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The Eternal Jew: 1937 German poster. In his hands are "Zuckerbrot und Peitsche", or "cookies and knout", an allusion to a saying similar to that of "carrot and stick".

Anti-Semitism (alternatively spelled antisemitism) is hostility towards or prejudice against Jews (not, in common usage, Semites in general — see the Scope section below). This happens on an individual level and goes on to the institutionalized prejudice and persecution once prevalent in European societies, of which the highly explicit ideology of Adolf Hitler's National Socialism was the most extreme form.

Some forms of anti-Semitism include:

  • Racist anti-Semitism, a kind of xenophobia. Some people perceive Jews as people of a racially distinct origin from other peoples, and claim that discrimination on the basis of such distinctness is valid.
  • Religious anti-Judaism. Like other religions, Judaism has faced discrimination and violence from people of competing faiths and in countries that practice state atheism. Unlike anti-Semitism in general, this form of prejudice is directed at the religion itself, and so does not affect those of Jewish ancestry who have converted to another religion. Laws banning Jewish religious practices may be rooted in religious anti-Semitism.
  • Socio-economic anti-Semitism rooted in the alleged disproportionate success or influence, relative to their numbers within the general population, that individual Jews have achieved in a variety of occupations, including finance, politics, the media, academia, the law, medicine, and science.

Etymology and usage

Cover page of Marr's The Way to Victory of Germanicism over Judaism, 1880 edition
Cover page of Marr's The Way to Victory of Germanicism over Judaism, 1880 edition

The word antisemitic or antisemitisch was probably first used in 1860 by the Jewish scholar Moritz Steinschneider in the phrase "antisemitic prejudices" ("antisemitischen Vorurtheile"). Steinschneider used this phrase to characterize Ernest Renan's ideas about Semitic racial traits. These ideas about "Semitic races" , and how they were inferior to "Aryan races", became quite widespread in Europe in the second half of the 19th century. Especially the Prussian nationalistic historian Heinrich von Treitschke did much to promote this form of racism. In Treitschke's writings Semitic was practically synonomous with Jewish. When the political writer Wilhelm Marr coined the German word Antisemitismus in 1879, its meaning was identical to Jew-hatred or Judenhass. The new word antisemitism was used merely to make Jew-hatred seem rational and sanctioned by scientific knowledge. However, it was never intended to eliminate the concept of hatred towards Jews based on the Christian conspiracies and legends so popular with the general population. In his book, "The Way to Victory of Germanicism over Judaism" (1879), Marr took up secular racist ideas of Arthur de Gobineau's "An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races" (1853, though direct influence is debatable). Marr's book became very popular, and in the same year he founded the "League of Anti-Semites" ("Antisemiten-Liga"), the first German organization committed specifically to combatting the alleged threat to Germany posed by the Jews, and advocating their forced removal from the country.

So far as can be ascertained, the word was first printed in 1881. In that year Marr published "Zwanglose Antisemitische Hefte," and Wilhelm Scherer used the term "Antisemiten" in the "Neue Freie Presse" of January. The related word semitism was coined around 1885. See also the coinage of the term "Palestinian" by Germans to refer to the nation or people known as Jews, as distinct from the religion of Judaism.


The term anti-Semitism has normally referred to prejudice towards Jews alone, and this was formerly the only use of this word for more than a century. It does not traditionally refer to prejudice toward other people who speak Semitic languages (e.g. Arabs or Assyrians). Bernard Lewis says that "Anti-Semitism has never anywhere been concerned with anyone but Jews."[1] ( However, in recent decades some people have argued that the term should be extended to include prejudice against Arabs, since Arabic is a Semitic language; these arguments are commonly made in the context of accusations of Arab anti-Semitism. Though this usage has not been widely adopted, one example is this October 16/17, 2004 statement by Ralph Nader in Counterpunch: "There is, as you always ignore, aggressive anti-Semitism against defenseless Arabs in many places in the world..."[2] (

Some question the usefulness of applying the term more generally to all semitic groups on the basis that there are few instances of prejudice against both Arabs and Jews to the exclusion of other races or nationalities, and in fact many more instances of antagonism between Jews and Arabs than of a specific bias against both groups together. Lewis writes "the term Semite has no meaning as applied to groups as heterogeneous as the Arabs or Jews." And, as has been pointed out by Neil J. Kressel, "In any event, nothing is gained from applying the anti-Semitism label to anti-Arab discrimination, abhorrent in its own right, except to confuse matters and take attention away from anti-Jewish hostility" [3] (

James Zogby argues, however, that both Arabs and Jews have been subject to the same prejudice and uniformly treated by Western society as alien and hostile, viewed as prone to conspiracy, and seen as usurpers of Western wealth and threats to Western civilization. Zogby draws parallels between political cartoons depicting Jews as the fat grotesque banker and Arabs as the obese oil sheik. He argues that efforts to counter anti-Semitism must be broadened to include the "other anti-Semitism" so that the same outrage displayed toward anti-Jewish bigotry will occur for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes. [4] (

Despite the use of the prefix "anti," the terms Semitic and Anti-Semitic are not antonyms. To avoid the confusion of the misnomer, many scholars on the subject (such as Emil Fackenheim of the Hebrew University) now favor the unhyphenated term antisemitism. Yehuda Bauer articulated this view in his writings and lectures: (the term) "Antisemitism, especially in its hyphenated spelling, is inane nonsense, because there is no Semitism that you can be anti to." [5] (, also in his A History of the Holocaust, p.52)

An alternative term, "Judeophobia", stands for fear or irrational hatred of Jews. It was invented by Leon Pinsker and first appeared in his 1882 pamphlet Autoemancipation (text). As a professional physician, Pinsker preferred the medical term because he was convinced that pathological, irrational phobia may explain this ancient hatred:

"Judeophobia is a variety of demonopathy... this ghost is not disembodied like other ghosts but partakes of flesh and blood, must endure pain inflicted by the fearful mob who imagines itself endangered... To sum up then, to the living the Jew is a corpse, to the native a foreigner, to the homesteader a vagrant, to the proprietary a beggar, to the poor an exploiter and a millionaire, to the patriot a man without a country, for all a hated rival."

