One nettlesome question we’ve all asked ourselves, at one point or another, is “why does anti-Semitism exist?” Why do so many people — more than 1.5 billion, if statistics are to be believed — abhor Jews to the point of obsessive, murderous bloodlust? And why us, anyway? All we are is an indigenous Middle Eastern minority, numbering no greater than 15 million, whose contributions to humanity have been overwhelmingly positive. What could we have possibly done to incur such an inexplicable, cosmopolitan wrath?
To answer these questions, one must analyze anti-Semitism at its root and follow its development throughout history. That alone requires a considerable amount of energy and time. This will be a long one, so you might want to sit down.
Like most racial/ethnic prejudices, antisemitism is colonial in origin. However, this strand of colonialism is far older than others, dating at least as far back as the Hellenic-Greek occupation of Israel. Although the (indigenous, pre-Arab) Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians all came before them, none of these groups have any cultural currency anymore. They all either went extinct millennia ago, or have been reduced to minorities themselves.
We are an ancient Levantine people, and one of the oldest ethnic groups in the world. But despite a long exile and persecution on an unfathomable scale, we’ve survived into the present.
The Greeks demarcated everything to the East of them as “Asia” and everything to the West of them as “Europe”. Asia was associated, in the Greek mind, with Persia — whom the Greeks had been at war with and whom they considered “barbarians”.
Not only is Israel a part of Asia, it was (at the time of Alexander’s conquests) a loyal province of the Persian Empire. The Greeks quickly formed an image of the Jews as an insular, “backward” desert people who worshiped animals, “mutilated” children (this was anathema to the Greeks and Romans, both of whom saw the human form as divine), and were aligned with the Persian “barbarians”.
As Alexander continued his push into Asia, he conquered the Persian province of Yehud Medinata (Kingdom of Judah). The Greeks quickly enacted a policy of “Hellenization” in all of their newly conquered territories, including ours. Unlike the Persians (who generally did not care what we did, so long as we paid tribute), the Greeks ruthlessly suppressed our culture.
Some of us assimilated, but others – most notably the Maccabees (or Maqabim) – ferociously and successfully resisted the Greeks. The story of the Maccabees is celebrated every year on Hanukkah, and has become one of our most important holidays. Although the Greek tyrants had been expunged from Israel, the xenophobia and supremacism that drove them never subsided. If anything, the humiliation they felt – being rejected and defeated by a bunch of “savages” – only caused it to boil and deepen further.
The menorah is most widely associated with the Maqabi (Maccabee) revolt, and with the holiday of Hanukkah – one of the oldest indigenous resistance holidays in the world.
These events occurred more than 2,000 years ago, but the underlying perception of Jews as a “backward” people in need of a “firm guiding hand” has endured to this day. That is because prejudices, even older ones, do not simply “disappear”. They are woven into the culture itself and transmitted via jokes, literature, folklore, music, art, entertainment, etc. And when a particular culture is influential or wide-reaching (and Greek culture is certainly influential, given that it is the bedrock of Western civilization), the prejudices inherent in these cultures spread – catching on in far flung places that may or may not even HAVE a Jewish population or know what a Jew is. That is why antisemitism is so rife in countries like Malaysia, even though their Jewish population is close to non-existent and their interactions with Jews throughout history were minimal at best.
The Romans, who were themselves profoundly influenced by Greek culture, conquered Israel several centuries after the Greeks had left. Their anti-Jewish views were inherited directly from the Greeks, and their policies toward us were no different – in many ways, they were even worse. This led to a number of rebellions, but all of them were quashed by the Romans. To make matters worse, the Romans retaliated by A ) destroying the Second Temple (and building a shrine to Jupiter directly on top of it), B ) carrying off loads of Jews to Europe as slaves and banning us from Jerusalem and C ) renaming Judah/Judea to “Syria-Palaestina” (“Syria-Palestine”). C was intended both as a humiliation – since the Assyrians and Philistines were both enemies of our people – and as a means of erasing our history in the land altogether.
Fresco of the Arch of Titus, a commemoration of Rome’s victory over the Jewish rebels. It depicts Roman soldiers carrying Jewish Temple artifacts, and Jewish slaves, off with them to Europe.
