The exposure of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes led to global scrutiny and criticism of anti-Semitism – but still it survived. In the decades since the Holocaust, the Jewish people have continued to endure malicious rumours, marginalisation and racial hatred. In recent times, anti-Semitism has become intertwined with political issues in the Middle East, such as disputes and conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Anti-Semitic ideas persisted during the 20th century in major nations such as the Soviet Union and the United States. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, for example, was a vehement ‘Jew-hater’. Stalin often referred to Jews, particularly his arch-rival Leon Trotsky, using disparaging anti-Semitic terms like as “kikes” and “yids”. Later, the failure of Soviet economic and social policies was often blamed on interference or acts of sabotage by Russian Jews.
Anti-Semitism continued to exist in the United States, not just in far-right groups like the Ku Klux Klan but also in more affluent and seemingly less radical corners of American society. Wealthy and middle-class Jewish-Americans were often refused entry to prestigious country clubs and other institutions. As late as the 1950s, American Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Yale employed racial quotas to cap the proportion of Jewish students at 10 per cent.
Anti-Semitism survives today in America, the nation that contains the world’s second-largest population of Jews after Israel. Recent surveys in the US suggest 14 per cent of Americans hold anti-Semitic views. These views tend to be more prevalent among Americans of African, Hispanic and Middle Eastern origin.
A new strain of anti-Semitism has emerged and circulated, particularly during the last two decades. Dubbed ‘new anti-Semitism’ by some historians and commentators, it contains traditional anti-Jewish prejudices but is driven by new ideas derived from recent events.
According to some experts, the tone of this new anti-Semitism is political, anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli more than it is racist. Nevertheless, it sometimes endorses the same racial generalisations about Jews that were common in pre-Holocaust Europe – that they are greedy, conniving and loyal only to their own.
This revived anti-Semitism purportedly emanates from an awkward coalition of three groups: radical left-wing critics of Israeli military aggression in occupied Palestine, right-wing extremist groups who nurture more traditional and long-standing anti-Semitism, and Arabic and Muslim immigrants, a group hostile to Israel and its policies since the 1960s.
The Palestinian problem
A driving factor in this new anti-Semitism is political crisis in the Middle East, particularly territorial disputes and conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
In 1947, the United Nations divided Palestine in an attempt to create independent Jewish and Arab states in the region. Israel declared its independent statehood in May 1948. Since then, Israelis and Palestinians have fought and warred intermittently over questions of sovereignty, traditional ownership of the land, access to and control of important religious sites, access to arable land and water, and freedom of movement.
At various times over the last 40 years, the Palestinians have attacked Israeli military and civilian targets with rockets, paramilitary forces and suicide bombers. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) supported by considerable financial aid from the United States, is one of the strongest in the region. The IDF has responded to Palestinian attacks swiftly and destructively – and, according to some, disproportionately.
Israel’s firm policies and military responses have drawn criticism from many quarters. Whether or not this criticism is warranted, it has often morphed into irrationality and anti-Semitism. Polemics and propaganda have portrayed Israeli Jews as cruel, scheming and uncompromising, unprepared to work with the Palestinians to negotiate a solution.
The United States has also been dragged into this quagmire of hatred and propaganda. Washington’s political and financial support for Israel, as well as its failed attempts to facilitate a lasting peace plan for the region, have fuelled typical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Many Arabic commentators, even some Muslim national leaders, have gone as far as claiming the American government is controlled by Jewish interests.
The problems in Palestine and this rising new anti-Semitism have been a significant motivator for Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic terrorist groups.
Al-Qaeda, the perpetrator of the September 11th 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, is a group primarily interested in establishing a theocratic Muslim state – but it is also hostile to Israel and the US, in part because of their support for Israel.
In his frequent audio and video messages to the West, former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden often launched into anti-Jewish diatribes and conspiracy theories. In a message in February 2003, bin Laden said:
“These Jews are masters of usury [money-lending] and treachery. They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next. Of them, God said: “Do they have any share of what He possesses? If they did they would not give away so much as the grooves on a date-stone.” These Jews believe that as part of their religion that people are their slaves, and whoever denies their religion deserves to be killed … these are some of the characteristics of the Jews, so beware of them.”
The 9/11 terrorist attacks
The destruction of the World Trade Centre by Islamic terrorists in September 2001 has also been subject to conspiracy theories, some of which are anti-Semitic in origin. One theory claims the attacks were orchestrated, organised and perhaps even conducted by Jewish agents, in order to provoke a war between the United States and the Arab world.
One Internet meme circulated after the attacks claimed 4,000 Jewish employees in New York remained home on September 11th. These workers, it is alleged, were forewarned by Mossad (the Israeli secret service) that an attack was imminent. This conspiracy theory has been rigorously debunked: 130 Israeli nationals and dozens of Jewish-Americans died in the attacks.
Anti-Semitism, both in the Arab world and the West, rose alarmingly after the September 11th attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan that followed. The Arabic press in Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and elsewhere published cartoons depicting 9/11 conspiracy theories and Jewish control of the US.
This rising anti-Semitism also seeped into European nations with large populations of Muslim immigrants, such as Britain and France. Demand for copies of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion increased. The United Nations and several other organisations recorded a sharp rise in both anti-Jewish hate crimes and Internet activity promoting anti-Semitic ideas.
“There are documents that show the close collaboration of Zionists with Nazi Germany, and exaggerated numbers of victims of the Jewish Holocaust were fabricated to solicit sympathy of world public opinion, and lay the ground for the occupation of Palestine and justify the atrocities of the Zionists.”
Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian leader
1. While violence against Jews dropped sharply after World War II, anti-Semitic ideas and discrimination survived in Europe, the US and elsewhere.
2. A revived form of anti-Semitism based more on political than racial ideas emerged in the late 1900s. This ‘new anti-Semitism’ has become particularly virulent in the last 20 years.
3. This new anti-Semitism draws much of its energy from criticisms of Israeli policy, its ongoing territorial disputes in Palestine and treatment of the Palestinian people.
4. This new anti-Semitism is common in the Arab and Islamic world, where it sometimes adapts older anti-Semitic ideas such as Jewish racial stereotypes.
5. The September 2011 terrorist attacks on the US also kick-started a wave of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, claiming the attacks were the work of Jewish agents to further their country’s interests.