Historical forms of anti-Judaism

Prejudice against Jews can be traced back to the Graeco-Roman period and the rise of Hellenistic culture. Most Jews rejected efforts to assimilate them into the dominant Greek (and later Roman) culture, and their religious practices, which conflicted with established norms, were perceived as being backward and primitive. Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, for example, writes disparagingly of many real and imagined practices of the Jews, while there are numerous accounts of circumcision being described as barbarous.

Throughout their diaspora, Jews tended to live in separate communities, in which they could practice their religion. This led to charges of elitism, as appear in the writings of Cicero. As a minority, Jews were also dependent on the goodwill of the authorities, though this was considered irksome to the indigenous population, which regarded any vestiges of autonomy among the local Jewish communities as reminders of their subject status to a foreign empire. Nevertheless, this did not always mean that opposition to Jewish involvement in local affairs was anti-Semitic. In 411 BCE, an Egyptian mob destroyed the Jewish temple at Elephantine in Egypt, but many historians argue that this was provoked by anti-Persian sentiment, rather than by anti-Semitism per se — the Jews, who were protected by the imperial power, were perceived as being its representatives.

The enormous and influential Jewish community in the ancient Egyptian port city of Alexandria saw manifestations of an unusual brand of anti-Semitism in which the local pagan populace rejected the biblical narrative of the Exodus as being anti-Egyptian. Accordingly, a number of works were produced to provide an "Egyptian version" of what "really happened": the Jews were a group of sickly lepers that was expelled from Egypt (see Manetho, Apion). This was also used to account for Jewish practices — they were so sickly that they could not even wander in the desert for more than six days at a time, requiring a seventh day to rest, hence the origin of the Sabbath. It was these charges that led to Philo's apologetic account of Judaism and Jewish history, which was so influential in the development of early church doctrine. Ancient anti-semitic tales were also picked apart in Josephus Flavius' pamphlet Against Apion.

Prejudice against Jews in the Roman Empire was formalized in 438, when the Code of Theodosius II established Christianity as the only legal religion in the Roman Empire, although already as early as 305, in Elvira, a Spanish town in Andalusia, the first known laws of any church council against Jews appeared. Christian women were forbidden to marry Jews unless the Jew first converted to Christianity. Jews were forbidden to extend hospitality to Christians. Jews could not keep Christian concubines and were forbidden to bless the fields of Christians. In 589, in Christian Spain, the Third Council of Toledo ordered that children born of marriage between Jews and Christians be baptized by force. A policy of forced conversion of all Jews was initiated. Thousands fled, and thousands of others converted. [6] (

Judaic traditions extend for centuries BCE, and are the historical predecessor for the religions of Christianity and Islam, both of whom hold some Judaic traditions and texts as sacred, though differ in aspects that are central to each distinct branch of religion.

Hence Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, each took different course in terms of beliefs, as well as traditional customs; each creating a separate and distinct culture, from the parent Judaism. Those who held to traditional Judaic belief were considered "deniers" of the newer beliefs and traditions, in much the same way that some religions consider people of other religions to be denying the truth.

Anti-Judaism in the New Testament

Christian theological anti-Semitism was stimulated by the New Testament's replacement theology (or supersessionism), which taught that with the coming of Jesus a new covenant has rendered obsolete and has superseded the religion of Judaism. It was believed that "the perfidious Jews", as a people, were responsible for the death of Jesus. A number of Christian preachers, particularly in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, additionally taught that religious Jews choose to follow a faith that they actually know is false out of a desire to offend God.

Examples of passages in the New Testament that are seen as anti-Semitic, or have been used for anti-Semitic purposes:

Jesus said to them [i.e., the "Jews"], "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. . . . He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is you are not of God." (John 8:44-47)
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. (Acts 7:51-53)
Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie -- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. (Revelation 2:9).

Most biblical scholars hold that verses like these reflect the Jewish / Christian tensions that were emerging in the late first or early second century, and do not originate with Jesus (for whom such a distinction would have been incomprehensible). A similar relic within Jewish tradition would be the Eighteen Benedictions, which include disguised curses against Christianity. Today, the major Christian denominations de-emphasize verses such as these, and reject their use by anti-Semites.

Anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages there were many reasons for prejudice against Jews in Europe. The most obvious reason is religious persecution. However, this does not explain why violence increased greatly during the High Middle Ages, so other more complex reasons have been put forth by scholars.

In the Middle Ages a main source of prejudice against Jews in Europe was religious. The Catholic Church taught that the Jewish people were collectively and permanently responsible for killing Jesus (see Deicide). The power of Christianity was very strong in the Middle Ages, and Jews were a direct affront to Christian beliefs.

