The history of antisemitism defined as hostile actions or discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group goes back many centuries; antisemitism has been called “the longest hatred.”Jerome Chanes identifies six stages in the historical development of antisemitism:
Chanes suggests that these six stages could be merged into three categories: “ancient antisemitism, which was primarily ethnic in nature; Christian antisemitism, which was religious; and the racial antisemitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”
In practice, it is difficult to differentiate antisemitism from the general ill-treatment of nations by other nations before the Roman period, but since the adoption of Christianity in Europe, antisemitism has undoubtedly been present. The Islamic world has also seen the Jews historically as outsiders. The coming of the scientific and industrial revolution in 19th-century Europe bred a new manifestation of antisemitism, based as much upon race as upon religion, culminating in the horrors of the Nazi extermination camps of World War II. The formation of the state of Israel in 1948 has created new antisemitic tensions in the Middle East.
Louis H. Feldman argues that “we must take issue with the communis sensus that the pagan writers are predominantly anti-Semitic. Indeed, he asserts that “one of the great puzzles that has confronted the students of anti-semitism is the alleged shift from pro-Jewish statements found in the first pagan writers who mention the Jews… to the vicious anti-Jewish statements thereafter, beginning with Manetho about 270 BCE.” In view of Manetho’s anti-Jewish writings, antisemitism may have originated in Egypt and been spread by “the Greek retelling of Ancient Egyptian prejudices”. As examples of pagan writers who spoke positively of Jews, Feldman cites Aristotle, Theophrastus, Clearchus of Soli and Megasthenes. Feldman concedes that, after Manetho, “the picture usually painted is one of universal and virulent anti-Judaism.”
The first clear examples of anti-Jewish sentiment can be traced back to Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE. Alexandria was home to the largest Jewish community in the world and the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was produced there. Manetho, an Egyptian priest and historian of that time, wrote scathingly of the Jews and his themes are repeated in the works of Chaeremon, Lysimachus, Poseidonius, Apollonius Molon, and in Apion and Tacitus. Hecateus of Abdera is quoted by Flavius Josephus as having written about the time of Alexander the Great that the Jews “have often been treated injuriously by the kings and governors of Persia, yet can they not be dissuaded from acting what they think best; but that when they are stripped on this account, and have torments inflicted upon them, and they are brought to the most terrible kinds of death, they meet them after an extraordinary manner, beyond all other people, and will not renounce the religion of their forefathers.” One of the earliest anti-Jewish edicts, promulgated by Antiochus Epiphanes in about 170167 BCE, sparked a revolt of the Maccabees in Judea.
The ancient Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria describes an attack on Jews in Alexandria in 38 CE in which thousands of Jews died. The violence in Alexandria may have been caused by the Jews being portrayed as misanthropes. Tcherikover argues that the reason for hatred of Jews in the Hellenistic period was their separateness in the Greek cities, the poleis. Bohak has argued, however, that early animosity against the Jews cannot be regarded as being anti-Judaic or antisemitic unless it arose from attitudes that were held against the Jews alone, and that many Greeks showed animosity toward any group they regarded as barbarians.
Statements exhibiting prejudice against Jews and their religion can be found in the works of many pagan Greek and Roman writers. Edward Flannery writes that it was the Jews’ refusal to accept Greek religious and social standards that marked them out. Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek historian of the early third century BCE, wrote that Moses “in remembrance of the exile of his people, instituted for them a misanthropic and inhospitable way of life.” Manetho, an Egyptian historian, wrote that the Jews were expelled Egyptian lepers who had been taught by Moses “not to adore the gods.” The same themes appeared in the works of Chaeremon, Lysimachus, Poseidonius, Apollonius Molon, and in Apion and Tacitus. Agatharchides of Cnidus wrote about the “ridiculous practices” of the Jews and of the “absurdity of their Law,” and how Ptolemy Lagus was able to invade Jerusalem in 320 BC because its inhabitants were observing the Sabbath. Edward Flannery describes antisemitism in ancient times as essentially “cultural, taking the shape of a national xenophobia played out in political settings.”
There is a recorded instance of an Ancient Greek ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, desecrating the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish religious practices, such as circumcision, Shabbat observance and the study of Jewish religious books, during the period when Ancient Greece dominated the eastern Mediterranean. Statements exhibiting prejudice towards Jews and their religion can also be found in the works of a few pagan Greek and Roman writers, but the earliest occurrence of antisemitism has been the subject of debate among scholars, largely because different writers use different definitions of antisemitism. The terms “religious antisemitism” and “anti-Judaism” are sometimes used to refer to animosity towards Judaism as a religion rather than to Jews defined as an ethnic or racial group.
Relations between the Jews in Palestine and the occupying Roman Empire were antagonistic from the very start and resulted in several rebellions.
Several ancient historians report that in 19 CE the Roman emperor Tiberius expelled Jews from Rome. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Tiberius tried to suppress all foreign religions. In the case of Jews, he sent young Jewish men, under the pretence of military service, to provinces noted for their unhealthy climate. He dismissed all other Jews from the city, under threat of life slavery for non-compliance.Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, confirms that Tiberius ordered all Jews to be banished from Rome. Four thousand were sent to Sardinia but more, who were unwilling to become soldiers, were punished. Cassius Dio reports that Tiberius banished most of the Jews, who had been attempting to convert Romans to their religion. Philo of Alexandria reported that Sejanus, one of Tiberius’s lieutenants, may have been a prime mover in the persecution of the Jews.
The Romans refused to permit Jews to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem after its destruction by Titus in 70 CE, imposed a tax on Jews (Fiscus Judaicus) at the same time, ostensibly to finance the Temple of Jupiter in Rome, and renamed Judaea as Syria Palestina. The Jerusalem Talmud relates that, following Bar Kokhba’s revolt (1326 CE), the Romans destroyed very many Jews, “killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils.” However, some historians argue that Rome suppressed revolts in all its conquered territories and point out that Tiberius expelled all foreign religions from Rome, not just the Jews.
