Anti-Semitism 101, Part 2: Modern Anti-Semitism

Part one of this two-part series ended at the dawn of the mass-media age heralded by the advent of the printing press. With dissemination of knowledge now on the fast track, history gained momentum and scientific advances and improvements in communications added to the speed of cultural transformation.

As every technological and ideological breakthrough brings out the best of us, so, too, does it bring out the worst in us; what enriches civilization, unfortunately, tends to also bring out our darker instincts.

So it was that, along with truly beneficial developments in the sciences of astronomy, physics, biology, agriculture, medicine, chemistry and others, new pseudosciences came into being, each with their own agenda.

Woman and man in front of temporary memorials
Individuals grieve outside the Tree of Life synagogue after the worst attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. (Photo by Brendt Petersen/

A pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that claim to be factual, but are incompatible with the scientific method. Pseudosciences are characterized by contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims and a bias or slant toward specific “scientific” findings that allow for no refutation or evaluation by others. The theories set forth in a pseudoscience are asserted as factual scientific data, even after they’ve been debunked.

But the main identifying indicator of a true pseudoscience is that someone is profiting from it at someone else’s expense.

Thanks to Social Darwinism and eugenics, the popular canards about Judaism were now legitimized as “scientific” genetic traits.

The rapid spread of the pseudosciences of Social Darwinism, eugenics and psychiatry ushered in a new era of “scientific” anti-Semitism.

Social Darwinism was the theory that individuals, groups and cultures were subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals.

Eugenics was the belief that controlled breeding of only those with desirable genetic traits would result in an improved human race.

Psychiatry is the treatment of the mind and its functions—such as behavior, emotions, convictions, beliefs, perceptions and judgement—through physical means only. The physical means have included drugs, electric shock, and surgery, among many others.

Science, one assumes, has as its end goal the improvement and enhancement of man in his relationship with the world, through new discoveries and technologies that bring about a better life for all. But what were the immediate effects of the “new” sciences of Social Darwinism, eugenics and psychiatry?

Social Darwinism justified imperialism and racism and led to ethnic cleansing.

Eugenics justified ranking different “types” of humans as different species and led to the Holocaust.

A promotional piece for Eugenics

Social Darwinism and eugenics live on in the pseudoscience of psychiatry, which recognizes no human soul, no free will, no hand of providence in human destiny, and thus no purpose to life other than adjusting to one’s environment and resigning oneself to play the hand one has been dealt.

Thanks to Social Darwinism and eugenics, the popular canards about Judaism were now legitimized as “scientific” genetic traits. No longer could a Jew be “reformed” through baptism or renunciation of his beliefs. According to the new “sciences,” a Jew was a Jew by blood: a genetic “type” or sub-species of human, possessed of certain undesirable, inevitable, un-erasable traits.

Jews were prospering in the new Industrial Age, and were successfully making their way in society, with some, like Benjamin Disraeli in England, even achieving high rank in government. Others, such as Nathan Meyers Rothschild, made their mark in the world of finance and banking. Resentment toward the socioeconomic success of the Jews stirred up old suspicions and hatred for them as “non-believers” and thus found a ready partner in the new pseudosciences.

In 1879, German journalist and agitator, Wilhelm Marr, published his pamphlet, The Way to Victory of Germanism Over Judaism. In it he introduced the idea that Jews and Germans were in a longstanding war based on race and that the Jews were winning—that they had taken over finance and industry, and that, furthermore, if the Jews won in the struggle, the result would be finis Germaniae (the end of the German people).

To save the German race, then, Marr founded the League of “Antisemites” (a word he coined) an organization dedicated to combating the “Jewish threat” and advocating their expulsion from Germany.

Jews were now restricted from owning land, living in villages and stripped of most of their civil rights, including harsh limits on education.