Among socio-economic factors were restrictions by the authorities, local rulers and frequently church officials who closed many professions to the Jews, pushing them into marginal occupations considered socially inferior, such as local tax and rent collecting or moneylending, a necessary evil due to the increasing population and urbanization during the High Middle Ages. This provided support for claims that Jews are insolent, greedy, engaged in usury, and in itself contributed to a negative image. Natural tensions between creditors (typically Jews) and debtors (typically Christians) were added to social, political, religious and economic strains. Peasants who were forced to pay their taxes to Jews could personify them as the people taking their earnings while remaining loyal to the lords on whose behalf the Jews worked.

The demonizing of the Jews

From around the 12th century through the 19th there were Christians who believed that some (or all) Jews possessed magical powers; some believed that they had gained these magical powers from making a deal with the devil. See also Judensau, Judeophobia.

Blood libels

Main articles: blood libel, list of blood libels against Jews

On many occasions, Jews were accused of a blood libel, the supposed drinking of blood of Christian children in mockery of the Christian Eucharist. According to the authors of these 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. 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 descriptions of ritual murder by Jews.

The story of William of Norwich (d. 1144) is the first known case of ritual murder being alleged by a Christian monk. It does not mention the collection of William's blood for any purpose. The story of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1255) said that after the boy was dead, his body was removed from the cross and laid on a table. His belly was cut open and his entrails removed for some occult purpose, such as a divination ritual. The story of Simon of Trent (d. 1475) emphasized how the boy was held over a large bowl so all his blood could be collected. Simon was regarded as a saint, and was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. The cult of Simon was disbanded in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, and the shrine erected to him was dismantled. He was removed from the calendar, and his future veneration was forbidden, though a handful of extremists still promote the narrative as a fact. In the 20th century, blood libel stories have appeared a number of times in the state-sponsored media of a number of Arab nations, in Arab television shows, and on websites.


Main article: yellow badge

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The yellow badge Jews were forced to wear can be seen in this marginal illustration from an English manuscript.

The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 was the first to proclaim the requirement for Jews to wear something that distinguished them as Jews. It could be a colored piece of cloth in the shape of a star or circle or square, a hat, or a robe. This practice has its origins in the Islamic world where it was common for various religions to wear badges of faith. In many localities, members of the medieval society wore badges to distinguish their social status. Some badges (such as guild members) were prestigious, while others ostracized outcasts such as lepers, reformed heretics and prostitutes. 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.

Host desecration

Jews were falsely accused of torturing consecrated host wafers in a reenactment of the Crucifixion; this accusation was known as host desecration.

The Crusades

The Crusades were a series of several military campaigns sanctioned by the Papacy that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries. They began as Catholic endeavours to capture Jerusalem from the Muslims but developed into territorial wars. The initial conquest of Palestine by the forces of Islam in the 7th century did not interfere much with pilgrimage to Christian holy sites or the security of monasteries and Christian communities in the Holy Land. However, in the year 1009 the Fatimid caliph of Cairo, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre destroyed. His successor permitted the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it, and pilgrimage was permitted again. The decisive loss of the Byzantine army to the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 brought the beginning of Byzantine pleas for troops and support from the West.

The mobs accompanying the first three Crusades attacked the Jewish communities in Germany, France, and England, and put many Jews to death; this left behind for centuries strong feelings of ill will on both sides. The social position of the Jews in western Europe was already in a bad state, for one thing because of the writing of bishop Amulo published in 846, called Contra Judaeos (Against the Jews). But things distinctly worsened by the Crusades, and legal restrictions became frequent during and after them. They prepared the way for the anti-Jewish legislation of Pope Innocent III, and formed the turning-point in the medieval history of the Jews.

The expulsions from England, France, Germany, and Spain

As many European localities and entire countries expelled their Jewish citizens after robbing them and others denied them entrance, the legend of the Wandering Jew, a condemned harbinger of calamity, gained popularity. Only a few such expulsions are described in this section, for a more extended list see History of anti-Semitism.

The practice of expelling the Jews accompanied by confiscation of their property, followed by temporary readmissions for ransom, was utilized to enrich the French crown during 12th-14th centuries. The most notable such expulsions were: from Paris by Philip Augustus in 1182, from entire France by Louis IX in 1254, by Charles IV in 1322, by Charles V in 1359, by Charles VI in 1394.

To finance his war to conquer Wales, Edward I of England taxed the Jewish moneylenders. When the Jews could no longer pay, they were accused of disloyalty. Already restricted to a limited number of occupations, the Jews saw Edward abolish their "privilege" to lend money, choke their movements and activities and were forced to wear a yellow patch. The heads of Jewish households were then arrested, over 300 of them taken to the Tower of London and executed, while others killed in their homes. The complete banishment of all Jews from the country in 1290 led to thousands killed and drowned while fleeing and the absence of Jews from England for three and a half centuries, until 1655, when Oliver Cromwell reversed the policy.

In 1492, Ferdinand_II_of_Aragon and Isabella_of_Castile issued General Edict on the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain (see also Inquisition) and many Sephardi Jews fled to the Ottoman Empire, some to the Land of Israel.