Some accommodation, in fact, was later made with Judaism, and the Jews of the Diaspora had privileges that others did not. Unlike other subjects of the Roman Empire, they had the right to maintain their religion and were not expected to accommodate themselves to local customs. Even after the First JewishRoman War, the Roman authorities refused to rescind Jewish privileges in some cities. And although Hadrian outlawed circumcision as a mutilation normally visited on people unable to consent, he later exempted the Jews. According to the 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon, there was greater tolerance from about 160 CE. Between 355 and 363 CE, permission was granted by Julian the Apostate to rebuild the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
It has been argued that European antisemitism has its roots in Roman policy.
Although the majority of the New Testament was written, ostensibly, by Jews who became followers of Jesus, there are a number of passages in the New Testament that some see as antisemitic, or that have been used for antisemitic purposes, including:
After Jesus’ death, the New Testament portrays the Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem as hostile to Jesus’ followers, and as occasionally using force against them. Stephen is executed by stoning. Before his conversion, Saul puts followers of Jesus in prison. After his conversion, Saul is whipped at various times by Jewish authorities. He is accused by Jewish authorities before the Roman courts. However, opposition by gentiles is also described, and more generally there are widespread references in the New Testament to the suffering experienced by Jesus’ followers at the hands of others, particularly the Romans.
Quran, the holy book of Muslims, contains some verses that can be interpreted as expressing very negative views of some Jews. After Muhammad moved to Medina in 622 CE he made peace treaties with the Jewish and other tribes. However, the relationship between the followers of the new religion (Islam) and the Jews of Medina later became bitter. At this point Quran instructs Muhammad to change the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca, and from this point on, the tone of the verses of the Quran become increasingly hostile towards Jewry. In 627 a Jewish tribe, Banu Qurayza of Medina, violated a treaty with the Islamic prophet Muhammad by allying with the attacking tribes. Subsequently, the tribe was charged with treason and besieged by the Muslims commanded by Muhammad. The Banu Qurayza were forced to surrender and the men were beheaded, while all the women and children were taken captive and enslaved. Several scholars have challenged the veracity of this incident, arguing that it was exaggerated or invented.
Later, several conflicts arose between Jews of Arabia and Muhammad and his followers, the most notable of which was in Khaybar, in which many Jews were killed and their properties seized and distributed amongst the Muslims.
When Christianity became the state religion of Rome in the 4th century, Jews became the object of religious intolerance and political oppression. Christian literature began to display extreme hostility towards Jews, which occasionally resulted in attacks and the burning of synagogues. This hostility was reflected in the edicts both of church councils and state laws. In the early 4th century, intermarriage between unconverted Jews and Christians was prohibited under the provisions of the Synod of Elvira. The Council of Antioch (341) prohibited Christians from celebrating Passover with the Jews while the Council of Laodicea forbade Christians from keeping the Jewish Sabbath.
The Roman emperor Constantine I instituted several laws concerning the Jews: they were forbidden to own Christian slaves or to circumcise their slaves. The conversion of Christians to Judaism was outlawed. Religious services were regulated, congregations restricted, but Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple.
Discrimination became worse in the 5th century. The edicts of the Codex Theodosianus (438) barred Jews from the civil service, the army and the legal profession. The Jewish Patriarchate was abolished and the scope of Jewish courts restricted. Synagogues were confiscated and old synagogues could be repaired only if they were in danger of collapse. Synagogues fell into ruin or were converted to churches. Synagogues were destroyed in Tortona (350), Rome (388 and 500), Raqqa (388), Minorca (418), Daphne (near Antioch, 489 and 507), Genoa (500), Ravenna (495), Tours (585) and in Orlans (590). Other synagogues were confiscated: Urfa in 411, several in Judea between 419 and 422, Constantinople in 442 and 569, Antioch in 423, Vannes in 465, Diyarbakir in 500 Terracina in 590, Cagliari in 590 and Palermo in 590.
Deicide is the killing of a god. In the context of Christianity, deicide refers to the responsibility for the death of Jesus. The accusation of Jews in deicide has been the most powerful warrant for antisemitism by Christians.
The earliest recorded instance of an accusation of deicide against the Jewish people as a whole that they were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus occurs in a sermon of 167 CE attributed to Melito of Sardis entitled Peri Pascha, On the Passover. This text blames the Jews for allowing King Herod and Caiaphas to execute Jesus. Melito does not attribute particular blame to Pontius Pilate, mentioning only that Pilate washed his hands of guilt. The sermon is written in Greek, but may have been an appeal to Rome to spare Christians at a time when Christians were widely persecuted.
The Latin word deicida (slayer of god), from which the word deicide is derived, was used in the 4th century by Peter Chrystologus in his sermon number 172. Though not part of Roman Catholic dogma, many Christians, including members of the clergy, once held Jews to be collectively responsible for killing Jesus. According to this interpretation, both the Jews present at Jesus death and the Jewish people collectively and for all time had committed the sin of deicide, or God-killing.
There was continuing hostility to Judaism from the late Roman period into medieval times. During the Middle Ages in Europe there was a full-scale persecution of Jews in many places, with blood libels, expulsions, forced conversions and killings. In the 12th century, there were Christians who believed that some, or possibly all, of the Jews possessed magical powers and had gained these powers from making a pact with the devil. Judensau images began to appear in Germany.
The persecution of the Jews in Europe reached a climax during the Crusades. Anti-Jewish rhetoric such as the Goad of Love began to appear and affect public consciousness. At the time of the First Crusade, in 1096, a German Crusade destroyed flourishing Jewish communities on the Rhine and the Danube. In the Second Crusade in 1147, the Jews in France were the victims of frequent killings and atrocities. The Jews were also subjected to attacks during the Shepherds’ Crusades of 1251 and 1320. Following these crusades, Jews were subject to expulsions, including, in 1290, the banishing of all English Jews. In 1396, 100,000 Jews were expelled from France and in 1421, thousands were expelled from Austria. Many of those expelled fled to Poland.
