Modern antisemitism is a repackaging of historic tropes. Antisemites have adapted conspiracy theories of the blood libel as well as Jewish influence in economic and governmental affairs to fit new circumstances, such as the accusation that Jews are responsible for spreading COVID-19, just as Jews were accused of spreading the plague a millennium ago.
Jews have historically been denied political and economic rights, and modern antisemitism is an expression of the rejection of Jewish integration into society. While the twentieth century saw the rise of influential Jewish politicians around the world as well as the creation of the Jewish nation-state of Israel, conspiracy theorists continue to accuse Jews of dual loyalties and exerting too much influence in world affairs. Partisan politicians are also increasingly willing to incorporate antisemitic tropes into their rhetoric to attack opponents they view as serving other interests.
Blatantly antisemitic historical legal restrictions on Jewish life have evolved into modern laws restricting basic tenets of Jewish life—e.g., kosher slaughter and circumcision—with support from both the left and the right, who argue they are protecting animal and children’s rights. These laws largely do not specifically target Jews but still have the effect of restricting Jewish practice.
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On April 8, 2022, Dion Marsh was arrested in New Jersey on charges of attempted murder and bias intimidation after he stabbed an Orthodox Jewish man and struck down another pedestrian in a stolen car. Referring to Hasidic Jews as “the real devils,” Marsh had reportedly promised a “blood bath.” The attack came amid reports of the increasing number of antisemitic attacks since the tragic 2018 attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and the emergence of what many are calling the new antisemitism. While modern communication technologies and globalization have created new outlets for antisemitism, the new antisemitism looks remarkably familiar. Classic anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories are being repurposed and even finding their way into mainstream political discourse. Rather than being a new type of antisemitism, this is more of a resurgence of classic antisemitism in new clothing. This report explores the types of antisemitism embraced by the far right, the far left, radical Islam, politicians, and beyond. It will also examine the common core of antisemitism as practiced by these groups, despite their otherwise disparate ideologies.
Antisemitism watchdogs reported record-high levels in 2021. In the first half of the year, antisemitic attacks rose in conjunction with protests against Israel. That May, Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day conflict during which Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) launched more than 4,000 rockets toward Israeli population centers, killing 12 people. Israel launched airstrikes at Hamas and PIJ targets across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 243 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Israeli government claims it killed at least 200 militants from Hamas and PIJ. As the conflict wrought destruction across Gaza, anti-Israel rallies took place across the United States and the world—and Jews thousands of miles away from Israel found themselves under assault.
Between May 9 and May 24, Britain’s Jewish community recorded 116 antisemitic incidents, compared to 11 during the same period in 2020. On May 16, a convoy of at least 10 cars brandishing Palestinian flags drove approximately 200 miles across England to the predominantly Jewish London neighborhood of Golders Green. Police arrested at least four people after one participant shouted, “f— the Jews, rape their daughters.” Also on May 16, two men yelled antisemitic slurs and attacked Rabbi Rafi Goodwin in Chigwell, England. In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League reported it received almost 200 reports of antisemitic attacks after the conflict began. The group also noted more than 17,000 Twitter posts with variations of “Hitler was right.” On May 18 in Los Angeles, a group of men waving Palestinian flags attacked Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant. According to witnesses, the attackers chanted “death to Jews” and “free Palestine.” A January 2022 report by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency concluded 2021 had the most antisemitic incidents on record for the past 10 years. The increase in attacks on Jews has reportedly caused some to consider removing their yarmulkes—skullcaps—in public or hiding other visible signs of their Jewishness.
Though they had no actual links to the events in Israel or Gaza, because of a shared heritage individual Jews in Europe and the United States automatically became representatives of the Jewish state and targets for unleashing anger over current events. The specious assumption that all Jews are part of a vast, powerful network has placed Jews at the center of conspiracies surrounding catastrophes from the plague to the Great Depression to COVID-19. The emergence of wealthy Jews in Europe—particularly the Rothschilds—gave rise to the notion that rich Jews manipulate global events, which was later codified in The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. More than a century since it first appeared in Russia, the Protocols remains a prominent source of antisemitic theories. The forgery has endured and has been repackaged and reinterpreted in a contemporary context. In 2002, for example, an Egyptian TV series drew international outrage for promoting the forgery.
