The basic meaning of anti-semitism is that it is a way of thinking and behaving that is hostile to Jewish people. In its most vile form, it leads to ridicule, exclusion, persecution and finally,destruction. It is more than that simple description, as anyone who has any knowledge of 20th century history is aware. The biggest single example of antisemitism in action must be the Holocaust, where the Nazi regime, under Adolf Hitler, organized the destruction, by fire, of millions of Jews and other “undesirable” non-Aryans. That was hostility taken to a monstrous exreme, but the thinking behind it needs some explanation to fully understand just what is antisemitism.
Just as with any form of stereotyping, where people have a fixed, immovable mindset about another group of people, misconceptions about the Jews drove antisemitism to horrific lengths. In a defeated Germany, between WW1 and WW2, Jews were perceived as wealthy leeches, whereas the “German” people were suffering. Jewish religious beliefs and practices were perceived to be a form of evil mysticism, black magic almost, too far divorced from the Lutheranism of the national religion. Jews held prestigious positions in society, as doctors, lawyers and brilliant academicians.
Somehow, the fact that German Jews had fought and died for their German fatherland during WW1, and that they thought themselves Germans first, was ignored. Their cultural heritage and contributions to the arts, philosophy and science were discounted, books were burned and Jews were victimised, depicted as ugly, evil enemies of Germany, its people and its culture. After all, was it not the Jews who crucified Jesus?
In an earlier period of history, in Russia, pogroms were carried out that looted and burned Jewish homes, denied them their property, their human rights and their lives. All these actions were based on fear, prejudice and antisemitism. Poland too was guilty of treating Jews as less than human; as a nation, they also used antisemitism to drive their policies.
You would think that humanity could learn something from history and that antisemitism is now a thing of the past. That may well be the case in some enlightened societies. But there are still vestiges of this remaining. Being Jewish is still viewed by some as suspect, too different, and maybe even a threat. Prejudice still means that Jews will not be allowed to join certain organizations and clubs, reserved for white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. That more subtle form of antisemitism is alive and well and rears its ugly head in many everyday situations.
There is still the stereotyping that surrounds religious beliefs, economic wealth, alien cultural norms, misconceptions and ignorance that keep the practice of antisemitism alive. The only hope that remains is that another Holocaust, at least in connection with Jews, can never be repeated. We have learned from that, the horrific results of antisemitism. I hope.