anti-Semitism

anti-Semitism

[an-tee-sem-i-tiz-uhm, an-tahy-]
anti-Semitism, form of prejudice against Jews, ranging from antipathy to violent hatred. Before the 19th cent., anti-Semitism was largely religious and was expressed in the later Middle Ages by sporadic persecutions and expulsions—notably the expulsion from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella—and in severe economic and personal restrictions (see ghetto). However, since Jews were generally restricted to the pursuit of occupations that were taboo, such as moneylending, the sentiment was also economic in nature.

The Enlightenment to the Holocaust

After the emancipation of the Jews, brought about by the Enlightenment of the 18th cent. and by the French Revolution, religious and economic resentments were gradually replaced by feelings of prejudice stemming from the notion of the Jews as a distinct race. This development was due not only to the rising nationalism of the 19th cent., but also to the conscious preservation, especially among Orthodox Jews, of cultural and religious barriers that isolated the Jewish minorities from other citizens. It has also been charged that in the years between the fall of Napoleon and the rise of Hitler the Roman Catholic Church, which sometimes subscribed to the idea of Jewish racial identity and sometimes denied it, not only failed to condemn European anti-Semitism, but actually contributed to it. Jewish reaction to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in its many forms found political expression in Zionism.

The unpopularity of the Jews was exploited by demagogues, such as Édouard Drumont in France, to stir the masses against an existing government, and by reactionary governments, as in Russia, to find an outlet for popular discontent. The millions of Russian and Polish Jews who, after the assassination (1881) of Alexander II, fled the pogroms and found refuge in other countries contributed to the popular feeling that Jews were aliens and intruders. In addition, a spurious document, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," purporting to outline a Jewish plan for world domination, emerged in Russia early in the 20th cent. and was subsequently circulated throughout the world. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Jews were accused of plotting to dominate the world by their international financial power or by a Bolshevik revolution.

Pseudoscientific racial theories of so-called Aryan superiority emerged in the 19th cent. with the writings of Joseph Arthur Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain and found their climax in those of Alfred Rosenberg. These theories were incorporated in the official doctrine of German National Socialism by Adolf Hitler. Hitler's persecution of the Jews during World War II was unparalleled in history. It is estimated that between 5 and 6 million European Jews were exterminated between 1939 and 1945 in the Holocaust (see also concentration camp).

Since the Holocaust

The end of persecution did not mean the end of anti-Semitism, as the sporadic attacks on synagogues in many countries since the end of World War II indicate. In the USSR and Eastern European countries, where anti-Semitism was officially outlawed, it continued to reappear in new forms. From the late 1940s until Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, anti-Semitic persecution took the form of deportations, jailings, and the suppression of Jewish publications and cultural institutions. Although anti-Semitism in these countries receded during the 1950s, it reappeared in the 1960s and 70s, when synagogues were periodically closed, particularly in the upsurge of anti-Semitism that followed the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. With Gorbachev's glasnost and the breakup of the Soviet Union, however, increasing numbers of Jews have emigrated. International anti-Semitism has been so accepted that the United Nations did not condemn it as racism until 1999.

The existence of anti-Semitism has complicated internal Israeli politics as well as political opposition in other countries to Israeli policies. Arab and Islamic anti-Semitism has increased because of resentment over Israel's existence and its treatment of Arab Palestinians. Right-wing nationalistic movements, which are generally anti-Semitic, became vocal in the republics of the former Soviet Union, in Germany, and other European countries in the 1990s. In the United States, anti-Semitism has never been an instrument of national policy, but in certain communities and regions it resulted in the exclusion of Jews from membership in certain private clubs, schools, and housing.

Bibliography

See J.-P. Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew (tr. 1948, repr. 1960); J. Katz, From Prejudice to Destruction (1980); H. A. Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation (1984); D. A. Gerber, ed., Anti-Semitism in America (1986); M. Zimmerman, Wilhelm Marr: The Patriarch of Anti-Semitism (1986); P. Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (1988); L. Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America (1994); F. C. Jaher, A Scapegoat in the New Wilderness: The Origins and Rise of Anti-Semitism in America (1994); J. Carroll, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History (2000); D. I. Kertzer, The Popes against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (2001).

Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious group or “race.” Although the term anti-Semitism has wide currency, it is regarded by some as a misnomer, implying discrimination against all Semites, including Arabs and other peoples who are not the targets of anti-Semitism as it is usually understood. In antiquity, hostility to the Jews emerged because of religious differences, a situation worsened as a result of the competition with Christianity. By the 4th century, Christians tended to see Jews as an alien people whose repudiation of Christ had condemned them to perpetual migration. Jews were denied citizenship and its rights in much of Europe in the Middle Ages (though some societies were more tolerant) or were forced to wear distinctive clothing, and there were forced expulsions of Jews from several regions in that period. Developed during the Middle Ages were many of the stereotypes of Jews (e.g., the blood libel, alleged greed, conspiracy against humankind) that have persisted into the modern era. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution brought a new religious freedom to Europe in the 18th century but did not reduce anti-Semitism, because Jews continued to be regarded as outsiders. In the 19th century violent discrimination intensified (see pogrom), and so-called “scientific racism” emerged, which based hostility to the Jews on their supposed biological characteristics and replaced religion as the primary basis for anti-Semitism. In the 20th century the economic and political dislocations caused by World War I intensified anti-Semitism, and racist anti-Semitism flourished in Nazi Germany. Nazi persecution of the Jews led to the Holocaust, in which an estimated six million Jews were exterminated. Despite the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, anti-Semitism remained a problem in many parts of the world into the 21st century.

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