As the Black Death plague swept across Europe in the mid-14th century, annihilating more than half of the population, Jews often became the scapegoats. Rumors spread that they had caused this epidemic by deliberately poisoning wells. Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed by the ensuing hatred and violence. Pope Clement VI tried to protect Jews by a papal bull dated July 6, 1348, and by an additional bull soon afterwards, but several months later, 900 Jews were burnt alive in Strasbourg, where the plague had not yet affected the city.
From the 9th century onwards, the medieval Islamic world imposed dhimmi status on both Christian and Jewish minorities, although Jews were allowed more freedom to practise their religion in the Muslim world than they were in Christian Europe.
However, the entrance of the Almoravides from North Africa in the 11th century saw harsh measures taken against both Christians and Jews. As part of this repression there were pogroms against Jews in Cordova in 1011 and in Granada in 1066. The Almohads, who by 1147 had taken control of the Almoravids’ Maghribi and Andalusian territories, took a less tolerant view still and treated the dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews and Christians took a third option if they could, and fled. Some, such as the family of Maimonides, went east to more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms. At certain times in the Middle Ages, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted. Jews were forced to convert to Islam or face death in parts of Yemen, Morocco and Baghdad.Jewish communities in Spain thrived under tolerant Muslim rule during the Spanish Golden Age and Cordova became a centre of Jewish culture.
Restrictions upon Jewish occupations were imposed by Christian authorities. Local rulers and church officials closed many professions to Jews, pushing them into marginal roles considered socially inferior, such as tax and rent collecting and moneylending, occupations only tolerated as a “necessary evil”. Catholic doctrine at the time held that lending money for interest was a sin, and it was an occupation forbidden to Christians. Not being subject to this restriction, insofar as loans to non-Jews were concerned, Jews made this business their own, despite possible criticism of usury in the Torah and later sections of the Hebrew Bible. Unfortunately, this led to many negative stereotypes of Jews as insolent, greedy usurers and the understandable tensions between creditors (typically Jews) and debtors (typically Christians) added to social, political, religious, and economic strains. Peasants who were forced to pay their taxes to Jews could see them as personally taking their money while unaware of those on whose behalf these Jews worked.
Jews were subject to a wide range of legal disabilities and restrictions throughout the Middle Ages, some of which lasted until the end of the 19th century. Even moneylending and peddling were at times forbidden to them. The number of Jews permitted to reside in different places was limited; they were concentrated in ghettos and were not allowed to own land; they were subject to discriminatory taxes on entering cities or districts other than their own and were forced to swear special Jewish Oaths, and they suffered a variety of other measures. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that Jews and Muslims must wear distinguishing clothing. The most common such clothing was the Jewish hat, which was already worn by many Jews as a self-identifying mark, but was now often made compulsory.
The Jewish badge was introduced in some places; it could be a coloured piece of cloth in the shape of a circle, strip, or the tablets of the law (in England), and was sewn onto the clothes. Elsewhere special colours of robe were specified. Implementation was in the hands of local rulers but by the following century laws had been enacted covering most of Europe. In many localities, members of Medieval society wore badges to distinguish their social status. Some badges (such as those worn by guild members) were prestigious, while others were worn by ostracised outcasts such as lepers, reformed heretics and prostitutes. As with all sumptuary laws, the degree to which these laws were followed and enforced varied greatly. Sometimes, Jews sought to evade the badges by paying what amounted to bribes in the form of temporary “exemptions” to kings, which were revoked and re-paid for whenever the king needed to raise funds. By the end of the Middle Ages, the hat seems to have become rare, but the badge lasted longer and remained in some places until the 18th century.
The Crusades were a series of military campaigns sanctioned by the Papacy in Rome, which took place from the end of the 11th century until the 13th century. They began as endeavors to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims but developed into territorial wars.
The People’s Crusade that accompanied the first Crusade attacked Jewish communities in Germany, France, and England, and killed many Jews. Entire communities, like those of Treves, Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne, were murdered by armed mobs. About 12,000 Jews are said to have perished in the Rhineland cities alone between May and July 1096. Before the Crusades, Jews had practically a monopoly on the trade in Eastern products, but the closer connection between Europe and the East brought about by the Crusades raised up a class of Christian merchant traders, and from this time onwards, restrictions on the sale of goods by Jews became frequent. The religious zeal fomented by the Crusades at times burned as fiercely against Jews as against Muslims, although attempts were made by bishops during the first Crusade and by the papacy during the second Crusade to stop Jews from being attacked. Both economically and socially, the Crusades were disastrous for European Jews. They prepared the way for the anti-Jewish legislation of Pope Innocent III. The Jewish defenders of Jerusalem retreated to their synagogue to “prepare for death” once the Crusaders had breached the outer walls of the city during the siege of 1099. The chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi states that the building was set on fire whilst the Jews were still inside. The Crusaders were supposedly reported as hoisting up their shields and singing “Christ We Adore Thee!” while they encircled the burning building.” Following the siege, Jews captured from the Dome of the Rock, along with native Christians, were made to clean the city of the slain. Numerous Jews and their holy books (including the Aleppo Codex) were held ransom by Raymond of Toulouse. The Karaite Jewish community of Ashkelon (Ascalon) reached out to their coreligionists in Alexandria to first pay for the holy books and then rescued pockets of Jews over several months. All that could be ransomed were liberated by the summer of 1100. The few who could not be rescued were either converted to Christianity or murdered.
In the County of Toulouse, in southern France, toleration and favour shown to Jews was one of the main complaints of the Roman Church against the Counts of Toulouse at the beginning of the 13th century. Organised and official persecution of the Jews became a normal feature of life in southern France only after the Albigensian Crusade, because it was only then that the Church became powerful enough to insist that measures of discrimination be applied. In 1209, stripped to the waist and barefoot, Raymond VI of Toulouse was obliged to swear that he would no longer allow Jews to hold public office. In 1229 his son Raymond VII, underwent a similar ceremony.