In 1744, Frederick II of Prussia limited Breslau to only ten so-called "protected" Jewish families and encouraged similar practice in other Prussian cities. In 1750 he issued Revidiertes General Privilegium und Reglement vor die Judenschaft: the "protected" Jews had an alternative to "either abstain from marriage or leave Berlin" (quoting Simon Dubnow). In the same year, Archduchess of Austria Maria Theresa ordered Jews out of Bohemia but soon reversed her position, on condition that Jews pay for readmission every ten years. This extortion was known as malke-geld (queen's money). In 1752 she introduced the law limiting each Jewish family to one son. In 1782, Joseph II abolished most of persecution practices in his Toleranzpatent, on the condition that Yiddish and Hebrew are eliminated from public records and judicial autonomy is annulled. Moses Mendelssohn wrote that "Such a tolerance... is even more dangerous play in tolerance than open persecution".

Anti-Judaism and the Reformation

(to be written) Main article: Christianity and anti-Semitism

The Enlightenment and the rise of racial anti-Semitism

Racial anti-Semitism, the most modern form of anti-Semitism, is a type of racism mixed with religious persecution. Racial anti-Semites believe that Jews are a distinct race and inherently inferior to people of other races.

Modern European anti-Semitism has its origin in 19th century pseudo-scientific theories that the Jewish people are a sub-group of Semitic peoples; Semitic people were thought by many Europeans to be entirely different from the Aryan, or Indo-European, populations, and that they can never be amalgamated with them. In this view, Jews are not opposed on account of their religion, but on account of their supposed hereditary or genetic racial characteristics: greed, a special aptitude for money-making, aversion to hard work, clannishness and obtrusiveness, lack of social tact, low cunning, and especially lack of patriotism.

Ironically, while enlightened European intellectual society of that period viewed prejudice against people on account of their religion to be declasse and a sign of ignorance, because of this supposed 'scientific' connection to genetics they felt fully justified in prejudice based on nationality or 'race'. In order to differentiate between the two practices, the term anti-Semitism was developed to refer to this 'acceptable' bias against Jews as a nationality, as distinct from the 'undesirable' prejudice against Judaism as a religion. Concurrently with this usage, some authors in Germany began to use the term 'Palestinians' when referring to Jews as a people, rather than as a religious group.

Equally ironic, and further proof of its pseudo-scientific nature, it is questionable whether Jews in general looked significantly different from the populations conducting "racial" anti-Semitism. This was especially true in places like Germany, France and Austria where the Jewish population tended to be more secular (or at least less Orthodox) than that of Eastern Europe, and did not wear clothing (such as a yarmulke) that would particularly distinguish their appearance from the non-Jewish population. Many anthropologists of the time such as Franz Boas tried to use complex physical measurements like the cephalic index and visual surveys of hair/eye color and skin tone of Jewish vs. non-Jewish European populations to prove that the notion of a separate "Jewish race" was a myth. In the 1990's, although this idea was long removed from any public thought or discourse in the Western world, more advanced technologies in DNA analysis allowed for curious anthropologists such as Michael Hammer to revisit it, with very complex results. Some studies (focusing on the Y-chromosome, which is carried by males only, and therefore should in Cohanim theoretically link directly back to Aaron), suggest a significant genetic kinship with the historic population of the eastern Mediterranean; while others, (focusing on mitochondrial-dNA, which is inherited from the mother only), give more ambiguous results as they do not appear to be related to one another or to those of present-day Middle Eastern populations.

See also eugenics.

Anti-Semitism and modernity

Many analysts of modern anti-Semitism have pointed out that its essence is scapegoating: features of modernity felt by some group to be undesirable (e.g. materialism, the power of money, economic fluctuations, war, secularism, socialism, Communism, movements for racial equality, social welfare policies, etc., etc.) are believed to be caused by the machinations of a conspiratorial people whose full loyalties are not to the national group. Traditionalists anguished at the supposedly decadent or defective nature of the modern world have sometimes been inclined to embrace such views. Indeed, it is a matter of historical record that many of the conservative members of the WASP establishment of the United States as well as other comparable Western elites (e.g. the British Foreign Office) have harbored such attitudes, and in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, some xenophobic anti-Semites have imagined world Communism to be a Jewish conspiracy (Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups [1980], p. 590).

The modern form of anti-Semitism is identified in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopdia Britannica as a conspiracy theory serving the self-understanding of the European aristocracy, whose social power waned with the rise of bourgeois society. The Jews of Europe, then recently emancipated, were relatively literate, entrepreneurial and unentangled in aristocratic patronage systems, and were therefore disproportionately represented in the ascendant bourgeois class. As the aristocracy (and its hangers-on) lost out to this new center of power in society, they found their scapegoat - exemplified in the work of Arthur de Gobineau. That the Jews were singled out to embody the 'problem' was, by this theory, no more than a symptom of the nobility's own prejudices concerning the importance of breeding (on which its own legitimacy was founded).

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between "good anti-Semitism" and "bad anti-Semitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc. Many Catholic bishops wrote articles criticizing Jews on such grounds, and, when accused of promoting hatred of Jews, would remind people that they condemned the "bad" kind of anti-Semitism. A detailed account is found in historian David Kertzer's book The Popes Against the Jews.

Anti-Semitism in France

The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal which divided France for many years during the late 19th century. It centered on the 1894 treason conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army. Dreyfus was, in fact, innocent: the conviction rested on false documents, and when high-ranking officers realised this they attempted to cover up the mistakes. The writer mile Zola exposed the affair to the general public in the literary newspaper L'Aurore (The Dawn) in a famous open letter to the Prsident de la Rpublique Flix Faure, titled J'accuse ! (I Accuse!) on January 13, 1898.

