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The hatred of Jews. Probably, the oldest known form of bigotry, its purpose  is to use the Jews as scapegoats for a non-Jewish people’s problems. The purpose of antisemitism in its active political phase is to degrade the Jews by removing their civil, political, social, economic, and religious rights, and finally, as in the instance of the Nazis, by exterminating them. Jews are not the only people considered “Semites,” but the term “antisemitism applies exclusively to them. It was first used used in Germany in 1879, in a pamphlet by Wilhelm Marr ­titled “The Victory of Judaism Over Germanism.”  That same year, Marr founded the Antisemitic League. Of course, Jew hatred existed long before the use of the words antisemitism and antisemite. In the story of the biblical Book of Esther, Haman makes use of many of the classic techniques of antisemitism—libel, false accusations, and discrimination—to gain his ends. After the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome in 137 C.E., the emerging Christian religion rapidly developed strong antisemitic attitudes. As Christianity came into power in the Roman Em­pire, a dark age of antisemitism began for the Jewish people. Increasingly, Jews lost their civil and other rights, and oppression became widespread.

The Middle Ages. The Middle Ages was a period of discrimination, violent persecution, and expulsions for Jewish people, acts that are antisemitic in origin. There were some relatively good periods, beginning in the 7th century when Pope Gregory the Great actively opposed antisemitic violence. From that time until the beginning of the Crusades in 1096, the situation of the Jews in Christian Europe was tolerable. But the Crusaders, on their way to the Holy Land, “revenged” themselves upon the Jews, killing thousands of men, women, and children in pogroms. Jews were blamed for having started the Black Death, a plague which killed off millions of people in Europe beginning in 1348. The result was more bloody backlash against Jews.

 The Middle Ages did not end for the Jewish people until the end of the 18th century, when the spread of enlightenment, scientific knowledge, and democracy brought the break­down of ghetto walls and the beginnings of more objective judgment and equal op­portunity for Jews. Nevertheless, organized and individual antisemitism remained everywhere—less in France, England, and the United States, but more in Germany, Austria, and especially in Poland and Russia. The pogroms which erupted in Russia beginning in 1881 brought 2.1 million Jews to the New World by 1910.

 The Protocols of the elders of Zion. The most potent piece of antisemitic literature in the flood of hate-books and pamphlets which have appeared in the last century is undoubtedly the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. First pro­duced in 1901 by Sergius Nilus, a Russian mystic, as an adaptation of a satire of Napolean III by Maurice Joly of France, it was rapidly printed and distributed in various languages in Europe and later in the U.S. The Protocols claim to be the strategic plans made by the World Zionist Congress in 1897 for the Jewish conquest of the world. Despite repeated public proof that they were forgeries, the circula­tion of the Protocols continues in Arab countries and some other countries.  The most detailed history of the forgery is Hadassa Ben-Itto’s The Lie That Wouldn’t Die

 The most fateful outbreak of antisemitism in history occurred in Germany between 1933 and 1945. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to ab­solute power in that country on a plat­form based on antisemitism. Since Jews were to blame for Germany’s problems, Hitler argued, the only solution was to exterminate them. Hitler and his followers almost succeeded. During World War II, six million Jews were killed by starvation, disease, “special killing actions,” and ultimately by the gas chambers, which murdered many thousand as day.  Some, Poles, Hungarians, Latvians, and others joined the Nazis in this massacre.

Antisemitism in the United States. The history of antisemitism in the U.S. may be simply charted. The first overt case of public antisemitism in the U.S. occurred in 1862, when General Ulysses S. Grant issued his notorious General Order No. 11, banning Jews from his army area. (This order was quickly revoked by President Abraham Lincoln.) The next major incident occurred in 1877, when it was learned that Jews were not welcome as guests at the largest hotel in Saratoga, N.Y. Through the years, until World War I, there was much subtle discrimination of Jews—in hotels, clubs, colleges, and jobs—but little organized antisemitism.

