Why are some people anti-Semitic


Anyone who wants to understand anti-Semitism must know the history of hostility towards Jews, in which the negative image of Jews was shaped. Today's anti-Semitism falls back on old prejudices and updates them.

Several gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in Dortmund are smeared with swastikas and SS symbols. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)


When Holocaust survivors emerged from camps or hiding, many believed the scale of the crimes would undermine any anti-Semitism. This expectation was not fulfilled. It is true that anti-Semitism has decreased in European countries and the USA compared to the first half of the 20th century, and there is no longer any discrimination on the part of the state. Nevertheless, Jews in many countries face prejudice and abuse. In Germany, anti-Semitic crimes have increased significantly since the 1990s compared to the previous decades and reached a new high in 2001.

Right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism
Where do the prejudices against Jews come from? Why are anti-Jewish stereotypes so persistent, even though they have been countered in schools and in public for decades and there are few Jews left in many European countries? What role does it play in the fact that negative statements about Jews are taboo in public, that the subject of "Jews" is perceived by many as burdensome and sensitive and avoided by many because of the Holocaust? Especially in Germany, where feelings of guilt and shame understandably stand in the way of a normal relationship between Germans and Jews, anti-Jewish remarks, jokes or even attacks are particularly well suited as a means of violating taboos and provoking them. In this respect, there is a specific "anti-Semitism because of Auschwitz", especially in Germany and Austria, which is directed against the Jews because they are seen as the ones who permanently remind the Germans of the Nazi crimes.

This "anti-guilt anti-Semitism" draws on old anti-Jewish prejudices and stereotypes and updates them. If one wants to understand today's anti-Semitism in its various forms, one must therefore look back on the history of hostility towards Jews. A negative image of the Jew was coined here, which has several historical layers, whereby the older prejudice layers were not "forgotten" in the next phase, but only overlaid by new ones.

Christian anti-Judaism

The first layer is the religiously motivated rejection of the Jews by the Christians, a group that itself emerged from Judaism. While the early Jesus movement consisted only of Jews, gradually non-Jews also came along and a distance and a competitive relationship with Judaism developed. From this situation an anti-Jewish tradition arose among Christians, which is already noticeable in parts of the New Testament. The Christians saw themselves in the "new covenant", as "true Israel" and excluded the Jews as a people of the "old covenant" from the new covenant of God (Galatians 4: 21-31; Mark 12: 9-12). They overemphasized the Jewish part in the passion of Jesus (Matthew 27.25; Mark 15.6-15; Luke 23.13-15). Internal Jewish conflicts reported in the New Testament were subsequently interpreted as disputes between Judaism and Christianity. So the Pharisees and scribes appear as hypocrites (Matthew 23: 13-29) and advocates of an outward piety (Luke 16:15). The core of the Christian hatred of Jews was the so-called accusation of the murder of God ("Those who also killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and persecuted us", 1 Thessalonians 2:15). It was overlooked that it was not the Jews but the Roman occupying power who sentenced Jesus to death and - according to Roman penal practice - nailed him to the cross.

In polemical interpretations of the Bible, in sermons, in Christian historiography and among the faithful, a consistently anti-Semitic attitude developed from the early second century onwards. The degradation of the people and faith of the Jews became an integral part of Christian teaching - and a religious prejudice with the following elements: The Jews were considered blind and obstinate because they did not want to recognize Jesus as the Messiah; the accusation of murdering Christ and hostility towards Christians was raised and it was alleged that God had rejected them. But in the New Testament there is also the prospect of their eschatological conversion and salvation of a "remnant" (Romans 11). This theologically marked a border against forced conversion and extermination, which found its legal expression in the protection of the Jewish religion.

Negative stereotypes from the New Testament continue to be used today: We still call a hypocrite a "Pharisee". To this day, Judas is the symbolic figure of the traitor, and Jews have often been accused of betraying their "host people" throughout history.

The Christianization of Europe, the internal church reform movements, in particular the missionary efforts of the mendicant orders and the turn against deviating Christian "heresies" (so-called heretics) and enemies of Christianity (crusades), spread hostility to Jews beyond the circle of theologians among lay people, so that prejudices against Jews became an integral part of the growing popular piety.

In the 13th century, with the proclamation of the doctrine of transubstantiation, which assumes that bread and wine are "real" transformed into the body and blood of Christ, the consecrated host and blood gained central religious importance. Christians now feared that Jews, as "enemies of Christ", would pierce the host in order to injure the body of Jesus again. This accusation of desecrating the host has often led to anti-Jewish violence. At that time the fear arose that the Jews would need blood from Christians for ritual purposes. So they would rob or buy Christian boys and then murder them. This idea contradicts the pronounced aversion to the consumption of blood in Judaism. For example, the slaughter requirement provides for the slaughtered animal to be bleeded out completely; if the meat is bloody, it is considered unclean. The Christian church leaders also contradicted this ritual murder legend. Nevertheless, it spread throughout Europe and continued to give rise to anti-Jewish attacks well into the early 20th century. The idea that children of different faiths abuse and sacrifice for ritual purposes is widespread historically and geographically. Today it is reviving as part of the Arab-Muslim hostility towards Jews. These fears of threat, which - around the time of the plague in the middle of the 14th century - also included the fear of well poisoning, turned the Jews into a demonized minority who allegedly had conspired against the Christians.