Centuries later, Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity is itself an offshoot of Judaism, and its founding fathers – including Jesus himself – were all Judeans (read: Jews). Although Christianity was envisioned as the “successor” to Judaism, all of its founding fathers were – in the strictest sense – Zionists (as they were fervent opponents of the Roman occupation), and none of them wished to see their fellow Jews degraded and destroyed. This all changed when the Romans – who DID wish to see the Jews degraded and destroyed – got their hands on it. Christian theology was then reshaped and merged with traditional Greek-Roman antisemitism: the end result was Roman Catholicism.
From this point forward, the traditional Greco-Roman desire to assimilate the “savage” Jews into their “superior” way of life became a fervent religious zeal to… assimilate the “savage” Jews into their “superior” way of life. In other words, absolutely nothing had changed. Roman Catholicism was little more than traditional Greek-Roman imperialism dressed up as “theology”. The words may have changed somewhat, but the melody remained the same.
In keeping with their original desire to assimilate us and eradicate our “barbaric” culture, the Romans took Christian supersessionism (i.e. the Christian view that Judaism is to be “replaced” by Christianity) and made it their own. They quickly appointed themselves the “new” Israel, who had “rightfully” replaced the “old” Israel (i.e. the Jews). In their view, the “new” Israel are God’s chosen people, and the “old” Israel are nothing more than degraded, despised, obsolete relics who had “fallen out of God’s favor” and were to be either forcibly converted or eradicated altogether.
Roman Emperor Constantine
As the Romans spread this new form of Christianity, the seeds of Jew-hatred were planted all throughout Europe, as well as large portions of the Middle East.
But how were they to deal with the Jews who didn’t convert? After all, if Roman Christianity is so perfect, why couldn’t the Jews see that? Because, as they surmised, the Jews are really the “devil’s children” put on Earth by Satan himself to lead good Christians astray. Why else would they be so obstinate in the face of “the true, perfect word of Jesus”?
And speaking of Jesus, isn’t he a “savage” Jew himself? How could the Romans reconcile their belief in Jesus – the alleged “son of God” himself – with the fact that he was a Jew and that it was Pontius Pilate, a Roman prefect, who crucified him in the first place, and on sedition charges no less? “These pagans will never convert to Christianity if I tell them we’re the ones who killed Jesus”, says Emperor Constantine. “And if they ever do convert, they’ll have my head!”
The solution was an easy one – deny his Jewish heritage and blame his death on the Jews. Problem solved!
And from that point forward, we were no longer just “barbarians” and “degraded, obsolete relics”. We were now also guilty of deicide! Although the Pope eliminated this teaching in 1965, it is still commonly believed throughout the Christian world – albeit paradoxically so, since antisemites now deny that today’s Jews and the ancient Judeans are the same people at all, or that we were ever in Israel to begin with.
At any rate, imagine you are a medieval European Christian. You had been taught that these “strange” dark-skinned* foreigners had not only rejected the word of God (who is, conveniently, now portrayed as white European), they also KILLED his messenger – his son! This is something you had been taught your entire life, and you couldn’t have possibly known any better (since most Dark Age Europeans were illiterate and could not read Hebrew). How would you feel about the Jews? Most likely, you would hate them, distrust them, and consider them “evil”.
* One must also remember that Christian Europe had a Manichean outlook, with “light” representing “holiness” and “dark” representing “evil”. Now, given the fact that Jews are typically darker than native Europeans, it’s not a far leap from “Jews are dark-skinned” to “Jews are dark-skinned because they are evil”.
Europeans and Westerners in general portrayed Jesus as a Nordic-looking man in order to distance him from his Jewish roots
A modern day Ashkenazi Hasidic Jew. This is probably a lot closer to what Jesus actually looked like.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Arab/Islamic world. How did the Jews fare in those lands?
Muhammad was greatly inspired by Judaism. He wanted to be a prophet. He enjoyed positive relations with the Jewish community, and he learned a lot from them. Sounds like he has good intentions, right?
