Reliving the past in Anti-Semitism: Origins, Persistence and Solutions

Anti-semitism, a sense of hostility or prejudice against individuals of the Jewish religion, has lurked in the darkness for the latter half of the 20th century, seemingly a silenced feat of history. Yet, in the current days of political turmoil, history’s oldest hatred has once again surfaced as an issue in the mainstream media - an issue tangibly present in our collective consciousness.

Image credits: Dawson, S. (2018)

The Origins of Anti-Semitism

The anti-semitism movement stems from the beginning of Jewish history, most prominently in the first millennium of the Christian era, where the public was indoctrinated with the belief that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. The circumstance brought rise to a strong upheaval by the Christian church, leading to the development of a stark hierarchy targetting of individuals with alternative religious beliefs. In Medival Europe, the advancement of Christianity once again placed Jews in a position of prejudice and hostility - the outliers of society being easy targets towards social seclusion.

Throughout history, Jews have been persecuted and physically confined for their deemed unconformist religious beliefs. As Jews emerged from ghetto neighborhoods during the post World War I era, many became socially prominent figures, rising due to intellectual abilities. With their shocking emancipation, Germany was collectively appalled, posing various pseudo-scientific theories in postulating a biological abnormality in Jews - bringing to light the “biological inferiority” Jews held against Aryans. Along with the defeat of imperial Germany, theories were strengthened proclaiming Jews had a lack of patriotism and loyalty to the national party. Undoubtedly, the most documented historical account of anti-semitism takes its roots during the reign of the infamous Third Reich, Nazi Germany. With a regime ruled by a eugenic dictator, any deviation from normalities was deemed verboten - especially if the "crime" was being a Jew. Adolf Hilter - the mastermind behind such atrocities - established the blame on Jews for the socio-economical turmoil following World War I. Along with stigmatized viewpoints and rendered laws, the world of law, justice and politics turned against all Jews, existing no longer under the protection of civil rights and citizenship entitlement. The Holocaust initiated a mass genocide of Jews - men, women and children were placed in concentration camps, tortured beyond recognition, stripped of dignity, and in many cases, sent to their immediate deaths.

Image credits: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Creative Commons)

On a historical account, the core perpetrators of anti-semitism stem from a diverse range of individuals - from conservative, tradition-abiding white supremacists, to outspoken, nationalist leaders of political parties.

Anti-Semitism: Now and Then

Anti-semitism is an undeniable feat of external bigotry, risen from the decade-long shock of unconformity, the conventionally perceived danger of deviation, along with stark generalization. In presence is a fear, or rather, hatred of the outliers, originating from a leading factor of uncertainty. It is evident that a strong “us against them” mentality is present in such hostile environments of discrimination, with the application of distinctive group bias. This originates from the belief that there should be a paradigm sense of compliance in society, that if the core belief is Christianity, external beliefs should be shifted in adjustment. Evidently, the "us" aspect of the retained mentality comes from yielding the orthodoxy. In Nazi Germany, the “us against them” mentality had fitted into the mould of “Aryans” against “Non-Aryans”, further perpetrating social segregation.

The definitions of the term “anti-semitism” have varied with perspectives through time and changing demographics; despite that, one factor remains constant - the unyielding aspect of discrimination and the implacable hatred of externalities. Contempt of the Jewish community remains far from extermination - unfortunately so. Anti-semitism today is presented in contrastingly different forms, yet, still retains various similarities to historical cases.

In 1977 October, a white supremacist - Joseph Paul Franklin, attacked numerous Jews and African Americans as guests were leaving the Brith Sholom Kneseth Isreal synagogue, one killed, and two injured. Hate crimes from the end of WWI to the beginning of the 21st century have articulated around one common theme - attacks on synagogues by white supremacists.

Current forms of anti-semitism and the generalizations of anti-semitic crimes take place under the following categories of discrimination: Genocidal, Political, Ideological, Theological, Cultural, Economic antisemitism, along with the Holocaust denial and Anti-Jewish racist terrorism. In the current day, the theme remains undeniably constant - hundreds of Jewish tombstones in Pennsylvania and Missouri have undergone desecration with spraypainted neo-Nazism phrases and swastikas. A shooting during Sabbath morning - a period of Jewish worship, occurred in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing eleven individuals and injuring seven.

