It’s been called the Oldest Hatred and the most persistent one–anti-Semitism. Yet, there are positive movements afoot internationally to combat it.
One can go back to Pharaoh, who wanted to deal craftily with the Jews because he feared them. He did not recall that Joseph the Jew had saved all Egypt from famine and benefitted the royal house. Instead, Pharaoh devised a plan of oppression culminating in mass murder: the drowning of all Israelite newborn boys.
It has been repeated throughout history: Haman, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Russian czars and Hitler, to name an obvious few. Some tyrannies still attempt it today: Hamas, Hizbullah, the mullah regime in Iran.
Not everyone spouting anti-Semitic ideas is a hard-core anti-Semite or even a “lite” version. Some don’t even recognize it when they do it. Take 2024 Democratic Party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., for example. It seems he was unaware of the significance of his comments when he implied that the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered to spare the Chinese and Ashkenazi (East European) Jews, suggesting a conspiracy. In the wake of a public backlash, Kennedy defended himself as the strongest champion for Israel among all other candidates. He is the only prominent Democrat to oppose a nuclear deal with Iran and he has strongly defended Israel’s anti-terrorist operation in Jenin.
In Paris in May, I heard prominent American Rabbi David Wolpe speak on anti-Semitism at an international policy conference. He cautioned against quick accusations of anti-Semitism, recommending assumption of ignorance before malice, unless otherwise evident. Perhaps this applies in Kennedy’s case.
I have on occasion heard well-meaning Christian friends and supporters of Israel speak admiringly about a perceived Jewish adeptness to manage finances, naïvely unaware of the anti-Semitic history of associating Jews with money. Clearly, such a person is not an anti-Semite, even though he perpetuates a troublesome myth. A hater might say the same thing, but use harsher words.
Kennedy may yet regret his foolish quip that could end his political ambitions. More than the cost to him, however, is the worrisome fact that such careless remarks feed the haters on the conspiracist fringe. Jews have historically paid a hefty price for such–massacres, inquisitions and expulsions.
In the Middle Ages, it was claimed Jews poisoned the wells, spread the Black Plague or ate matzah (unleavened bread) baked with Christian blood. And later Jew-haters, such as Henry Ford, disseminated the Russian fabrication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, purporting to be a genuine document of an actual conspiracy of Jewish world domination. It’s still a best-seller in some countries.
There is a cadre of pseudo-historian types, often with a religious bent, who self-publish innuendo-ridden booklets and pamphlets claiming Jews control the banks, the White House, the US Congress or even the German Bundestag. With no primary sources or serious documentation to substantiate their claims, just sheer assertions, these screeds liberally quote each other to appear credible.
These nonstop conspiracists contrive ever new accusations, even going so far as to say it was the Jews who planned the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks and avoided being in the towers that day due to insider information.
ˑ Many Jews died during the Black Plague too, killed by the same bacterium Yersinia pestis spread by flea-carrying rodents that killed Christians. Handwashing and bathing rituals prescribed by Jewish law, sometimes claimed by apologists to have protected Jews due to hygiene benefits, do not prevent flea bites. Fleas bite Jews and Christians.
ˑ The medieval accusers who said Jews ate Christian blood also denigrated them for being slavishly legalistic. In that case, the Christians should have known that the Torah–Mosaic Law–strictly forbids consuming blood, any blood (Lev. 17:13-14). In fact, every kosher Jewish household goes through several steps to ensure no blood is present in food items.
ˑ The Protocols was long ago proven an anti-Semitic plagiarized forgery based on Maurice Joly’s The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, a political satire against Napoleon III, published in 1864.
ˑ As for 9/11, the number of Jewish victims of the tower attacks roughly reflected the Jewish percentage of the local population.
Buoyed by access to new social-media formats (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter/X, YouTube, etc.), the anti-Jewish conspiracists can today easily repeat their tirades and fake history to exponentially larger audiences than before. Lies repeated become “facts”–a lesson Hitler knew well. No matter how absurd, these conspiracies gain traction, in particular on the extreme right.
The Oldest Hatred just won’t go away. But it does evolve. The new anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism (anti-Israelism). And it’s to be found in particular on the political left.
Baroness Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, says one must define anti-Semitism to fight it. She is a strong proponent of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) working definition of anti-Semitism. It’s too long to quote here as it contains eleven examples of manifestations of anti-Semitism (see www.holocaustremembrance.com).
What is noteworthy is that seven of them reflect attitudes towards Israel or the Jewish right to self-determination. As a result, BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaigns that single out Israel and seek its destruction fit the rubric of anti-Semitism. This means applying different standards to Israel than other countries. It’s also reflected in claims that Jews don’t have a right to a homeland in Israel, that they are interlopers. Or comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany. By that standard, comparisons with apartheid South Africa, as Amnesty International (Amnesty) did in 2022, are likewise reprehensibly inaccurate.
All 27 members of the European Union have adopted the IHRA definition, as have Australia, Canada, UK and USA. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have also backed the definition. Additionally, von Schnurbein points to adoption of the definition by all German Bundesliga football clubs and various corporations, such as Lufthansa Airlines, as major successes in the fight against anti-Jewish hatred.
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and numerous pro-Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) campaigned against UN adoption of the IHRA definition claiming it would squelch free speech and silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies. The inordinate attention that these alleged human rights organizations place on Israel, however, exposes exactly the anti-Semitic character of many of their criticisms. NGO hyper-bashing of Israel is anti-Semitism.
But Amnesty and HRW need not fear a diminution of anti-Israelism in the public arena. An extensive study of 100 million messages posted on Twitter/X from January 1, 2020, until June 30, 2022, revealed that Israel is more likely to be accused of human rights violations than any other country:
12 times more than China,
38 times more than Iran,
55 times more than Russia, and
111 times more than North Korea.
Meanwhile, more than a million Muslim Uyghurs languish in Chinese concentration camps without world action. Not even from the United Nations, which in 2022 passed more resolutions critical of Israel than all other nations combined.
Von Schnurbein says the IHRA definition is not legally binding and does not limit freedom of speech. No one will be brought to court because of it. It does, however, allow a two-way street, allowing Jews who feel attacked to finally speak up and uncover a bias. It shines a light on a nefarious business and that’s precisely what the Jew-haters fear.
So, on the issue of anti-Semitism, as usual, it’s a mixed bag, with good and bad developments.
Some people are tired of the constant mentioning of anti-Semitism. But the fact that many governments and organizations made unequivocal declarations in support of the IHRA definition underlines the seriousness of the matter. If further proof was needed, recent synagogue shootings and the need for regular police protection worldwide during services should settle the matter.
“Every weapon formed against you will not prosper and every tongue that is raised against you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is from Me, the word of the LORD” (Isa. 54:17).