Yes, but not exactly. There was just one tiny stipulation: the Jews all had to abandon Judaism and convert to Islam, as Muhammad believed that HIS new religion was “the rightful successor” to Judaism (does this remind you of anything?). The Jews, although flattered, opted to stick with Judaism. Muhammad was outraged, and his angry reaction was recorded in the Quran. He annihilated the Jewish community of Khaybar and, much like Christianity, Islam took on a decidedly antisemitic slant.
The Arab/Islamic conquests began not long after that, eventually reaching Israel itself (which was then under Roman-Byzantine occupation). They successfully pushed the Romans out – and we sure as hell weren’t sad to see them go – but followed that act of “charity” up by expelling Jews from Jerusalem (again), building a giant mosque over the ruins of our Temple, and imposing a set of apartheid-like laws called “dhimmitude”. The deal was that they would let us live and practice our religion (how “noble” of them), but only insofar as we obeyed the rules, knew our place, and acknowledged our second-class status. This status quo would continue for centuries to come, at least until “the Zionists” returned and “mucked everything up”.
Fast forward to the Enlightenment. Most Jews are still exiled from Israel, stranded in European and Arab lands. However, Christianity is rapidly falling out of favor in Europe. What’s more, a new set of ideals have begun to emerge: liberty, equality, brotherhood, reason, and progress. Sounds good, right?
Yes. But that made very little difference for Jews. Antisemitism was already baked into European culture by that point, and most pioneers of Enlightenment thought were themselves antisemites (and raised/educated by Christians, no less). Ergo, their vision for a unified, enlightened world typically did not include Jews and, if anything, adapted pre-existing anti-Jewish prejudices and gave them yet another fresh coat of paint – casting us as the backward, unenlightened (read: “barbaric”), static, greedy, capitalistic (we were associated with banking because we were forced into money-lending occupations) Asiatics impeding human progress. Abandoning Christianity and all of its trappings did not cure Europe of Jew-hatred. Ironically, they even blamed us for imposing religion on Europe in the first place (since Christianity is Jewish in origin).
A visible thread of Jewish “obsolescence”, “inferiority”, “backwardness”, “chicanery”, “malice”, and “evil”, inherited from their Christian and pagan forebears, could be seen very clearly in these founding principles of left-wing ideology – and they continue to shape both left-wing and right-wing politics to this day.
Antisemitism had become such a powerful cultural force that even Karl Marx, who was Jewish himself, was not immune to it.
Karl Marx, a pioneer of modern left-wing antisemitism. Although he was of Jewish origin himself, he had no particular love for Jews or Jewish culture, and denounced both in his writings.
As Jews in Europe were gradually emancipated from the ghettos, and because of their strong cultural emphasis on learning, they were able to rise to high positions in banking, law, science, and a litany of other fields. So prominent they became, disproportionate to their pitifully small numbers and against the backdrop of a pervasive Orientalist belief in the intellectual “inferiority” of Asiatics (like the Jews), that many Europeans started to wonder “how on Earth is this possible?”. If nothing else, our success exposed some very deep flaws in their assumption of innate European “superiority” to the East, and this naturally came to be seen as humiliating.
And how do racists typically react when their “bete noire” starts to outpace them? “It’s all a big conspiracy, I tell you! They must be cheating! They must be! Those Jews are not to be trusted!”. This explanation was a relatively easy sell to Europeans, most of whom already distrusted Jews and saw them as “evil”. From there, a rich literature of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories was born and allowed to flourish. The Czarist Russian forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – penned in a failed bid to derail the Russian revolution – remains a top seller to this day.
Nationalism and race science emerged in this same period, if not shortly thereafter. This development, like most everything else that preceded it, fell harder on the Jews than almost anyone else (save perhaps for Romani). Both Jews and Romani were visibly different from the local populations. They were darker, more “exotic”, and quite obviously of non-European origin (not that this was news to anybody).
I can see many readers reacting negatively to what I just said, but let’s be real here. Do you honestly think a European racist, especially in the late 19th century, is going to look at someone like Josef Gerstmann, Fritz Perls, or Maurycy Gottlieb and say “yup, that’s my fellow white Aryan brother, right there”? Of course not. And to argue otherwise is, frankly, delusional. Whether we like it or not, we are a Middle Eastern people – a fact that was starkly written in the blood of 6 million dead Jewish souls less than a century ago.