The most common reasons for hating Jews were thus legitimized by “science” and crystallized into respectability through an organization motivated by “the good of Germany.” These reasons, all supposedly genetic and therefore unchangeable, would resonate through the decades into our own time:

  • Jews care only about money
  • Jews are involved in a dark conspiracy (the conspiracy changes according to the particular fears of the generation)
  • Jews are trying to take over the world

Meanwhile in Russia, repressive laws and exclusion of Jews from key occupations and restriction of their freedom of movement within the country got worse with the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, setting off massacres (called “pogroms”) in various Jewish communities, the Jews being scapegoated for the Czar’s murder. (They didn’t kill him. A radical group, People’s Will, did.)

Man with a Jewish star on chest whipping people
An Anti-Semitic poster from the 1940s

The ensuing “May Laws” of 1882 legitimized the canard and penalized Russian Jews severely. Jews were now restricted from owning land, living in villages and stripped of most of their civil rights, including harsh limits on education. The new laws were brutally enforced by the imperial police, and enthusiastically applauded by the media.

Nine years later the Jews were expelled from Moscow.

At the turn of the 20th-century, Russia caught up with the new mass-media style of hate. In 1903, Russian secret police “discovered” and published a book, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which appeared to confirm the anti-Semite accusation that Jews were involved in a diabolical conspiracy to take over the world. The book, later debunked as a complete fabrication, copied in large part from an 1864 French satire that never even mentions Jews, has gone on to become, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the most notorious and widely distributed anti-Semitic publication of modern times.

It was published by the Nazis in at least 23 editions from 1919 to 1939, has been translated into dozens of languages, was the subject of a 2002 Egyptian government-sponsored TV miniseries, is used by the terrorist group, Hamas, to justify violence against Israelis, and, despite, numerous condemnations of it as a fraudulent, hate-inspired publication, many schools in the Arab world teach the Protocols as fact, and the book is widely available on the internet.

Predictably, the book’s publication was followed by violence. In the Ukraine alone, Russian police wiped out Jewish communities, killing over 60,000. In the years leading up to the Russian Revolution in 1917, pogroms became a fact of life in Russia.

The-Jew-as-scapegoat myth was effective in blaming “Jewish Bolsheviks” and “Jewish traitors” for the wreckage that was Germany after World War I.

Adolf Hitler was in many ways the inevitable outcome of the psychiatric-eugenics-Social Darwinism-bigotry/conspiracy mass-media soup that was 19th and early 20th-century anti-Semitism. The son of a bastard child of Maria Anna Schicklegruber, subsequent DNA tests on his surviving relatives indicate the strong possibility that Hitler was himself descended from Eastern European Jews.

A frustrated artist, twice denied entry to Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, Hitler wandered the backwaters of that town, picking up the frustration and resentment of disillusioned citizens who grumbled about rich Jews hoarding the wealth of Austria. Later, traumatized as a low-level soldier during World War I, he recuperated under the “care” of psychiatrist Edmund Robert Forster at the Pasewalk military hospital in 1918. He emerged a changed man.

Anti-Semitic article

In 1920, American auto magnate and anti-Semite, Henry Ford, published a series of articles based on The Protocols in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. The articles later appeared in a best-selling book, The International Jew, the German translation of which inspired Hitler, then in prison for political violence in 1923, to write his own anti-Semitic work, Mein Kampf (My Struggle).

The-Jew-as-scapegoat myth was effective in blaming “Jewish Bolsheviks” and “Jewish traitors” for the wreckage that was Germany after World War I (even though many thousands of Jews lost their lives fighting for Germany in the war). Hitler’s Nazi party then rose to power on the basis of that lie.

Jews were genetically inferior to the superior Aryan race, the lie ran, and so were to be suspected, shunned and shut out so as not to contaminate the “racially pure” people.

In 1935, the new Nuremberg Race Laws made marriage and sex between any Aryan and Jew a crime of “racial pollution.” Jews were denied citizenship and civil rights, were banned from all professional jobs and ultimately prohibited from receiving a proper education.

German children were educated to hate Jews as evil and cunning. An illustrated children’s schoolbook, The Poisonous Mushroom, compared Jews to mushrooms. Just as it’s hard to tell the difference between a poisonous and an edible mushroom, the book contends, so it is also difficult to distinguish between a Jew and an Aryan unless you know the “warning signs.”

