Historic antisemitism has primarily been a response to exaggerated fears of Jewish power and influence manipulating key events.
Antisemitic 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 antisemitism” in the twenty-first century United States comprising a repackaging of historic antisemitic 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 antisemitism 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 antisemitic hate crimes. To understand the modern incarnation of antisemitism requires an examination of the roots and evolution of institutional antisemitism and how it led to events such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust.
Historically, antisemitism 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 antisemitism and assess whether society is indeed experiencing a “new” antisemitism or if history is simply repeating itself.
Religion and Antisemitism
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 antisemitic 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. 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 antisemitic 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.”
The following sections examine passages of the New Testament and the Quran and how they have been used to form the foundations of antisemitism within Christianity and Islam.