Josef Gerstmann, an Ashkenazi Jewish neurologist.
Because even those who clearly didn’t like it and tried their damnedest to suppress it (e.g. assimilationists, early Reform Jews) were either barred by anti-Asian discrimination laws abroad – particularly in the United States – or murdered in the gas chambers, if not both. Nearly 1/3 of our entire population perished because of our non-white, Middle Eastern ethnic background. And that alone makes the next development in antisemitic thought especially revolting.
Nazi race propaganda from Der Sturmer, depicting an “ugly Jewish spider” preying on a “pure” white German maiden. This type of propaganda was very common back then.
More Nazi propaganda juxtaposing a German boy (on the left) with a Jewish one (on the right), disparaging the latter as “inferior”.
Beginning in the latter half of the 20th century and continuing today, Jews (especially those whose ancestors wound up in Central/Eastern Europe, i.e. Ashkenazim) came to be reviled as privileged “white people”, “Europeans”, and “colonizers”/”foreign settlers” in the Middle East (i.e. the land of our origin) by the global left and the Islamic/Arab nationalist right alike. But why?
The main reason can be found in the Israel/Palestine conflict. For those who may not be aware, the Israel/Palestine conflict is an ongoing land dispute between Israel – finally liberated (albeit only partially) after more than 2 millennia of colonial rule – and the Arab world, who had occupied the land since their conquest of it in the 7th century and, as a result of that, their relationship with the Jews was very similar, if not parallel, to that of the Greeks/Romans before them. Ergo, the Arabs were unable to accept Jewish sovereignty over any portion of historic Israel, no matter how small.
But despite their violent opposition to Zionism (even going as far as to assist Hitler in rounding up Jews), the Jews had not only managed to liberate a large chunk of their homeland from the Arabs, but *single-handedly defeated them on the battlefield* in the process. The profound sense of humiliation and shock this created deepened their already intense hatred for Jews and, to this day, most of the Arab and Islamic world (save for Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey) refuses to recognize Israel as a state.
Although they would try several more times to invade and crush the Jewish state, each attempt ended in failure. This led to the bitter realization that, for all of the Arab world’s numerical might, they could not defeat tiny Israel. Not by military force, at least. So from that point forward, they would opt for a strategy of global delegitimization in tandem with the world’s burgeoning “human rights” consciousness.
But at the same time, they knew that an appeal to “human rights” would only take them so far. The facts couldn’t have been more clear: the Land of Israel is Jewish (and Samaritan too), the Arabs arrived through colonial conquest, and the Jews had won their lands back legally, fair and square.
Enter the “Jews are white Europeans” argument. The logic of this claim should be pretty obvious: if modern Jews (especially Ashkenazim, who were the majority of modern Israel’s “founders”) are “racially European” and have no genuine roots in Israel, then it follows that they have no moral or historical claim to it. And from there, it is hoped, that the world will deem Israel’s re-establishment a “colonial injustice” and boycott the Jewish state until Palestinian Arabs (who are presented as the land’s “true natives”) are given every square inch of it back, thereby restoring through stealth the pre-Zionist status quo of Arab/Islamic hegemony and “superiority” over the Jews.
This myth would shape the development of antisemitism for the next 50 years or so, leading to an antisemitic Renaissance that is still going strong. Once more, a rich antisemitic literature developed, and antisemitism has – as of 2019 – hit its highest global saturation point since the end of WWII.
This new narrative provided a cornucopia of mouth-watering benefits for antisemites. For instance…
* If Jews are “white”, then anti-racists don’t have to listen to or care about us at all. This leaves us wide open for attack and with no recourse to the progressive solidarity we would otherwise enjoy.
* If Jews are NOT “white”, then the idea that we are controlling the US government, media, Hollywood, etc or have any real power at all becomes a self-evident absurdity. Labeling us “white” is the only way to keep these myths alive in the 21st century.