The Dreyfus Affair split France between the Dreyfusards (those supporting Alfred Dreyfus) and the Antidreyfusards (those against him). The quarrel was especially violent since it involved many issues then highly controversial in a heated political climate.

Dreyfus was pardoned in 1899, readmitted into the army, and made a knight in the Legion of Honour. An Austrian Jewish journalist named Theodor Herzl was assigned to report on the trial and its aftermath. The injustice of the trial and the anti-Semitic passions it aroused in France and elsewhere turned him into a determined Zionist; ultimately turning the movement into an international one. Also see Alfred Dreyfus and Dreyfus affair.

Anti-semitism was particularly virulant in Vichy France during WWII (1939 - 1945). The French populace openly collaborated with the Nazi occupiers to identify Jews for deportation and transportation to the death camps. Anti-semitism remains strong in France with frequent vandalism and desecration of Jewish cemeteries and temples.

Modern passion plays

Passion plays, dramatic stagings representing the trial and death of Jesus, have historically been used in Christian communities to arouse hatred of local Jews; the plays usually depict the entire Jewish people as condemning Jesus to crucifixion and being collectively guilty of deicide, murdering God.

In 2003 and 2004 some have compared Mel Gibson's recent film The Passion of the Christ to these kinds of passion plays, but this characterization is hotly disputed; an analysis of that topic is in the article on The Passion of the Christ.

Anti-Semitism in Poland

See also: History of the Jews in Poland Template:NPOV-section

Desiring to emerge from the Dark Ages as a prominent European power, Poland took notice of the typically advanced education of Jews (particularly their literacy) and their competence in financial management. In 1264, King Boleslaus V of Poland legislated a charter for Jewish residence and protection, hoping that Jewish settlement would contribute to the development of the Polish economy. This charter, which encouraged money-lending, was a slight variation of the 1244 charter granted by the King of Austria to the Jews. This charter was also adopted (with variations) in Hungary, Lithuania, Bohemia, and Silesia [7] ( While Jews were not granted the same degree of protection as other citizens, and while Jews were excluded from privileges afforded Christian merchants and burghers, the charter decreed by Boleslaus V precipitated a major improvement for Jews over conditions in twelfth century Europe [8] ( The charter included recognition of legal testimony of Jews, fines for harming Jews or Jewish property, prohibition of blood libels, and equal commercial rights. (However, the Polish population and the Church did not always respect the charter. One such incident occurred in Poznan in 1399, when the local rabbi and thirteen other members of the Jewish community were tortured and burned at the stake after being accused of "Host desecration" [9] ( Due to the attractive opportunities Poland offered for Jews at the time, as well as extreme persecution in much of western Europe, a burgeoning Jewish population developed in Poland. Jews were allowed to open Yeshivas and had a measure of independence regarding judging religious legal cases. By the sixteenth century, Poland had become the center of European Jewry and one of most tolerant of all European countries regarding the matters of faith. It was the only country where Catholics, Protestands, Orthodox, Jews and even Muslims coexisted peacefully.

At the onset of the seventeenth century, however, tolerance began to give way to increased anti-Semitism. King Sigismund III of the Swedish House of Vasa, elected to the Polish throne, a strong supporter of the counter-reformation, began to undermine the principles of the Warsaw Confederation and the religious tolerance in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, revoking and limiting priviliges of all non-Catholic faiths. In 1628 he banned publication of Hebrew books, including the Talmud [10] ( Acclaimed twentieth century historian Simon Dubnow, in his magnum-opus History of the Jews in Poland and Russia, detailed:

"At the end of the 16th century and thereafter, not one year passed without a blood libel trial against Jews in Poland, trials which always ended with the execution of Jewish victims in a heinous manner..." (ibid., volume 6, chapter 4; "thereafter," in the above quote, refers to no later than 1918, when Dubnow's work was published).

In the 1650s the Swedish invasion of the Commonwealth (The Deluge) and the Chmielnicki Uprising of the Cossacks resulted in vast depopulation of the Commonwealth, as over 30% of the ~10 million population has perished or emigrated. In the related 1648-55 pogroms led by the Ukrainian Haidamaks uprising against Polish nobility (szlachta), during which approximately 100,000 Jews were slaughtered, Polish and Ruthenian peasants often participated in killing Jews (The Jews in Poland, Ken Spiro, 2001). The besieged szlachta, who were also decimated in the territories where the uprising happened, typically abandoned the loyal peasantry, townsfolk, and the Jews renting their land, in violation of "rental" contracts. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains why Jews were targeted in the Cossack massacres:

"The Jews increased rapidly in the Little Russian territories at the beginning of the seventeenth century. They farmed not only the taxes, but even the revenues of the Greek Orthodox Church. At every christening or funeral the peasants had to pay a fee to the Jew. The lords were the absolute rulers of their estates, and the peasants their dependent subjects. When a lord or any other member of the nobility leased his villages or estates to a Jew, his authority also was delegated to the latter, who even had the power to administer justice among the peasants ("Yewen Mezulah," p. 2a). The extravagant life of the Polish landlords, who spent most of their fortunes abroad, frequently placed them in pecuniary difficulties, and their Jewish tax-farmers were often forced into exactions against the advice and warnings of the wise leaders of the Council of Four Lands, and the Jews of the Ukraine often suffered grievously for the sins of individuals of their race. The uprising of the peasants in the Ukraine has been ascribed by most historians to their oppression by Jewish leaseholders, as well as to the privileges granted to the latter by the kings and nobles of Poland. Recent historical research, however, indicates that the Jews living in the cities, particularly in those of the Ukraine, were not afforded the protection enjoyed by other citizens, and moreover were excluded from the privileges granted to the Christian merchants and burghers (Antonovich, "Monografii po Istorii Zapadnoi i Yugo-Zapadnoi Rossii," i. 188). Notwithstanding this, the Jews managed to gain control of the commerce of the country, as is evidenced by the complaints of the Christian merchants of Lemberg, Kamenetz, Kiev, and many other cities, shortly before the Cossack uprising ("Archiv Yugo-Zapadnoi Rossii," v., part i., xxxiv. 134, xl. 156, cxxi. 323; "Starozytna Polska," 11, 1023, 1369; "Sbornik Mukhanova," p. 192; Antonovich, l.c. p. 189). It was the combined opposition to the Jews of the urban and the peasant populations that made it possible for Chmielnicki to arm the entire country against them within so short a time. [11] ("

Historian Jacob Rader Marcus summarizes the situation as follows:

"In 1654 neighboring Russia turned against Poland, a year later the Swedes poured in from the north, and all these groups, including the native Poles, ravaged and massacred defenseless Jewish victims throughout the land" (The Jew in the Medieval World, 1896).

The Eyewitness Chronicle detailes:

"Wherever they found the szlachta, royal officials or Jews, they [Cossacks] killed them all, sparing neither women nor children. They pillaged the estates of the Jews and nobles, burned churches and killed their priests, leaving nothing whole." (Eyewitness Chronicle) [12] (

The deathtolls of Chmielnicki uprising, as many others from the times of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, vary. Historian Subtelny, in his acclaimed Ukraine: A History (p.127–128), notes:

"Jewish losses were especially heavy because they were the most numerous and accessible representatives of the szlachta regime. Between 1648 and 1656, tens of thousands of Jews—given the lack of reliable data, it is impossible to establish more accurate figures—were killed by the rebels, and to this day the Khmelnytsky uprising is considered by Jews to be one of the most traumatic events in their history. Estimates of Jews killed in the uprising have been greatly exaggerated in the historiography of the event. According to B. Weinryb, the total of losses reported in Jewish sources is 2.4 million to 3.3 million deaths, clearly a fantastic figure. Weinryb cites the calculations of S. Ettinger indicating that about 50,000 Jews lived in the area where the uprising occurred. See B. Weinryb, "The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Cossack-Polish War," Harvard Ukrainian Studies 1 (1977): 153-77. While many of them were killed, Jewish losses did not reach the hair-raising figures that are often associated with the uprising. In the words of Weinryb (The Jews of Poland, 193-4), "The fragmentary information of the period—and to a great extent information from subsequent years, including reports of recovery—clearly indicate that the catastrophe may have not been as great as has been assumed."

At the other extreme, some modern academic sources place the Jewish death toll in the hundreds of thousands. One source, The Jew in the Modern World (Oxford University Press), states that the uprising "left in its wake hundreds of thousands of of Jewish dead, and, according to one witness, 744 Jewish communities destroyed." While the Jewish Encyclopedia considers the figure of 744 destroyed communities "unreliable," it views authoritatively "chronicles" which state that approximately 500,000 Jews were killed [13] (

In the aftermath of the Deluge and Chmielnicki Uprising, many Jews fled to the less turbulent Netherlands, which had granted the Jews a protective charter in 1619. From then until the Nazi deportations in 1942, the Netherlands remained a remarkably tolerant haven for Jews in Europe, excedeeing the tolerance extant in all other European countries at the time, and becoming one of the few Jewish havens until nineteenth century social and political reforms throughout much of Europe. Many Jews also fled to England, open to Jews since the mid-seventeenth century, in which Jews were fundamentally ignored and not typically persecuted. Historian Berel Wein notes:

"In a reversal of roles that is common in Jewish history, the victorious Poles now vented their wrath upon the hapless Jews of the area, accusing them of collaborating with the Cossack invader!... The Jews, reeling from almost five years of constant hell, abandoned their Polish communities and institutions..." (Triumph of Survival, 1990).

Throughout the sixteenth to eighteenth century, many of the szlachta mistreated peasantry, townsfolk and Jews. One rabbinic responsum from the 1680's details an account of a Polish suzerain taking hostage the community rabbi and Jewish council for the sake of capturing a Jewish girl. A Polish peasant had claimed that the girl had agreed to marry him, despite her vehement denials (Beit Hillel, Rabbi Hillel ben Naftali Hertz). Threat of mob violence was a specter over the Jewish communities in Poland at the time. On one occasion in 1696, a mob threatened to massacre the Jewish community of Posin, Vitebsk. The mob accused the Jews of murdering a Pole. At the last moment, a peasant woman emerged with the victim's clothes and confessed to the murder. One notable example of actualized riots against Polish Jews is the rioting of 1716, during which many Jews lost their lives. Later, in 1723, the Bishop of Gdansk instigated the massacre of hundreds of Jews. John Toland, a prominent Enlightenment figure in Ireland, wrote in 1714 that Polish Jews "are often exposed... to unspeakable Calamities."