Source: Toronto Police Service (2017)

The rate of anti-semitic hate crimes has surged throughout 2017-18, both online and through tangible action. The Anti-Defamation League reports more than four million anti-semitic messages (classified as online harassment) shared on Twitter in the course of a year - on average, 80,000 tweets per week. The silent movements range from the posting of derogatory words, proclaimed “harmless” jokes, and the usage of age-old Jewish stereotypes. Online anti-semitic acts are kept in the dark as victimized individuals do not often report committed hate crimes, making it difficult for national authorities to track the perpetrators. Today, it is far more challenging to prevent the spread of hateful speech, as it occurs primarily in the form of verbal and cyberharassment. The modern development of technology has enabled more accessible means of persecution and easy targeting against prejudiced religious groups.

Anti-Semitism by Gender

In a global community with volatile values and varying prejudices, there is undoubtedly a different form in which men and women experience anti-semitism - with personal perceptions of anti-semitism values, experiences and psychological impacts associated with the experiences. Jewish women are likely to perceive anti-semitism as a "Fairly Big" or a "Very Big" problem, according to a study commissioned by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Whereas 63% of males - a 5% decrease in relative to females, perceive anti-semitism as a “Fairly Big” issue in society. It is evaluated that Jewish women hold anti-semitic discriminations as a more socially, and psychologically prominent issue. However, contrary to the impending fear faced, Jewish women, are - on a generally spoken statistical basis, less likely to be targeted victims of verbal or physical anti-semitic hate crime. 22% of men, in contrast to 19% of women have been subject to various forms of verbal harassments due to their Jewish descent. While 5.6% of males and 2.7% of females have undergone physical attacks - physical attacks are generalized as "being hit, pushed, or threatened in a way that frightened the interviewee." There is a prominent proportional disparity between the rates of physical anti-semitic attacks - the rates of males being a little over twice the rate of females being subject to physical attacks. Means of reasoning for this statistical disparity could be the possibility that males are more subject to socially manifested stereotypes. The grotesquely portrayed image of caricatured Jewish men has perpetrated throughout anti-semitic history, especially distinctive throughout Nazi Germany propaganda.

Third Reich (1943)

Third Reich (1940)

The two posters shown depict Jewish men - a figurative articulation for a general perception of Jews - as greedy, conspiring, money-laundering “brutes”. The poster on the left advertises a 1940 propaganda film, "Der Ewige Jude” - translated as “The Eternal Jew," a pseudo-documentary presenting Jews in comparison to epidemic rats. Similarly, the film emphasizes the existence of Jews in association with sub-human figures, done to incite fear, disgust, and bigotry amid the audience. Through the evaluation of German propaganda, it is unmistakable that no women and children are included in the multitude of posters, media, and literature. This is likely done to prevent the inclusion of empathy in the midst of Jews, as women and children were perceived as images of fragility, and associated with values of submission. The propagandistic images of Jews have persisted in the anti-semitic values of today, and the image of male Jews have not been stripped away from the crudely imagined images of today’s society. Hence, the persistence of propagandistic images could be a leading factor in the larger effect of anti-semitism on males.

Fighting Anti-Semitism

Anti-semitism has been evaluated, analyzed and determined as an urgent, impending, but historically present issue throughout this article. So, the million-dollar question boils down to how it can be fought, and more importantly, how its effects can be alleviated and be prevented from disseminating into tomorrow’s society.

It is no conundrum, nor secret that the weapon with distinctive potential in tackling anti-semitism is education. Education is a transgenerational tool for liberation, and an effective method to alleviate and alter the messages of anti-semitism from society’s grasp. It should be brought to awareness from a young age in modern schooling systems, that differences and unorthodoxies do not drive harm, nor calamity, but should be embraced with inclusivity. School curriculums ought to make Holocaust education mandatory, to bring light to the atrocious horrors the Nazi regime had dictated, and how forms of social inclusion can prevent the repetition of such horrors. It is essential for systems to emphasize the fact that genocide is not a laughable matter, and no forms of racial degradation are acceptable, no matter how minor of a form it takes its presence. If Jewish students are present in the given school, it is crucial for educators not to carry out any forms of segregation.

Effective education is merely a stepping stone towards the journey of eliminating anti-semitism for good. It is a permanent solution, but is not an easy step to take. The critical aspect of education is the changing of mindsets and the abolition of stereotypical values. If the primary depiction of Jews provided is crude images (as those shown above), anti-semitism hate crimes will exponentially surge for decades on end. However, if a neutral representation of every racial, ethnic, and religious group is provided, the rate of xenophobia and antisemitism is likely to lower in the coming decades. This solution can implement itself in various forms, depending on whether the implementing nation’s inherent values hold distinctive biases against certain groups of individuals.

There is truly no present, viable utopian solution without a utopian society; but with persistence and constant activism, the effects of anti-semitism will be sought out to alleviation, and finally, to an ultimate form of elimination.

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