On many occasions, Jews were accused of drinking the blood of Christian children in mockery of the Christian Eucharist. According to the authors of these so-called blood libels, the ‘procedure’ for the alleged sacrifice was something like this: a child who had not yet reached puberty was kidnapped and taken to a hidden place. The child would be tortured by Jews, and a crowd would gather at the place of execution (in some accounts the synagogue itself) and engage in a mock tribunal to try the child. The child would be presented to the tribunal naked and tied and eventually be condemned to death. In the end, the child would be crowned with thorns and tied or nailed to a wooden cross. The cross would be raised, and the blood dripping from the child’s wounds would be caught in bowls or glasses and then drunk. Finally, the child would be killed with a thrust through the heart from a spear, sword, or dagger. Its dead body would be removed from the cross and concealed or disposed of, but in some instances rituals of black magic would be performed on it. This method, with some variations, can be found in all the alleged Christian descriptions of ritual murder by Jews.
The story of William of Norwich (d. 1144) is often cited as the first known accusation of ritual murder against Jews. The Jews of Norwich, England were accused of murder after a Christian boy, William, was found dead. It was claimed that the Jews had tortured and crucified him. The legend of William of Norwich became a cult, and the child acquired the status of a holy martyr.Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1255), in the 13th century, reputedly had his belly cut open and his entrails removed for some occult purpose, such as a divination ritual, after being taken from a cross. Simon of Trent (d. 1475), in the fifteenth, was held over a large bowl so that all his blood could be collected, it was alleged.
During the Middle Ages, such blood libels were directed against Jews in many parts of Europe. The believers of these accusations reasoned that the Jews, having crucified Jesus, continued to thirst for pure and innocent blood, at the expense of innocent Christian children.
Jews were sometimes falsely accused of desecrating consecrated hosts in a reenactment of the Crucifixion; this crime was known as host desecration and carried the death penalty.
The practice of expelling Jews, the confiscation of their property and further ransom for their return was utilized to enrich the French crown during the 13th and 14th centuries. The most notable such expulsions were from Paris by Philip Augustus in 1182, from the whole of France by Louis IX in 1254, by Charles IV in 1306, by Charles V in 1322 and by Charles VI in 1394.
To finance his war against Wales in 1276, Edward I of England taxed Jewish moneylenders. When the moneylenders could no longer pay the tax, they were accused of disloyalty. Already restricted to a limited number of occupations, Edward abolished their “privilege” to lend money, restricted their movements and activities and forced Jews to wear a yellow patch. The heads of Jewish households were then arrested with over 300 being taken to the Tower of London and executed. Others were killed in their homes. All Jews were banished from the country in 1290, where it was possible that hundreds were killed or drowned while trying to leave the country. All the money and property of these dispossessed Jews was confiscated. No Jews were known to be in England thereafter until 1655, when Oliver Cromwell reversed the policy.
In Germany, part of the Holy Roman Empire, persecutions and formal expulsions of the Jews were liable to occur at intervals, although it should be said that this was also the case for other minority communities, whether religious or ethnic. There were particular outbursts of riotous persecution in the Rhineland massacres of 1096 accompanying the lead-up to the First Crusade, many involving the crusaders as they travelled to the East. There were many local expulsions from cities by local rulers and city councils. The Holy Roman Emperor generally tried to restrain persecution, if only for economic reasons, but he was often unable to exert much influence. As late as 1519, the Imperial city of Regensburg took advantage of the recent death of Emperor Maximilian I to expel its 500 Jews. At this period the rulers of the eastern edges of Europe, in Poland, Lithuania and Hungary, were often receptive to Jewish settlement, and many Jews moved to these regions.
Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed by violence during the ravages of the Black Death, particularly in the Iberian peninsula and in the Germanic Empire. In Provence, 40 Jews were burnt in Toulon as quickly after the outbreak as April 1348. “Never mind that Jews were not immune from the ravages of the plague; they were tortured until they “confessed” to crimes that they could not possibly have committed. In one such case, a man named Agimet was … coerced to say that Rabbi Peyret of Chambry (near Geneva) had ordered him to poison the wells in Venice, Toulouse, and elsewhere. In the aftermath of Agimet’s “confession”, the Jews of Strasbourg were burned alive on February 14, 1349.”
In the Catholic kingdoms of late medieval and early modern Spain, oppressive policies and attitudes led many Jews to embrace Christianity. Such Jews were known as conversos or Marranos. Suspicions that they might still secretly be adherents of Judaism led Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile to institute the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition used torture to elicit confessions and delivered judgment at public ceremonials known as autos de fe before they gave their victims over to the secular authorities for punishment. Under this dispensation, some 30,000 were condemned to death and executed by being burnt alive.
In 1492, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile issued an edict of expulsion of Jews from Spain, giving Jews four months to either convert to Christianity or leave the country. Some 165,000 emigrated and some 50,000 converted to Christianity. Portugal followed suit in December 1496. However, those expelled could only leave the country in ships specified by the King. When those who chose to leave the country arrived at the port in Lisbon, they were met by clerics and soldiers who used force, coercion and promises to baptize them and prevent them from leaving the country. This episode technically ended the presence of Jews in Portugal. Afterwards, all converted Jews and their descendants would be referred to as New Christians or marranos. They were given a grace period of thirty years during which no inquiry into their faith would be allowed. This period was later extended until 1534. However, a popular riot in 1506 resulted in the deaths of up to four or five thousand Jews, and the execution of the leaders of the riot by King Manuel. Those labeled as New Christians were under the surveillance of the Portuguese Inquisition from 1536 until 1821.
Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal, known as Sephardi Jews from the Hebrew word for Spain, fled to North Africa, Turkey and Palestine within the Ottoman Empire, and to Holland, France and Italy. Within the Ottoman Empire, Jews could openly practise their religion. Amsterdam in Holland also became a focus for settlement by the persecuted Jews from many lands in succeeding centuries.
Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation, wrote antagonistically about Jews in his pamphlet On the Jews and their Lies, written in 1543. He portrays the Jews in extremely harsh terms, excoriates them and provides detailed recommendations for a pogrom against them, calling for their permanent oppression and expulsion. At one point he writes: “…we are at fault in not slaying them…” a passage that “may be termed the first work of modern antisemitism, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust.”
Luther’s harsh comments about the Jews are seen by many as a continuation of medieval Christian antisemitism. Muslow and Popkin assert that, “the antisemitism of the early modern period was even worse than that of the Middle Ages; and nowhere was this more obvious than in those areas which roughly encompass modern-day Germany, especially among Lutherans.”
In his final sermon shortly before his death, however, Luther preached: “We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord.”
Simon of Trent was a boy from the city of Trento, Italy, who was found dead at the age of two in 1475, having allegedly been kidnapped, mutilated, and drained of blood. His disappearance was blamed on the leaders of the city’s Jewish community, based on confessions extracted under torture, in a case that fueled the rampant antisemitism of the time. Simon was regarded as a saint, and was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588.
In the mid-17th century, Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch Director-General of the colony of New Amsterdam, later New York City, sought to bolster the position of the Dutch Reformed Church by trying to stem the religious influence of Jews, Lutherans, Catholics and Quakers. He stated that Jews were “deceitful”, “very repugnant”, and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ”. However, religious plurality was already a cultural tradition and a legal obligation in New Amsterdam and in the Netherlands, and his superiors at the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam overruled him.
During the mid-to-late-17th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was devastated by several conflicts, in which the Commonwealth lost over a third of its population (over 3 million people). The decrease of the Jewish population during that period is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, including emigration, deaths from diseases and captivity in the Ottoman Empire. These conflicts began in 1648 when Bohdan Khmelnytsky instigated the Khmelnytsky Uprising against the Polish aristocracy and the Jews who administered their estates. Khmelnytsky’s Cossacks massacred tens of thousands of Jews in the eastern and southern areas that he controlled (now the Ukraine). This persecution led many Jews to pin their hopes on a man called Shabbatai Zevi who emerged in the Ottoman Empire at this time and proclaimed himself Messiah in 1665. However his later conversion to Islam dashed these hopes and led many Jews to discredit the traditional belief in the coming of the Messiah as the hope of salvation.
In the Zaydi imamate of Yemen, Jews were also singled out for discrimination in the 17th century, which culminated in the general expulsion of all Jews from places in Yemen to the arid coastal plain of Tihamah and which became known as the Mawza Exile.
In many European countries the 18th century “Age of Enlightenment” saw the dismantling of archaic corporate, hierarchical forms of society in favour of individual equality of citizens before the law. How this new state of affairs would affect previously autonomous, though subordinated, Jewish communities became known as the Jewish question. In many countries, enhanced civil rights were gradually extended to the Jews, though often only in a partial form and on condition that the Jews abandon many aspects of their previous identity in favour of integration and assimilation with the dominant society.
According to Arnold Ages, Voltaire’s “Lettres philosophiques, Dictionnaire philosophique, and Candide, to name but a few of his better known works, are saturated with comments on Jews and Judaism and the vast majority are negative”. Paul H. Meyer adds: “There is no question but that Voltaire, particularly in his latter years, nursed a violent hatred of the Jews and it is equally certain that his animosity…did have a considerable impact on public opinion in France.”  Thirty of the 118 articles in Voltaire’s Dictionnaire philosophique concerned Jews and described them in consistently negative ways.
In 1744, Frederick II of Prussia limited the number of Jews allowed to live in Breslau to only ten so-called “protected” Jewish families and encouraged a similar practice in other Prussian cities. In 1750 he issued the Revidiertes General Privilegium und Reglement vor die Judenschaft: forcing these “protected” Jews to “either abstain from marriage or leave Berlin.” In the same year, Archduchess of Austria Maria Theresa ordered Jews out of Bohemia but soon reversed her position, on condition that they pay for their readmission every ten years. This was known as malke-geld (queen’s money). In 1752 she introduced a law limiting each Jewish family to one son. In 1782, Joseph II abolished most of these practices in his Toleranzpatent, on the condition that Yiddish and Hebrew were eliminated from public records and that judicial autonomy was annulled.
In accordance with the anti-Jewish precepts of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia’s discriminatory policies towards Jews intensified when the partition of Poland in the 18th century resulted, for the first time in Russian history, in the possession of land with a large population of Jews. This land was designated as the Pale of Settlement from which Jews were forbidden to migrate into the interior of Russia. In 1772, the empress of Russia Catherine II forced the Jews of the Pale of Settlement to stay in their shtetls and forbade them from returning to the towns that they occupied before the partition of Poland.
Following legislation supporting the equality of French Jews with other citizens during the French Revolution, similar laws promoting Jewish emancipation were enacted in the early 19th century in those parts of Europe over which France had influence. The old laws restricting them to ghettos, as well as the many laws that limited their property rights, rights of worship and occupation, were rescinded.
Despite this, traditional discrimination and hostility to Jews on religious grounds persisted and was supplemented by racial antisemitism, encouraged by the work of racial theorists such as Joseph Arthur de Gobineau and particularly his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Race of 18535. Nationalist agendas based on ethnicity, known as ethnonationalism, usually excluded the Jews from the national community as an alien race. Allied to this were theories of Social Darwinism, which stressed a putative conflict between higher and lower races of human beings. Such theories, usually posited by white Europeans, advocated the superiority of white Aryans to Semitic Jews.
Civil rights granted to Jews in Germany, following the occupation of that country by the French under Napoleon, were rescinded after his defeat. Pleas to retain them by diplomats at the Congress of Vienna peace conference (18145) were unsuccessful. In 1819, German Jews were attacked in the Hep-Hep riots. Full Jewish emancipation was not granted in Germany until 1871, when the country was united under the Hohenzollern dynasty.
