Home > Uncategorized > Why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/31/2022

Why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/31/2022

Most stories about the increase in antisemitism now focus on events like Donald Trump’s infamous Mar-a-Lago dinner with Kanye West and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. I certainly would not underestimate Ye’s influence but I would look to other places in explaining why antisemitism is worse now.

The writer Yair Rosenberg is onto something when he writes that antisemitism isn’t just anti-Jewish bigotry. It is a conspiracy theory about how the world works. We live in a time when conspiracy theories are running wild. From QAnon to 5G causing COVID-19, there is no shortage of such theories. They replace genuine critical thinking.

When ruling classes fail to address critical economic needs and leave masses of working people feeling bypassed and grossly dissatisfied with their lot in life, one technique that has been frequently resorted to by rulers is blaming ‘the Other”. Since the presidency of Donald Trump, a part of the MAGA movement has been pointing their finger at Jews as “the Other” to blame. Of course, Jews are not the only group villainized. LGBTQ people, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, immigrants, Asian-Americans and Muslims also get their share of blame.

Still, the sheer amount of blame currently directed at Jews through conspiracy theories on social media is unprecedented. There was a reason far right demonstrators at Charlottesville were chanting “Jews will not replace us”. The Great Replacement theory touted by the far right and white supremacists like Tucker Carlson places Jews centrally in their mythology. Allegedly behind minority groups are the Jewish puppet masters, promoting mass immigration, intermarriage and the extinction of white people.

Far right shooters in their manifestos invariably invoke the Great Replacement. The 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooter who killed 11 people had posted that George Soros, a liberal Jewish billionaire, was secretly controlling a Honduran migrant caravan headed for the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is anything but a new story. Antisemitism is the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories. August Bebel called it “the socialism of fools”. To grasp the depth of antisemitism as a conspiracy theory, a deeper appreciation of history is required. Jews being blamed as “the Other” has a very long history.

By the fourth century, once the church assumed state power, the intensification of the persecution of the Jews picked up steam. Jewish proselytism was outlawed in 329 by the Roman Empire. An early Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, denounced Jews as “inveterate murderers, destroyers” and “lustful, rapacious, greedy perfidious bandits” whose synagogues were “the house of the devil”.

The popular hatred toward Jews in the Christian world has had an over 1,500 year run. No doubt Jews’ alleged role in the death of Jesus played an important role even though Jesus was a Jew and it was the Romans who actually killed Jesus. The Jews were tagged with responsibility for the deicide. A stiff-necked people, Jews largely refused to convert to Christianity.

Jew-hating led to many legal restrictions on the Jews in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. Rabbi Michael Lerner writes:

“Stories of Jews killing Christian children and using their blood to make matzoh, Jews poisoning wells or Jews engaging in rapacious sexual behavior were all part of of the attempts of the Christian laity to explain to themselves why they were justified in holding these culturally sanctioned and inherited antisemitic angers.”

These stories are like early day QAnon blood libel conspiracy theories. There is a sameness to the mythology even hundreds of years later.

In 1492, the Jews in Spain were given a choice: expulsion or conversion. This followed the Massacre of 1391 which was one of the worst pogroms in the Middle Ages.

European overlords carefully circumscribed what occupations Jews could enter. The Shylock image was a reflection of economic relations where Jews were excluded from many occupations but were allowed into trade and moneylending. That way Jews were often used by rulers to appear as the public face of the oppressor.

Over the last 200 years, antisemitism has, with some interludes of peace, been a constant. Pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, the Dreyfuss affair in France and ultimately the Holocaust all testify to that.

How this European history affects antisemitism in America is a complicated question. Just as America’s treatment of Jews presents a mixed bag. America was both savior and gate-closer. America opened its doors to many but it could have done far more to save the millions of Jews who were mercilessly exterminated by the Nazis. Knowledge of the Holocaust existed in America but political will to act was lacking.

In the early 20th century, virulent antisemitism was widespread across America. Prominent elite intellectuals like Madison Grant promoted eugenics and ideas of racial purity and white nationalism. Grant had particular animosity toward Jews. Grant argued Nordic racial and male superiority and he saw Jews as racially inferior. Hitler considered Grant’s book The Passing of the Great Race his “bible’. Other famous Americans like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin further entrenched American antisemitism.

I look at the historic antisemitism as like a nest upon which newer manifestations of the same rot rest. All the antisemitic conspiracy theories are rooted in an anti-intellectual, blame-the-other mentality. The combination of MAGA fascism and social media disinformation has propelled the antisemitism forward in our era. A dark side of social media has been its ability to connect haters and to help their organization.

Because of the well-off economic circumstances of many American Jews, antisemitism has been seen as a less serious problem. A not insignificant percentage of German Jews were economically secure before the Holocaust. The danger of antisemitism must be understood and not minimized. Antisemitic hate crimes have trended higher in several major cities with higher concentrations of Jews in 2021-2022, not to mention a jump in racist and antisemitic social media posts.

Whether it is racism or antisemitism, America has not exactly embraced any Truth and Reconciliation Commission about our history. Too many remain caught in a web of denial. Conspiracy theories that blame Jews for every problem under the sun reek of what the Nazis did. That page of history must get turned.

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