Anti-Semitism: A History

Key Points

Historic anti-Semitism
has primarily been a response to exaggerated fears of Jewish power and influence manipulating key events.

Anti-Semitic passages and decrees in early Christianity and Islam informed centuries of Jewish persecution.

Historic professional, societal, and political restrictions on Jews helped give rise to some of the most enduring conspiracies about Jewish influence.

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Journalists and historians have warned about a “new anti-Semitism” in the twenty-first century United States comprising a repackaging of historic anti-Semitic tropes presented by the far right and the far left as part of a struggle between neo-fascism, anti-fascism, and anarchism. Both the far left and the far right are challenging the liberal world order established after World War II and targeting Jews as responsible for the ills during the post-war period. This has led to a worrisome trend of violent anti-Semitism such as the October 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the April 2019 attack on a Chabad house in Poway, California, the December 2019 attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, as well as an increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Yaroslav Trofimov, “The New Anti-Semitism,” Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-anti-semitism-11562944476;
Aaron Heller, “Anti-Semitic attacks spike, killing most Jews in decades,” Associated Press, May 1, 2019, https://apnews.com/0457e96b9eb74d30b66c2d190c6ed7e5.
To understand the modern incarnation of anti-Semitism requires an examination of the roots and evolution of institutional anti-Semitism and how it led to events such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust.

Historically, anti-Semitism has taken many forms. This report examines the origins of tropes and accusations against the Jewish community and how they have been repackaged and reused repeatedly. This report does not attempt to represent a comprehensive historic review of Jewish persecution. Instead, it aims to provide a broad overview, touching on the key themes that have persisted throughout history in order to contextualize modern anti-Semitism and assess whether society is indeed experiencing a “new” anti-Semitism or if history is simply repeating itself.

Religion and Anti-Semitism

The three main monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—share a common history rooted in the Jewish Bible, the Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses. Both Christianity and Islam claim to be the fulfillment of what Judaism began. Christianity holds that Jesus is the messiah prophesied in the Torah and prophetical writings. Islam contends that Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets that included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Christianity and Islam acknowledge their historical roots in Judaism and base their own validity on the idea that Jews have either rejected God or have been rejected by God, allowing room for the creation of new covenants presented by those religions.

The holy books of both Christianity and Islam have been influential in informing enduring anti-Semitic tropes. Norman A. Beck, a professor of theology and classical languages at Texas Lutheran University, documented 900 separate instances of what he referred to as “anti-Jewish polemic” in the New Testament. Norman A. Beck, “Removing Anti-Jewish Polemic from our Christian Lectionaries: A Proposal,” Jewish-Christian Relations, accessed September 4, 2019, http://www.jcrelations.net/Removing_Anti-Jewish_Polemic_from_our_Christian_Lectionaries__A_Proposal.2179.0.html?L=3&pdf=1. In November 2018, the European Jewish Congress called for labels to be attached to the New Testament, the works of Martin Luther, the Quran, and other religious writings, warning that they may include anti-Semitic passages. The Congress called for “introductions that emphasize continuity with Jewish heritage of both Christianity and Islam and warn readers about antisemitic passages in them.” Stoyan Zaimov, “Require Bible publishers to add ‘anti-semitic’ warnings to New Testament, Jewish groups say,” Christian Post, November 26, 2018, https://www.christianpost.com/news/require-bible-publishers-to-add-anti-semitic-warnings-to-new-testament-jewish-groups-say.html.

The following sections examine passages of the New Testament and the Quran and how they have been used to form the foundations of anti-Semitism within Christianity and Islam.

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Read Part II:

The media and commentators have noted an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks and the emergence of what many are calling the new anti-Semitism.

Read about Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

In Their Own Words:

God forbid, if a time comes when we have no choice but to watch our citizens breathe their final breaths, and when there are no ventilators… we will make six million Israeli settlers unable to breathe.

Yahya Sinwar, Leader of Hamas in Gaza Apr. 2, 2020
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