In 1850, the German composer Richard Wagner published Das Judenthum in der Musik (“Jewishness in Music”) under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift fr Musik. The essay began as an attack on Jewish composers, particularly Wagner’s contemporaries (and rivals) Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer, but expanded to accuse Jewish influences more widely of being a harmful and alien element in German culture.
The term “antisemitism” was coined by the German agitator and publicist, Wilhelm Marr in 1879. In that year, Marr founded the Antisemites League and published a book called Victory of Jewry over Germandom. The late 1870s saw the growth of antisemitic political parties in Germany. These included the Christian Social Party, founded in 1878 by Adolf Stoecker, the Lutheran chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm I, as well as a German Social Antisemitic Party and an Antisemitic People’s Party. However, they did not enjoy mass electoral support and at their peak in 1907, had only 16 deputies out of a total of 397 in the Reichstag.
The defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War (18701) was blamed by some on the Jews. Jews were accused of weakening the national spirit through association with republicanism, capitalism and anti-clericalism, particularly by authoritarian, right wing, clerical and royalist groups. These accusations were spread in antisemitic journals such as La Libre Parole, founded by Edouard Drumont and La Croix, the organ of the Catholic order of the Assumptionists.
Financial scandals such as the collapse of the Union Generale Bank and the collapse of the French Panama Canal operation were also blamed on the Jews. The Dreyfus affair saw a Jewish military officer named Captain Alfred Dreyfus falsely accused of treason in 1895 by his army superiors and sent to Devil’s Island after being convicted. Dreyfus was acquitted in 1906, but the case polarised French opinion between antisemitic authoritarian nationalists and philosemitic anti-clerical republicans, with consequences which were to resonate into the 20th century.
Between 1881 and 1920, approximately 3 million Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe immigrated to America, many of them fleeing pogroms and the difficult economic conditions which were widespread in much of Eastern Europe during this time. Pogroms in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, prompted waves of Jewish immigrants after 1881. Jews, along with many Eastern and Southern European immigrants, came to work the country’s growing mines and factories. Many Americans distrusted these Jewish immigrants.
The earlier wave of Jewish immigration from Germany, the latter (post 1880) came from “the Pale” – the region of Eastern Poland, Russia and the Ukraine where Jews had suffered under the Czars. Along with Italians, Irish and other Eastern and Southern Europeans, Jews faced discrimination in the United States in employment, education and social advancement. American groups like the Immigration Restriction League, criticized these new arrivals along with immigrants from Asia and southern and eastern Europe, as culturally, intellectually, morally, and biologically inferior. Despite these attacks, very few Eastern European Jews returned to Europe for whatever privations they faced, their situation in the US was still improved.
Beginning in the early 1880s, declining farm prices also prompted elements of the Populist movement to blame the perceived evils of capitalism and industrialism on Jews because of their alleged racial/religious inclination for financial exploitation and, more specifically, because of the alleged financial manipulations of Jewish financiers such as the Rothschilds. Although Jews played only a minor role in the nation’s commercial banking system, the prominence of Jewish investment bankers such as the Rothschilds in Europe, and Jacob Schiff, of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York City, made the claims of anti-Semites believable to some.
The Morgan Bonds scandal injected populist antisemitism into the 1896 presidential campaign. It was disclosed that President Grover Cleveland had sold bonds to a syndicate which included J. P. Morgan and the Rothschilds house, bonds which that syndicate was now selling for a profit. The Populists used it as an opportunity to uphold their view of history, and prove to the nation that Washington and Wall Street were in the hands of the international Jewish banking houses.
Another focus of antisemitic feeling was the allegation that Jews were at the center of an international conspiracy to fix the currency and thus the economy to a single gold standard.
Long-standing repressive polices and attitudes towards the Jews in Russia were intensified after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II on 13 March 1881. This event was blamed on the Jews and sparked widespread anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire which lasted for three years. A hardening of official attitudes under Tsar Alexander III and his ministers, resulted in the May Laws of 1882, which severely restricted the civil rights of Jews within the Russian Empire. The Tsar’s minister Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev stated that the aim of the government with regard to the Jews was that: “One third will die out, one third will leave the country and one third will be completely dissolved [into] the surrounding population”. In the event, a mix of pogroms and repressive legislation did indeed result in the mass emigration of Jews to western Europe and America. Between 1881 and the outbreak of the First World War, an estimated 2.5 million Jews left Russia one of the largest mass migrations in recorded history.
In the 19th century, the position of Jews worsened in Muslim countries. Historian Martin Gilbert writes that it was in the 19th century that the position of Jews worsened in Muslim countries. According to Mark Cohen in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, most scholars conclude that Arab anti-Semitism in the modern world arose in the nineteenth century, against the backdrop of conflicting Jewish and Arab nationalism, and was imported into the Arab world primarily by nationalistically minded Christian Arabs (and only subsequently was it “Islamized”). There was a massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828. In 1839, in the eastern Persian city of Meshed, a mob burst into the Jewish Quarter, burned the synagogue and destroyed the Torah scrolls, and it was only by forced conversion that a massacre was averted. There was a massacre of Jews in Barfurush in 1867.
Concerning the life of Persian Jews in the middle of the 19th century, a contemporary author wrote:
…they are obliged to live in a separate part of town… for they are considered as unclean creatures… Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans, they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt For the same reason, they are prohibited to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans If a Jew is recognized as such in the streets, he is subjected to the greatest insults. The passers-by spit in his face, and sometimes beat him unmercifully If a Jew enters a shop for anything, he is forbidden to inspect the goods Should his hand incautiously touch the goods, he must take them at any price the seller chooses to ask for them.
In 1840, in the Damascus affair, the Jews of Damascus were falsely accused of having ritually murdered a Christian monk and his Muslim servant and of having used their blood to bake Passover bread. A Jewish barber was tortured until he “confessed” to this crime; two other Jews who were arrested died under torture, while a third converted to Islam to save his life.