* If Jews are “white” and thus “European” and “alien” to Israel, then Jesus was not a Jew after all. And if Palestinians are the “real” descendants of Jesus, and Israel (i.e. the Jews) is “persecuting” Palestinians, then the Jews are persecuting Jesus’ kin. The fact that this means we couldn’t have possibly killed Jesus (since if today’s Jews were never in Israel, how could they have possibly killed him?) is never acknowledged, though.
* Robbing us of our national claims would, eventually, rob us of our land (again) and, more importantly, our nation-state. And if we are robbed of our nation-state and sent into exile again, gentiles will be free to murder and torment us once more. “And all lived happily ever after….except the Jews, because no one likes them anyway”.
* Robbing us of both our nation-state AND our distinct ethnic identity would rob Jewish culture of its raison d’etre, thereby making it impossible for us to sustain ourselves for more than a few generations. “And once all of the Jews have been forcibly assimilated out of their ethnic identity….POOF! No more Jews! At last, we’re finally rid of them!”
After many centuries of being told we are an “inferior” Asiatic people – foreign to Europe – and slaughtered/denaturalized (the latter happened even in the otherwise “tolerant” Americas) for this very reason, “left-wing” antisemites of today insist we are “Europeans” alien to Israel, the cradle of our entire ethnic group and civilization! If this fact doesn’t convince you that antisemitism is completely insane, nothing will.
Oppressed Palestinian ‘woman of color’ Linda “I was a white girl before I put on the hijab” Sarsour
“White” Ashkenazi Jewish actor Oded Fehr. According to anti-Israel activists like the above-mentioned Linda Sarsour, the latter (i.e. Sarsour) is a Middle Eastern “woman of color” and the former is a “white German/Dutchman of the Jewish faith” who obviously – OBVIOUSLY – has no legitimate roots in the Middle East. He’s a “white European” “settler”.
To wit, there is a direct line from ancient Greece to medieval Christendom and colonial/Enlightenment Europe, all the way up to today’s white nationalism and “social justice” anti-Zionism. The European strand of antisemitism was not diluted or made irrelevant over time (as it was in the Assyrian culture), but instead snowballed and gained in intensity with each failure to bring the Jews “into line” and “teach them proper respect” for their “betters”. Additionally, the parallel Islamic strand of antisemitism has long-since merged with the European one, culminating in an antisemitic culture that is twice as potent and deadly as anything that came before. This is why Hitler was able to rally half of the known world to his side against the Jews, and why Jews will likely never entrust their safety to the non-Jewish world ever again.
Antisemitism has snowballed over time from a relatively simple colonial prejudice to a colossal, wide-reaching colonial prejudice with a rich literature of theological, demonological, pseudo-scientific, and (now) even “progressive”/”human rights”-oriented fruit. Antisemitism cut a bloody swath through large portions of the world over a span of at least 2000+ years, and it can appear inexplicable at times. But there is a (relatively) simple explanation…
Our continued survival, especially in the face of their proclamations that they have replaced us and that “God” is on their side, completely shatters their own view of themselves. They start to think “maybe we’re not so great after all, maybe our opinion of ourselves is way too high, maybe we’re not special”. It is, of course, human nature to reject this kind of introspection. We are a boastful, arrogant, ambitious species – we dream of ascending to the top of the pack. We *yearn* to think we are better than everybody else.
So what do you make of a people who, despite everything that has been done to them, have still persisted and – ultimately – succeeded? Some might react with amazement. Others would react with “WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?! YOU SHOULD BE DEAD! WE’VE CLEARLY DEMONSTRATED OUR SUPERIORITY AND STILL YOU REJECT US! YOU DESERVE NO HONOR, NO DIGNITY, NO HAPPINESS – ONLY DEATH!”
Most wouldn’t put it in those precise terms, but that is the underlying sentiment.
Our species is tribalistic by nature, owing in large part to our primate DNA. As a general rule, human instinct is to hate and fear what is too different from ourselves. This behavioral pattern is hard-coded into our biology because, at one point, it was necessary for our survival. Moving in bands and identifying who is and is not “one of the tribe” helped protect us from all manner of predators. And Jews, for better or worse, have always been seen as “different”.
Half-Irish/half-Jewish American activist, musician, and writer.
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