What is Antisemitism

Antisemitism, also spelled anti-semitism or anti-Semitism; also known as Judaeophobia (Judaeo means Jewish) – is hostility towards Jewish people, or prejudice. Somebody who is prejudice usually has a preconceived, negative judgment of persons or a group. The word Semite includes all persons supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah, including Jews, Arabs, Assyrians and Phoenicians. The term Semite’s etymology (study of languages) suggests that antisemitism is not in fact Judaeophobia as it is directed against all Semitic peoples, however, Semite is a common synonym for Jew and it is commonly used in hostility toward Jewish people. When a prejudice takes the form of actions it then becomes discrimination.

Both of the terms, anti-Semitism and antisemitism are in common use. There are some arguments over which term is to be preferred. Major dictionaries prefer a hyphenated form, i.e. anti-Semitism or anti-semitism. Racial antisemitism. Edward Flannery, the Roman Catholic historian distinguished four varieties of antisemitism – political and economic, theological or religious known as anti-Judaism, nationalistic antisemitism, whereby Jews were attacked for supposedly having certain characteristics, such as greed and arrogance and racial which works under the belief that the Jews are a distinct and inferior race compared to their host nations.

Antisemitism is often deep-rooted in the hatred of Jews ethnic background, culture, or religion. Antisemitism may be displayed in many ways – from individual acts or expressions of hatred to organized violent attacks by mobs. The Jews have been discriminated against in the Christian west for almost two thousand years. Throughout history Jews have faced prejudice and discrimination. Driven, years ago by the Romans from their land now called Israel, they travelled throughout the world trying to retain their beliefs and culture while living as a minority. Some countries welcomed the Jews, and they enjoyed peace with their neighbours. Others were not so lucky. Instances of persecution include –

The massacre of Jews when a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada in 1066. The First Crusade in 1096 when thriving communities on the Rhine and the Danube were destroyed. The removal of Jews from England in 1290. The Spanish Inquisition, and their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Their ejection from Portugal in 1497. Pro-Nazi Muslims slaughtered dozens of Jews in Baghdad in 1941 and the most infamous, the most appalling example of brutal destructiveness against a minority group, during the Second World War. In the German concentration camps, under Adolf Hitler’s Regime, known as ‘The Holocaust’.

Instances of antisemitism were rife in the German media, for example – German journalist Wilhelm Marr published a pamphlet in 1873 called ‘The Victory of the Jewish Spirit over the Germanic Spirit. Observed from a non-religious perspective’. He used the word ‘Semitismus’ and ‘Judentum’ to indicate ‘Jewry’ ( Jews as a collective) and ‘jewishness’. In his second pamphlet ‘Way to Victory of Germanicism over Judaism’ 1880, he used the words Antisemitismus and antisemitism. Writer Wilhelm Scherer used the term ‘Antisemiten’ in the January issue of ‘Neue Freie Presse’ (New Free Press). Semitism as a word was coined around 1885.

Antisemitism reached Austria and peaked as Karl Lueger (1844-1910) a politician became Mayor of Vienna, Austria, at the end of the eighteenth century using anti-Semitism, by attracting voters by blaming Jews for their bad economic times. To Adolf Hitler, a young man at the time, Lueger became a hero. Hitler’s ideas were fashioned after he studied Lueger’s strategy, and the antisemitic newspapers and pamphlets in circulation at the time. During the first half of the twentieth century, in the USA, Jews as well as ‘coloureds’ were discriminated against in employment, in access to residential areas, in membership in clubs and in enrollment and teaching positions in colleges and universities, and sometimes, during race riots, where Jewish businesses were targeted for looting and burning, such as in Detroit in 1943.

Yehuda Bauer wrote in 1984: “There are no antisemites in the world… Nobody says, ‘I am antisemitic.'” You cannot, after Hitler. The word has gone out of fashion.”


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