The legendary Walentyn Potocki, a Polish nobleman who converted to Judaism, is said to have been burned by auto da fe on May 24, 1749. In 1757, at the instigation of Jacob Frank and his followers, the Bishop of Kamianets-Podilskyi forced the Jewish rabbis to participate in religious dispute with the quasi-Christian Frankists. Among the other charges, the Frankists claimed that the Talmud was full of heresy against Catholicism. The Catholic judges determined that the Frankists had won the debate, whereupon the Bishop levied heavy fines against the Jewish community and confiscated and burned all Jewish Talmuds. Polish anti-Semitism during the seventeenth and eighteenth century was summed up by Issac de Pinto as follows: "Polish Jews... who are deprived of all the privilages of society... who are despised and reviled on all sides, who are often persecuted, always insulted.... That contempt which is heaped on them chokes up all the seeds of virtue and honour...." (Issac de Pinto, philosopher and economist, in a 1762 letter to Voltaire). On the other hand, it should be noted that despite mentioned incidents, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a relative haven for Jews until the partitions of Poland and its destruction in 1795. Also, some 18th-century sources are based on accounts invented by the partitioners, who used propaganda to create the Commonwealth image as backward, anarchical and dangerous country and thus justify the unprecedented event of a complete destruction of a major European country and change in the European balance of power.

Anti-Semitism in Imperial Russia and in the Soviet Union

"Judaism Without Embellishments" by Trofim Kichko, published by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in : "It is in the teachings of Judaism, in the Old Testament, and in the Talmud, that the Israeli militarists find inspiration for their inhuman deeds, racist theories, and expansionist designs..."
"Judaism Without Embellishments" by Trofim Kichko, published by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in 1963: "It is in the teachings of Judaism, in the Old Testament, and in the Talmud, that the Israeli militarists find inspiration for their inhuman deeds, racist theories, and expansionist designs..."

Main article: History of the Jews in Russia and Soviet Union

The Pale of Settlement was the Western region of Imperial Russia to which Jews were restricted by the Tsarist Ukase of 1792. It consisted of the territories of former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, annexed with the existing numerous Jewish population, and the Crimea (which was later cut out from the Pale).

During 1881-1884, 1903-1906 and 1914-1921, waves of anti-Semitic pogroms swept Russian Jewish communities. At least some pogroms are believed to have been organized or supported by the Russian okhranka; although there is no hard evidence for this, the Russian police and army generally displayed indifference to the pogroms (e.g. during the three-day First Kishinev pogrom of 1903), as well as to anti-Jewish articles in newspapers which often instigated the pogroms.

During this period the May Laws policy was also put into effect, banning Jews from rural areas and towns, and placing strict quotas on the number of Jews allowed into higher education and many professions. The combination of the May Laws and pogroms propelled mass Jewish emigration, and by 1920 some 2 million Russian Jews had emigrated, most to the United States.

One of the most infamous anti-Semitic tractates was the Russian okhranka literary hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, created in order to blame the Jews for Russia's problems during the period of revolutionary activity.

Even though many Old Bolsheviks were ethnically Jewish, they sought to uproot Judaism and Zionism and established the Yevsektsiya to achieve this goal. By the end of the 1940s the Communist leadership of the former USSR had liquidated almost all Jewish organizations including Yevsektsiya.

The anti-Semitic campaign of 1948-1953 against so-called "rootless cosmopolitans," destruction of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the fabrication of the "Doctors' plot," the rise of "Zionology" and subsequent activities of official organizations such as the Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public were officially carried out under the banner of "anti-Zionism," but the use of this term could not obscure the anti-Semitic content of these campaigns, and by the mid-1950s the state persecution of Soviet Jews emerged as a major human rights issue in the West and domestically. See also: Jackson-Vanik amendment, Refusenik, Pamyat.

Anti-Semitism and Islam

Anti-Semitism within Islam is discussed in the article on Islam and anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism in the Arab World is discussed in the article on Arabs and anti-Semitism.

The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, criticizes the Jews for corrupting the Hebrew Bible. Muslims refer to Jews and Christians as a "People of the book"; Islamic law demands that when under Muslim rule they should be tolerated as dhimmis - from the Arab term ahl adh-dhimma. The writer Bat Ye'or introduced the modern word Dhimmitude as a generic indication of this Islamic attitude. Dhimmis were granted protection of life (even against other muslim states), wealth and honor, the right to residence, worship, and work or trade, and were exempted from military service, the zakah tax, and Muslim religious duties and personal law. They were obligated to pay other taxes (jizyah and land tax), and subject to various other restrictions regarding blaspheming Islam, the Qur'an or Muhammed, prosleytizing, and at times a number of other restrictions on dress, riding horses or camels, carrying arms, holding public office, building places of worship higher than mosques, mourning loudly, wearing shoes outside the mellah, etc. Anti-Semitism in the Muslim world increased in the twentieth century, as anti-Semitic motives and blood libels were imported from Europe. Some suggest this phenomenon is a reaction to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Anti-Semitism in the 20th century

United States

In the USA, in the years leading up to America's entry into World War II, Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semitic radio preacher, as well as many other prominent public figures, condemned "the Jews" because they were leading America into war. While most Jews in America supported the interventionist camp, not all did. Jews were often condemned by populist politicians alternately for their left-wing politics, or their perceived wealth, at the turn of the century.

To limit the growing number of Jewish students Yale University in 1925 introduced the legacy system, which favoured the children of alumni.

American anti-Semitism underwent a modest revival in the late 20th century; some Black Muslims claimed that Jews were responsible for the exploitation of black labor, bringing alcohol and drugs into their communities, and unfair domination of the economy. These claims are generally considered spurious by impartial observers.


