Jewish Graves Desecrated. France, 2004.
In existence for over 2000 years, anti-Semitism is one of the most ancient forms of hatred in history. It is also uniquely adaptable to times, places and societies: anti-Semitism has flourished in the East and in the West, in periods of peace and in wartime, in economic boom and in dire crisis, in cities with a high concentration of Jews and in countries with no significant Jewish presence. The oldest anti-Semitic clichés have not disappeared with time, but have been recycled, actualized, contextualized and reformulated to fit modern circumstances. Just by scratching the surface, traditional and worn-out stigmas are easily identifiable: from Jewish impurity to Jewish greed, from the murder of Christ to blood libel, from double allegiance to Jewish conspiracy.
The figure of the Jew has been a convenient scapegoat and continues to foster hostile feelings, statements and actions. Anti-Semitism has also evolved according to new modes of mediation: the long-banned classic The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is downloadable from the Internet in ten languages free of charge; skinheads invite guests to neo-Nazi events through text messaging; anti-Semitic propaganda is available through mail-order catalogues, videogames, bootleg CDs and DVDs; anti-Jewish slogans are cheaply printed on stickers and plastered all over town; talk radio stations air anti-Semitic statements from listeners; graffiti is tagged on sidewalks and defaces tombstones; college newspapers accept ads from Holocaust deniers; Nazi rock is turned into cell phone ringtones… These are just a just some of the media used in the propagation of anti-Semitism.
This unit will look at contemporary case studies that offer insight into the newest mediations of anti-Semitism and the resurrection of old stereotypes under modern guise. Much has happened since the beginning of the 21st century: violent attacks against synagogues and Jewish buildings have been claimed as "responses" to Israeli policies; bans on the butchering process of kosher (and halal) meat have been instated in some European countries; public statements have been made claiming that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and global economic crises, etc. All contemporary phenomena are grounded in ancient anti-Jewish stereotypes that clearly focus on religion (rituals deemed barbaric; excess of piety seen as foreign; lack of observance considered suspicious; sacred texts in a foreign language triggering conspiracy theories, to name a few examples).
The term 'anti-Semitism' has always been applied to Jews, an expression that was created to characterize hatred targeting this people exclusively. It has never been used to qualify any form of hostility towards any other population, and is thus an equivalent to 'Judeophobia' or 'hatred of the Jews.' The term 'anti-Semitism' was coined in 1879 by German journalist Wilhelm Marr to describe 'non-religious' hatred of Jews, and was used to rebuke Judaism by the political party known as the 'Anti-Semite League.' This movement, which in time spread to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia and France, emerged as a reaction to the emancipation of the Jews and to their penetration into non-Jewish society. Adherents claimed not to be hostile to the Jews from a religious point of view, but for social, economic, political and racial reasons. At the end of the 19th Century, religious hostility directed at Jews was considered to be obscurantist and retrograde by numerous intellectuals. Hence the necessity of finding a new, more "scientific" paradigm which would correspond to the spirit of Enlightenment, while still preserving the means to express hatred of the Jews. The anti-Semitism of that period thus focused on the supposedly permanent traits of the Jews as an ethnic group, in order to de-legitimize their status of equality.
The general term 'anti-Semitism' must be distinguished from 'anti-Judaism,' which describes more specifically a hostility against the Jewish religion developed by the Fathers of the Church. During the 4th Century C.E., St. Augustine wrote that Jews should not be killed but condemned to eternal dispersion and humiliation. This condemnation to eternal servitude was to last for centuries: they were not killed, only constantly persecuted as an example to Christians of what happens to those who disown Jesus.
During that same period, the Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostomus, held virulent sermons against Jews, and preached to Christians that it was a sin to treat Jews with respect. He called a synagogue the house of Satan dedicated to idolatry and said that it was the haunt of the murderers of God. This theology-based anti- Judaism was carried on generations later. It was at its peak at the time of the Crusades (11th-14th century C.E.) and during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition (starting 1492), and in spite of Vatican II declarations condemning hatred and persecutions of the Jews (1965), anti-Judaism and other clear attacks inspired by old theological arguments continue to flourish (e.g. caricatures equating Jesus with the Palestinian people - both crucified by Jews).
More recently, the term 'anti-Zionism' has gained measurable visibility. It is used to describe the hostility against Zionism, i.e. the aspiration of creating and maintaining a Jewish state (Israel). Anti-Zionism saw a first peak in 1973 in United Nations resolution 3379 sponsored by Arab countries, and has re-emerged globally since the beginning of the second Intifada (2000-2005). While distinct from anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism can contain anti-Semitic elements (see topic on anti-Zionism).
Topics of Discussion
1. In developing this unit on anti-Semitism, a clear methodological and ethical problem arose: should anti-Semitic texts, images and websites be included here, at the risk of giving them visibility and publicity, and thus contributing to their dissemination?
2. Can/should a unit about anti-Semitism be graphic, even violent, in the testimonies it shows? What are the limits of representation in exploring anti-Semitism (the same question applies to other forms of racism and discrimination).
Wistrich, Robert S. Muslim Anti-Semitism
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ reports on Anti-Semitism in the world