In 1864, around 500 Jews were killed in Marrakech and Fez in Morocco. In 1869, 18 Jews were killed in Tunis, and an Arab mob looted Jewish homes and stores, and burned synagogues, on Jerba Island. Jews in Morocco were attacked and killed in the streets in broad daylight. In 1891, the leading Muslims in Jerusalem asked the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople to prohibit the entry of Jews arriving from Russia.
One symbol of Jewish degradation was the phenomenon of stone-throwing at Jews by Muslim children. A 19th-century traveler observed: “I have seen a little fellow of six years old, with a troop of fat toddlers of only three and four, teaching [them] to throw stones at a Jew, and one little urchin would, with the greatest coolness, waddle up to the man and literally spit upon his Jewish gaberdine. To all this the Jew is obliged to submit; it would be more than his life was worth to offer to strike a Mahommedan.”
In the 20th century, antisemitism and Social Darwinism culminated in an unparalleled act of genocide, called the Holocaust, in which some six million Jews were exterminated in Nazi occupied Europe between 1942 and 1945 under the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler.
In Russia, under the Tsarist regime, antisemitism intensified in the early years of the 20th century and was given official favour when the secret police forged the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document purported to be a transcription of a plan by Jewish elders to achieve global domination. Violence against the Jews in the Kishinev pogrom in 1903 was continued after the 1905 revolution by the activities of the Black Hundreds. The Beilis Trial of 1913 showed that it was possible to revive the blood libel accusation in Russia.
The 1917 revolution ended official discrimination against the Jews but was followed, however, by massive anti-Jewish violence by the anti-Bolshevik White Army and the forces of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in the Russian Civil War. From 191821, between 100,000 and 150,000 Jews were slaughtered. White emigres from revolutionary Russia fostered the idea that the Bolshevik regime, with its many Jewish members, was a front for the Jewish World Conspiracy, outlined in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which had by now achieved wide circulation in the west.
In France, antisemitic agitation was promoted by right-wing groups such as Action Franaise, founded by Charles Maurras. These groups were critical of the whole political establishment of the Third Republic. Following the Stavisky Affair, in which a Jewish man named Serge Alexandre Stavisky was revealed to be involved in high-level political corruption, these groups encouraged serious rioting which almost toppled the government in the 6 February 1934 crisis. The rise to prominence of the Jewish socialist Lon Blum, who became prime minister of the Popular Front Government in 1936, further polarised opinion within France. Action Franaise and other right-wing groups launched a vicious antisemitic press campaign against Blum which culminated in an attack in which he was dragged from his car and kicked and beaten whilst a mob screamed ‘Death to the Jew!’
Antisemitism was particularly virulent in Vichy France during World War II. The Vichy government openly collaborated with the Nazi occupiers to identify Jews for deportation and transportation to the death camps (about 75.000 were killed). The antisemitic demands of right-wing groups were implemented under the collaborating Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Ptain, following the defeat of the French by the German army in 1940. A law on the status of Jews of that year, followed by another in 1941, purged Jews from employment in administrative, civil service and judicial posts, from most professions and even from the entertainment industry restricting them, mostly, to menial jobs. Vichy’s officials aided and abetted the Nazis in arresting and transporting over seventy-three thousand Jews to their deaths in the extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.
In Germany, following World War I, Nazism arose as a political movement incorporating racially antisemitic ideas, expressed by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf (German: My Struggle). After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi regime sought the systematic exclusion of Jews from national life. Jews were demonized as the driving force of both International Marxism and Capitalism. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 outlawed marriage or sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jews. Antisemitic propaganda by or on behalf of the Nazi Party began to pervade society. Especially virulent in this regard was Julius Streicher’s pornographic publication Der Strmer, which published the alleged sexual misdemeanors of Jews for popular consumption. Mass violence against the Jews was encouraged by the Nazi regime, and on the night of 910 November 1938, dubbed Kristallnacht, the regeme sanctioned the killing of Jews, the destruction of property and the torching of synagogues.
As Nazi occupation extended eastwards in World War II, antisemitic laws, agitation and propaganda were brought to occupied Europe, often building on local antisemitic traditions. In occupied Poland, Jews were forced into ghettos: in Warsaw, Krakw, Lvov, Lublin and Radom. Following the invasion of Russia in 1941, a campaign of mass murder in that country was conducted against the Jews by Nazi death squads called the Einsatzgruppen. On 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, deputed to find a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”, chaired the Wannsee Conference at which all the Jews resident in Europe and North Africa were earmarked for extermination. Of the eleven million who were targeted, some six million men, women and children were killed by the Nazis between 1942 and 1945. This systematic genocide is known as the Holocaust. To implement this horrific plan, Jews were transported to purpose-built extermination camps in occupied Poland, where they were killed in gas chambers. Extermination camps were located at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chemno, Beec, Majdanek, Sobibr and Treblinka. These camps accounted for about half of the total number of killed Jews.
Between 1900 and 1924, approximately 1.75 million Jews immigrated to America’s shores, the bulk from Eastern Europe. Where before 1900, American Jews never amounted even to 1 percent of America’s total population, by 1930 Jews formed about 3 percent. This dramatic increase and the upward mobility of some Jews was accompanied by a resurgence of antisemitism.
In the first half of the 20th century, Jews in the United States faced discrimination in employment, in access to residential and resort areas, in the membership of clubs and organizations and in tightened quotas on Jewish enrollment and teaching positions in colleges and universities. Some sources state that the conviction (and later lynching) of Leo Frank, which turned a spotlight on antisemitism in the United States, also led to the formation of the Anti-Defamation League in October 1913. However, Abraham H. Foxman, the organization’s National Director, disputes this, stating that American Jews simply needed an institution to combat anti-Semitism. Social tension during this period also led to renewed support for the Ku Klux Klan, which had been inactive since 1870.