Missing image
Nazi propaganda for German children from Julius Streicher's publication Der Giftpilz (Toadstool) (, 1938. The caption reads: "The God of the Jews is Money. And to gain money, he will commit the greatest crimes..."
Missing image
Der Sturmer: "Satan"

With the rise of the Nazis and their explicity anti-Semitic program, hate speech referring to Jewish citizens as "dirty Jews" became common in anti-semitic pamplets and newspapers, such as Völkischer Beobachter and Der Stürmer. Judging by information available to researchers of Jewish history, its origins can possibly be traced to the Middle Ages, where isolated Jewish communities observed a strict dress code. Since Jewish clothing seemed strange to the hostile surrounding Christian populations of Europe, and also due to religious bigotry of some Christians, the expression was very widely used.

Nazi cartoons depicting "dirty Jews" frequently portrayed a dirty, physically unattractive and badly dressed "talmudic" Jew in traditional religious garments similar to those worn by Hassidic Jews. Articles attacking Jewish Germans, while concentrating on commercial and political activities of prominent Jewish individuals, also frequently attacked them based on religious dogmas. Accusations of responsibility of "killing our savior Jesus Christ" and refusal by Jews to "accept the savior" and convert to Christianity that fueled the hatred in the Middle Ages were also repeated by Nazi propagandists.

Hatred against Jews manifested itself in such measures as the Nuremberg Laws which banned "race-mixing" and in the Kristallnacht riots which targeted Jewish homes, businesses and places of worship.

The Holocaust and Holocaust denial

The most horrific manifestation of anti-Semitism was the Holocaust during World War II, in which about 6 million European Jews, 1.5 million of them children, were systematically murdered.

Holocaust deniers and revisionists often claim that "the Jews" or "Zionist conspiracy" are responsible for the exaggeration or wholesale fabrication of the events of the Holocaust. Critics of such revisionism point to an overwhelming amount of physical and historical evidence that supports the mainstream historical view of the Holocaust. Most academics agree that there is no credible evidence for any such conspiracy.

Missing image
1941 "Ž" metal plate for Jewish houses (from Židov=Jew), removed from post office in Osijek.
Missing image
The KKK: Nazi salute and Holocaust denial

Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

Anti-Zionism is a term that has been used to describe several very different political and religious points of view (both historically and in current debates) all expressing some form of opposition to Zionism. A large variety of commentators - politicians, journalists, academics and others - believe that criticisms of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, and attribute this to anti-Semitism. In turn, critics of this view believe that associating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is intended to stifle debate, deflect attention from valid criticism, and taint anyone opposed to Israeli actions and policies. This subject is discussed in the main article on Anti-Zionism. In addition to a conventional definition ("hostility toward Jews as a religious or racial minority group, often accompanied by social, political or economic discrimination), Webster's Dictionary gives a controversial second and third definition to anti-Semitism, defining the word as "opposition to Zionism" and "sympathy for the opponents of Israel". [14] (

Anti-Semitism in the 21st century

Cartoon from the Syrian Arab daily newspaper Tishreen (Apr 30, 2000). Negative  is commonly used in anti-Semitic discourse.
Cartoon from the Syrian Arab daily newspaper Tishreen (Apr 30, 2000). Negative zoomorphism is commonly used in anti-Semitic discourse.

Although not at the levels seen in previous centuries, there are still attacks on Jews and Jewish culture today. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has given rise to increased levels of anti-Semitism in the Middle East, and there are still neo-Nazi groups who threaten all ethnic minorities and commit anti-Semitic acts. These are sources of concern of many who fear a resurgence of hate.

New anti-Semitism

Defacement of a Jewish cemetery in France, .
Defacement of a Jewish cemetery in France, 2004.

Main article: New anti-Semitism

In recent years some scholars of history, psychology, religion and representatives of Jewish groups, have noted what they describe as the new anti-Semitism, which is a twenty-first–century term which proposes a new form of anti-Semitism that differs from the cruder and more brutal manifestations seen in, for example, Nazi Germany.

See also

Anti-Semitic websites

Jew Watch Radio Islam Institute for Historical Review


  • The Destruction of the European Jews Raul Hilberg. Holmes & Meier, 1985. 3 volumes
  • Hollywood and anti-semitism : a cultural history up to World War II, Steven Alan Carr, Cambridge University Press 2001
  • Michael Selzer (ed), "Kike!" : A documentary history of anti-semitism in America, New York 1972
  • Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory Deborah Lipstadt, 1994, Penguin.
  • Antisemitism in the New Testament, Lillian C. Freudmann, University Press of America, 1994.
  • Islamic Anti-Semitism as a Political Instrument, Yossef Bodansky, Freeman Center For Strategic Studies, 1999
  • Warrant for Genocide Norman Cohn, 1967 (Eyre & Spottiswoode), 1996 (Serif)

External links

Examples of anti-Semitism

da:Antisemitisme de:Antisemitismus et:Antisemitism es:Antisemitismo et:Antisemitism eo:Antisemitismo fr:Antismitisme it:Antisemitismo he:אנטישמיות nl:Antisemitisme ja:反ユダヤ主義 no:Antisemittisme pl:Antysemityzm pt:Anti-Semitismo ro:Antisemitism ru:Антисемитизм sr:Антисемитизам fi:Antisemitismi sv:Antisemitism zh:反犹太主义


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