All about Anti-Semitism

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October 29, 2022

Why in news?

With the rise of the right in Europe, the escalation of ethnic tensions in the Middle East, and increasing anonymity provided by social media platforms, anti-Semitism is a pressing matter of concern.

What is anti-Semitism?

  • Anti-Semitism refers to any form of prejudice against the Jewish people.
  • The term anti-Semitism was coined in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to designate the anti-Jewish campaigns in central Europe at that time.
  • The term itself is a misnomer as Semitic designates a language group, not a race.
  • Anti-Semitism can also describe prejudice against speakers of the Semitic languages (including Arabs and Ethiopians).

Categories of anti-Semitism

  • Racial anti-Semitism - It is most commonly associated with the Nazis and stems from a belief that Jews are a distinct, inferior race with inherent genetic traits.
    • This form usually manifests in the belief that Jews need to be exterminated altogether.
  • Religious anti-Semitism - It traces its roots to the early days of Christianity and is accompanied by the notion that Jews should be converted to other faiths.
  • Social anti-Semitism - It is a form of exclusion of Jews from social situations.
    • For example, Jews were routinely excluded from golf and sports clubs in 1959 in America.
  • Economic anti-Semitism – It proposes that Jews have disproportionate control over financial institutions, and their stronghold over those institutions ought to be diminished.
  • Political anti-Semitism – It is the attempt to keep Jews out of power.
  • It is often conflated with anti-Zionism, a movement that denies the Jewish right to a national homeland.

What is the history of anti-Semitism?

Reasons for anti-Semitism

  • Christian doctrine - According to Christian doctrine, Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus and thus deserved to be punished.
  • There was also a fear that early Christian converts would continue to abide by Jewish practices, combining the two faiths over time.
  • Religious difference - In the ancient Greco-Roman world, religious differences were the primary basis for anti-Semitism.
  • In the Hellenistic Age, Jews' social segregation and refusal to acknowledge the gods worshipped by other peoples aroused resentment.
  • Darwin's theory of evolution - Interpreting Darwin's theory of evolution to mean that race was inherent and unchangeable, it was argued that Jews were genetically inferior on an evolutionary scale.

Effect of anti-Semitism

  • Jews as scapegoats - From the Protestant reformer Martin Luther in 1543 to the French philosopher Edmund Burke in 1790, Jews were positioned as scapegoats for several societal ills.
  • Jews have systematically been driven out of countries including England, Yemen, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Hungary, and Egypt.
  • Ban in Russia - Until 1772, Jews were banned from living in the Russian Empire altogether.
  • Between 1880 and 1910, 2.5 million Jews fled from Russia to the US after anti-Semitism became the official government policy under the rule of the Czars.
  • Holocaust in Germany - Völkisch nationalists believed that the German race was superior to all other races.
  • They considered Jews to be alien people who belonged to a different race and blamed them for undermining the German way of life.
  • The rise of the Nazi party culminated in the death of over 6 million Jews by the end of the Second World War.

What is positive anti-Semitism?

  • Positive anti-Semitism claims that, in certain instances, Jews benefitted from the prejudices associated with them.
  • The belief that Jews are influential or wealthy can result in positive anti-Semitism because people then misinterpret their prominence in world affairs.
  • For example, the Balfour Declaration, the British Government's 1917 statement, supported the creation of a Jewish state.

What about the current instances of anti-Semitism?

In a survey of 53,000 people across 101 countries, it was found that 26% of them harboured anti-Semitic attitudes.

  • The recent incidents of rising anti-Semitism include
    • Far-right demonstrations in the US
    • Attacks on synagogues (Jewish houses of worship) in Sweden
    • Arson attacks on kosher (food that complies with strict dietary rules in Judaism) restaurants in France
    • Increase in crimes against Jews in the UK
  • The problem seems to be exacerbated by social media.



  1. The Indian Express│What is anti-Semitism?
  2. Britannica│Anti-Semitism
  3. BBC│Judaism


Quick facts


  • Judaism is a monotheistic religion (belief in a single deity).
  • It was founded over 3500 years ago in the Middle East.
  • It is the original of the three Abrahamic faiths, including Christianity and Islam.
  • Moses founded Judaism, although Jews trace their history back to Abraham.
  • The most important religious document is the Torah.
  • The interpretation of the laws of the Torah is called halakhah.
  • Spiritual leaders are called Rabbis.
  • Followers of Judaism are called Jews.
  • Jews worship in Synagogues.
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