Central to these examples is the idea of the Jew as the powerful puppet master and manipulator, which is rooted in the oldest antisemitic conspiracies. Early Christians blamed Jews for killing Jesus. Medieval rulers blamed Jews for spreading the plague. Jews were blamed for Russia’s communist revolution. Throughout history, Jews were portrayed as shadowy villains. And then The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion gave life to new conspiracies about Jewish power and the desire to manipulate and control world affairs. The emergence of a physical Jewish nation-state in 1948 provided antisemites with a centralized representation of Jewish power on the world stage. And while Jewish communities vary in their opinions on and support of Israel, in 2021 Israel’s fight against Hamas further highlighted the violent repercussions of the accusations that all Jews—merely by association—are responsible for the actions of Jewish state.
Conspiracies involving Jewish political power and influence are deeply rooted and influential. As shown in a 2018 CNN poll, one-third of Europeans think Jews are too politically powerful. Conspiracies about the Rothschilds still abound but new Jewish faces have taken center stage. One of the most prominent Jews at the center of these new conspiracies is George Soros, the Hungarian Holocaust survivor who created a financial empire and is a strong supporter of liberal causes as well as the Democratic Party.
Soros has become a favorite target for the right and far right. Among the crimes blamed on Soros are being a Nazi collaborator, causing the 2008 financial crisis, and funding the migrant caravans that reached the U.S.-Mexican border in late 2018 and early 2019.
These claims anoint Soros the puppet master of a grand far-left conspiracy. Conspiracies circulate about how Soros survived the Holocaust, painting him as a Nazi collaborator who as a child aided Nazis in looting valuables from the dead bodies of Jews. Other theories have him enlisting in the SS. A 2016 tweet by the user @toombstone, for example, spread an image of a young man, allegedly Soros, in an SS uniform. A Google image search of the photo reveals the individual to be Oskar Groening, a Nazi guard at Auschwitz known as “the book-keeper of Auschwitz.”
Hundreds of years ago, European peasantry accused Jews of spreading the plague by poisoning the wells of Europe. As the world struggled to address the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Jews once again became a target of conspiracies. In the early days of the outbreak in the United States, an Orthodox Jewish attorney became Patient Zero in New York state, making the New York Jewish community among the first to contract and spread the virus. Within the white supremacist sphere, accusations swirled that Jews were either directly responsible for the transmission of the virus or were holding back a cure to maximize profits. In one case in New York City, a couple attacked a group of Hasidic men, tried to rip off their facemasks, and shouted, “You’re the reason why we’re getting sick!” According to another conspiracy theory, a Soros-owned company created the coronavirus in a lab. In January 2022, antisemitic flyers blaming Jews for the coronavirus were distributed to homes in California and Florida. The flyer—erroneously—identified top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other high-profile medical professionals as Jews and labeled COVID-19 part of the “Jewish agenda.” An antisemitic group called the Goyim Defense League (GDL) has offered financial incentives to distribute similar propaganda. In December 2020, analogous flyers were left at homes in California, Texas, North Carolina, Idaho, Vermont, Alabama, Illinois, and Florida.
The accusations all come from the same place: the notion that Jews wield outsized political influence and the ability to manipulate government policies. Resentment toward the Jewish emancipation of the nineteenth century and their emerging prosperity, as well as the migration of Russians into Europe, fed the spread of the fictitious Protocols throughout Europe in the last century. And while the Protocols itself may be relegated to the corners of far-right websites, antisemites have adapted the essence of its message for the modern era.
This report explores how those perceptions have shaped modern antisemitism, infected every aspect of modern life, and resulted in the highest record of antisemitic violence against Jews in years.