred from those institutions by Christians. Imagine you’re standing around and someone tells a story about a sale where someone says “they tried to Jew me down,” meaning they tried to cheat them, and you say nothing and neither does anyone else.


Imagine that people around you TODAY, during the Arab/Israeli conflict are telling you that Jews have “victim complexes”, that we should “show more respect to Christians,” that we’re always “whining about being oppressed,” that we think “everything is antisemitism,” that “Israel tells lies about what is happening.” Imagine people calling Jews “Nazis,” “dogs”, “baby killers,” “Pigs,” “scum,” that people today in 2023 are chanting “gas the Jews,” that people today chant “Jews belong in hell,” or “from the River to the Sea” (the total eradication of Jews in Israel.”)

Imagine for a moment that you have absolutely no idea what kind of generational trauma and PTSD every single Jew has on this planet, the multitudes of lies and conspiracy theories they face every day, the things they have overcome from schoolmates, employers, supervisors, or even friends.

Once you do that, maybe you can imagine for a moment that perhaps there’s more to the anti-Israel rise than just being “against Netanyahu’s policies.” Antisemitism comes so easy to you, that you don’t even know it’s happening. But we do. And we will remember.

About the Author
Michael E. Harvey is a Reform Rabbi, ordained by the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in 2015. After leading multiple congregations across the United States, Mike proudly served as a hospital chaplain at IU Health during the height of COVID-19. Mike is passionate about social justice, interfaith cooperation, and bringing deep Jewish learning to the lay public. He has followed these passions in serving his communities, including founding and directing interfaith councils and sitting on multiple boards, locally and nationally. In 2022, Mike wrote and published his first book, Let’s Talk: A Rabbi Speaks to Christians, which became an Amazon Bestseller. Mike's current projects include finishing his second book, and completing his doctorate degree at Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership. His new book "From the Gospels to the Gas Chambers: How Christian Scripture Inspires a Pattern of Genocide" is in production and is in need of a publisher.
Related Topics
Related Posts