Hitler, meanwhile, continued his own “treatment” through the 1930s and into World War II, receiving daily injections of a “Super Vitamin” from his personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morrell. The drug was a dangerous and addictive concoction of methamphetamine called Pervitin. (Hitler loved Pervitin so much that he ordered it fed orally to his troops. It became the Nazi drug of choice.)

By the 1940s, however, Hitler needed something stronger, and began injections of Eukodal, a cousin of heroin whose chief characteristic was its potential to induce a euphoric state in the patient (today it is known as oxycodone). It wasn’t long before Hitler was receiving injections of Eukodal several times a day. Eventually he would combine it with twice-daily doses of high-grade cocaine.

And then the Holocaust…

Rows of dead bodies
Rows of unburied bodies found by the British upon liberating Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April of 1945 (Photo by Everett Historical/

For centuries many people felt the only solution to anti-Semitism, persecution and genocide was the establishment of a separate, sovereign Jewish state, the obvious choice being the British-held land of Palestine, which was the original homeland of the Hebrews.

Those who pushed for this solution were called Zionists, after “Zion,” an ancient word for Israel, and the Zionist movement gained momentum after the Holocaust. The groundwork had already been laid in 1917 with the British Balfour Declaration, which established Palestine as a “national home for the Jewish people.” At the time of the declaration, only 4 percent of the residents in Palestine were Jewish, but, encouraged by the declaration, more and more Jews emigrated there, to the increasing resentment of the local Arabs who regarded Zionism as a threat.

In 1945, the British government asked the newly formed United Nations for help in making the Declaration a reality. The UN proposed two states: one Arab and one Jewish. Though Jews now made up only one third of the population and owned only 6 percent of the land, the UN allocated 55 percent of the land to the Jewish state, which came into being as the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. Immediately after its formation, Israel’s seven neighboring Arab nations attacked. The new state held them off and 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled what was once their homeland, ushering in a new dimension of anti-Semitism, involving the twin hatreds of Jews as a people and of Israel as a Jewish state.

All governments are imperfect, have earned their portion of criticism, and the Israeli government is no different. The line between rational criticism blurs into hate, however, when the call for improvement becomes a scream for annihilation, and when Israel’s very existence is condemned.

Though the lie was long since disproven, the “Jewish Bolshevik” and “Jewish Communist” tags linger today.

Currently old lies die hard. A recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that 13 percent believe that “Jews are more likely to use shady practices to get what they want,” and 18 percent believe that “Jews have too much power in the business world.” 89 percent of citizens surveyed in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan surveyed had a “very unfavorable opinion of Jews.”

Even the old “Christ-killers” argument lingers on, though Jews were exonerated of that over 50 years ago. Meanwhile, the genetic argument rolls on, fueled by pseudoscience— and aided and abetted by the internet and media—that Jews are simply born greedy, with a thirst for world domination and a perverse taste for dark conspiracy.

Every generation since the Industrial Revolution has had “the image of the rich, powerful Jew who manipulates social and political movements around the world for his own agenda,” according to Aryeh Tuchman, the associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

In the 20th century, a Jewish banker, Max Warburg, was the target of a forged document claiming that he and other wealthy Jews had financed the German government to spark the Russian Revolution. The document gained currency in a U.S. government recruitment pamphlet during World War I entitled The German-Bolshevik Conspiracy. Though the lie was long since disproven, the “Jewish Bolshevik” and “Jewish Communist” tags linger today.

Not every attack on wealthy influential Jews is rooted in anti-Semitism, nor is every conspiracy theory anti-Semitic. But there are those who promote and those who follow. Bigots find well-intentioned people, as well as dupes and fools, who believe their lies and complaints. Be wary of generalities, such as “Globalists,” “Elitists,” “Zionists,” “Bolsheviks,” which thread their way through our daily clickbaits and news.

Today, with abundant weapons in the hands of governments and individuals, combined with the powder-keg climate many use to exploit our darkest fears, it’s no longer safe to just be a “good German,” and say nothing, seeing “fine people on both sides.”

Today, more than ever, an attack on one faith is surely an attack on us all.

John Evans
John Evans has written for theater and the big screen. His essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in several publications on the East and West Coasts.