Antisemitism in the United States reached its peak during the 1920s and 1930s. The pioneer automobile manufacturer Henry Ford propagated antisemitic ideas in his newspaper The Dearborn Independent. During the 1940s, the pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh and many other prominent Americans led the America First Committee in opposing any involvement in the war against fascism. Following a visit to Germany in 1936, Lindbergh wrote: “While I still have my reservations, I have come away with great admiration for the German people… Hitler must have far more vision and character than I thought With all the things we criticize he is undoubtedly a great man” Although America First avoided any appearance of antisemitism and voted to drop Henry Ford as a member for this reason, Ford continued his good friendship with Lindbergh, who visited him in the summer of 1941. One month later; Lindbergh gave a speech in Des Moines, Iowa in which he expressed the decidedly Ford-like view that: “The three most important groups which have been pressing this country towards war are the British, the Jews, and the Roosevelt Administration.” In his diary Lindbergh wrote: “We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence Whenever the Jewish percentage of the total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.” During race riots in Detroit in 1943, Jewish businesses were targeted for looting and burning.
The German American Bund held parades in New York City in the late 1930s which featured Nazi uniforms and flags with swastikas alongside American flags. Some 20,000 people listened to Bund leader Fritz Julius Kuhn at Madison Square Garden in 1939 criticizing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by repeatedly referring to him as “Frank D. Rosenfeld” and calling his New Deal the “Jew Deal”. By espousing a belief in the existence of a Bolshevik-Jewish conspiracy in America, Kuhn’s activities came under the scrutiny of the US House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and when the United States entered World War II most of the Bund’s members were placed in internment camps, and some were deported at the end of the war.
The United States did not provide for entry of the MS St. Louis refugees in 1939.
Antisemitism in the USSR reached a peak in 194853 when several hundred Yiddish-writing poets, writers, painters and sculptors were killed in a campaign against the so-called rootless cosmopolitans.
The Kielce pogrom and “March 1968 events” in communist Poland were further incidents of antisemitism in Europe. A common theme behind the anti-Jewish violence in Poland were blood libel rumours.
During the early 1980s, isolationists on the far right made overtures to anti-war activists on the left in the United States to join forces against government policies in areas where they shared concerns. This was mainly in the area of civil liberties, opposition to United States military intervention overseas and opposition to US support for Israel. As they interacted, some of the classic right-wing antisemitic scapegoating conspiracy theories began to seep into progressive circles, including stories about how a “New World Order”, also called the “Shadow Government” or “The Octopus”, was manipulating world governments. Antisemitic conspiracism was “peddled aggressively” by right-wing groups. Some on the left adopted the rhetoric, which it has been argued, was made possible by their lack of knowledge of the history of fascism and its use of “scapegoating, reductionist and simplistic solutions, demagoguery, and a conspiracy theory of history.”
Towards the end of 1990, as the movement against the Gulf War began to build, a number of far-right and antisemitic groups sought out alliances with left-wing anti-war coalitions, who began to speak openly about a “Jewish lobby” that was encouraging the United States to invade the Middle East. This idea evolved into conspiracy theories about a “Zionist-occupied government” (ZOG), which has been seen as equivalent to the early-20th century antisemitic hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The anti-war movement as a whole rejected these overtures by the political right.
In the late 20th century, leaving aside injudicious name-calling by senator Ernest Hollings to fellow Democrat Howard Metzenbaum on the floor of the Senate, the Crown Heights riots of 1991 were a violent expression of tensions within a very poor urban community, pitting African American residents against followers of Hassidic Judaism. In the context of the first US-Iraq war, on September 15, 1990 Pat Buchanan appeared on The McLaughlin Group and said that “there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East the Israeli defense ministry and its ‘amen corner’ in the United States.” He also said: “The Israelis want this war desperately because they want the United States to destroy the Iraqi war machine. They want us to finish them off. They don’t care about our relations with the Arab world.” When he delivered a keynote address at the 1992 Republican National Convention, known as the Culture War Speech, Buchanan described “a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America”.
The first years of the 21st century have seen an upsurge of antisemitism. Several authors such as Robert S. Wistrich, Phyllis Chesler, and Jonathan Sacks argue that this is antisemitism of a new type stemming from Islamists, which they call new antisemitism.Blood libel stories have appeared numerous times in the state-sponsored media of a number of Arab nations, on Arab television shows and on websites.
In 2004, the United Kingdom set up an all-Parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism, which published its findings in 2006. The inquiry stated that: “Until recently, the prevailing opinion both within the Jewish community and beyond [had been] that antisemitism had receded to the point that it existed only on the margins of society.” However, it found a reversal of this progress since 2000 and aimed to investigate the problem, identify the sources of contemporary antisemitism and make recommendations to improve the situation.
A March 2008 report by the U.S. State Department found that there was an increase in antisemitism across the world, and that both old and new expressions of antisemitism persist. A 2012 report by the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor also noted a continued global increase in anti-Semitism, and found that Holocaust denial and opposition to Israeli policy at times was used to promote or justify blatant anti-Semitism.
William D. Rubenstein, a respected author and historian, outlines the presence of antisemitism in the English-speaking world in one of his essays with the same title.
In the essay, he explains that there are relatively low levels of antisemitism in the English-speaking world, particularly in Britain and the United States, because of the values associated with Protestantism, the rise of capitalism, and the establishment of constitutional governments that protect civil liberties.
Rubenstein does not argue that the treatment of Jews was ideal in these countries, rather he argues that there has been less overt antisemitism in the English-speaking world due to political, idealogical, and social structures. Essentially, English-speaking nations experienced lower levels of antisemitism because their liberal and constitutional frameworks limited the organized, violent expression of antisemitism.
In his essay, Rubinstein tries to contextualize the reduction of the Jewish population that led to a period of reduced antisemitism: “All Jews were expelled from England in 1290, the first time Jews had been expelled en masse from a European country”
As mentioned, Protestantism was a major factor that curbed antisemitism in England beginning in the sixteenth century. This is supported by the fact that there were a significantly higher number of reported instances of killing Jews in England prior to the birth of Protestantism.
History of antisemitism – Wikipedia