  A Board of Delegates of American Israelites was formed in 1859 to fight for Jewish rights. It never achieved great prominence, and in 1878 merged with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The most active Jew in Washington dur­ing this period was Simon Wolf, who advised the Presidents on Jewish problems.

 In 1906, the American Jewish Committee was formed to provide for the increasing need for activity to fight antisemitism and to secure equal rights for Jews. Later, other organizations joined this movement: the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, local Jewish community councils, and the Na­tional Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

The most public case of antisemitism in the interim between the World Wars involved automobile magnate Henry Ford and his infamous newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which reprinted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and carried on an active antisemitic campaign. After he was sued for libel in 1927, Ford apologized in a public letter to Louis Marshall, recalled all copies of the Dearborn Independent, and never again allowed himself to be involved in antisemitic activity.

 During the Nazi period, the German government sponsored widespread antisemitic propaganda and activity in the U.S. Most vocal and vicious, the German-American Bund achieved a fairly large membership, at least in the Yorkville section of New York. It was joined by organizations and individuals like the Silver Shirts of William D. Pelley, Gerald Winrod’s organization, Father Charles Coughlin of the Christian Front, Gerald L.K. Smith, and many others. They achieved a measure of success despite efforts by Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and persons  and persisted until the outbreak of World War II.

Between 1945 and 1968, memories of the Holocaust limited organized antisemitism in the U.S. to a “lunatic fringe.” Also, the rise and achievements of the State of Israel helped transform the image of the Jew in society. By the 1960’s American Jewry felt sufficiently secure to take a leading role in various social and civil rights causes. Many Jews participated in “freedom marches” and similar demonstrations for Black rights.

 Following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, part of the Black community became openly hostile to whites, especially Jews, who were accused of being slum landlords and ghetto store owners who created poor Blacks’ credit problems. Moreover, the goal of the Black militant movement was “national liberation,” and as such it allied with similar movements, including the so-called “Palestine Liberation” movement. From about that time, anti-Zionism became a convenient cover for a new antisemitism. In 1975, a United Nations General Assembly resolution formally declared that “Zionism is a form of racism,” Even though the resolution which was rescinded after its major proponent, the Soviet Union, fully collapsed in 1991, that view of Zionism still fuels antisemitism today.

 In addition to this, since the 1960s in general, a rhetoric of Holocaust Denial has emerged worldwide, starting in Europe and spreading to other parts of the world. Many western intellectuals have come out presenting what they called scientific proofs that the Holocaust did not occur, or at least not a nearly to the immense proportions widely known today. Such rhetoric continues to be produced by political figures and groups who insist that the Holocaust was used conveniently to push the Zionist agenda, while the specific agenda of these persons stays basically antisemitic.

 Theories of Origin. There are many theories about the origin of antisemitism. One is religious conflict, the traditional Christian dislike for Jews because they rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah (see Messianism) and, some allege, were responsible for his crucifixion. Many persons consider this historic fabrication to be the chief source of antisemitism. Another theory maintains that this hostility is due to the fact that Jews have remained a minority refusing to give up its exclusive identity and community.

 Neither of these theories provides a complete answer to this complicated question. Scientists have worked out some ideas to explain the basis of hatred and bigotry. They have found that unhappy, emotionally insecure people tend to be intolerant. Their feelings of inferiority breed hostility within them. They join groups through which they vent their feelings on other people, who then serve as scapegoats for their problems. Probably, antisemitism is the result of a combination of religious, social, and psychological reasons.

 Antisemitism Today. The latest political manifestation of Holocaust denial emanated in 2006 from Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in addition to denying the Holocaust called for “wiping Israel off the map.”  In France, many attacks on Jews, mostly by Muslims, have taken place.  Latent antisemitism has surfaced in other parts of Europe like Hungary as well. Antisemitic rhetoric is common among Muslim clerics and in Muslim school textbooks. In short, the virus of antisemitism keeps reappearing wherever a grievance against Jews, real or imagined, exists.

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