The Changing Face of Antisemitism

Sunday, June 12, 2022

What Is It

Antisemitism is an old problem with roots that reach back to medieval Europe. While earlier forms focused more on religious bigotry, antisemitism in the modern period became increasingly racialized and politicized. So what is the connection between older ideas about Jews and Judaism, and contemporary antisemitic tropes and stereotypes? How are conspiratorial fears about Jewish invisibility and global control related to the emergence of finance capitalism? And what can history teach us about how to confront antisemitism today? Josh and Ray ask historian Francesca Trivellato from the Institute for Advanced Study, editor of Jews in Early Modern Europe (forthcoming), in a program recorded live at the Stanford Humanities Center.


Comments (9)

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, April 21, 2022 -- 5:07 AM

I would ask Ms. Trivellato to

I would ask Ms. Trivellato to contrast treatment of Jewish communities with that of the Roma.

I do not understand us/them conflicts like the one in the Ukraine. What disturbs me is that antisemitism often is turned on the poorest and unfortunate and not the rich.

Most disturbing is Israeli intent to sell and continue to sell Pegasus to Putin's Russia despite the evil.

There are many choices I don't get. I'm keeping friends close and enemies farther of late. Those that deal in the devil are causing havoc. Antisemitism might be touching on the root. It is far too past time to pull the weeds.

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Daniel's picture


Thursday, April 21, 2022 -- 4:15 PM

To: second paragraph, second

To: second paragraph, second sentence: What do you find undisturbing and by implication acceptable about antisemitism turned on the rich?

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, April 22, 2022 -- 6:26 PM

Wealth is a blessing and a

Wealth is a blessing and a curse. The cleansing of the Temple, its destruction, and the loss of everyday blood sacrifice in the Judaic tradition are touchpoints Francesca will likely discuss as historical impacts on modern antisemitism.

Many wealthy people don't pay just taxes, come upon their wealth by chance, and maintain their wealth by abusing the privileges it garners, all of which I might find undisturbing about hatred toward the rich. But that is not what I am saying here, nor am I implying acceptance of antisemitism in any context.

False belief as justification for immoral acts is more anxiety-inducing than actions based on true belief.

Ukrainian soldiers executing a helpless Russian soldier after a battle is less worrisome than Russian soldiers hog tieing non-combatant Ukrainian citizens and executing them. The latter is especially true when these soldiers are supposedly there to liberate these civilians. A similar pretense is alive in antisemitic acts, not excluding those in Ukraine. Thinking about those acts makes this show all the more timely.

Antisemites are steeped in the false belief that Jews are driven by religion, wealth, and subversive influence. The majority of Jewish people are secular (contrary to the ancient trope of antisemitism), not wealthy (contrary to the modern trope stemming from medieval times,) and have their voices threatened daily by antisemitic thought (which is why Israel treads such a tenuous path.) I find these false premises disturbing, as I do misleading implications, and I don't imply or intend the latter here.

I encouraged the juxtaposition of the persecution of the Roma and Jews by a professional historian to highlight and suggest ways to think about antisemitism and the unjust and brutal war in the Ukraine. The latter here is where I spend the plurality of my free thought at the moment. The similarities between Christianity and Judaism regarding antisemitism shed light on the underlying causes of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine regarding their traditions and history.

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Daniel's picture


Sunday, April 24, 2022 -- 11:20 AM

In the second to last

In the second to last paragraph above, you mention Israeli state behavior as treading a tenuous path in relation to traditional forms of anti-semitism going back to the middle ages. I'm interested in the character of this tenuousness. Israel has been engaged after 1967 in a campaign of military and settler-expansion into Palestinian territory which is illegal under international law. Because current Israeli leadership calls itself, with some good reason, a "jewish state", this unacceptably immoral behavior fits easily into customary antisemitic attitudes. So is the post '67 behavior of the Israeli state in your view not only reflected in the current resurgence of antisemitism, but in some sense also a direct cause of it?

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, April 24, 2022 -- 6:34 PM

Israel is not a direct cause

Israel is not a direct cause or even a reflection of antisemitic resurgence. I would listen to others, but that is my take.

Israel has as much relation to antisemitism as the US has to racism or South Africa to apartheid. The association is complicated but not a current driver. (Yes, I don't think racism is a current driver of conflict in the US so much as class. There are still historical issues of race in the US that dominate our sociology.) Antisemitism has existed since ancient times, and some of that hate is still in circulation. Most of the cause and flux of antisemitic thought is derived from Medieval and modern economic movements. Israeli actions (since its inception) have little to do with increased antisemitism. The creation of Israel is a fulcrum for fighting hatred, in my opinion. Having a homeland makes the issues tangible.

The history of the founding of the state of Israel is complex. The military conflicts since that founding are fundamental to the current state of affairs. I would that the Palestinians had accepted the original offer. I would that Kurds had their own state and that Roma peoples could find similar territorial borders to throw up identity and force human respect for peoples who have in deep history been victimized by ethnic hate. (Since I am going all subjunctive here - let me also add - I have more than a little regret that the Israelis gave back the Sinai Peninsula. The development in that short period of remarkable and the native Bedouin would be better off without Egyptian occupation - in my opinion. I would also alleviate space issues elsewhere for everyone. End rant.)

Recent initiatives in projects like Pegasus and partisanship on behalf of Sunni interests have, in my view (which is likely wrong,) calmed the waters of Jewish hate more than inflamed them. But that has left others, including Jews in Ukraine, at risk. Given the history of antisemitism and the debt they owe their ancestors, Israel's hardliners are too hard not to allow hate to harm current victims of conflict as it did them.

I look forward to Francesca generalizing the learnings from the hatred of Jews to the hatred in general. There is more hate than ten years ago, perhaps, and more, significantly so, in the last five years. The increase I would attribute to the politicizing of traditionally nonpartisan issues like public health, voting rights, free speech (there are others), and outright mass migrations and conflicts.

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Daniel's picture


Monday, April 25, 2022 -- 10:31 AM

Although your analysis above

Although your analysis above is not clear as to semiological intent, three components are identifiable which deserve discussion:

1) You fail to distinguish between the Israeli state and the occupation of Palestinian territories. They are two different things. One functions as an internationally recognized nation-state. The other is illegal according to international law. How this can be ignored needs serious scrutiny.

2) Your second paragraph from the end is almost indecipherable except for a very important point made in its last sentence: How is it that former crimes against a demographic group can serve to justify crimes resembling them by that group against another? As the term "semite" refers to an inhabitant of a geographical area, and does not in its etymology identify any particular ethnic group or genetic lineage, the racism directed towards Arabs by some Israeli Jews can also be correctly described as antisemitic and as such, the ongoing siege against, and periodic military incursions into, the area of Gaza, is a salient display of contemporary antisemitic brutality. You are quite correct to point that out.

3) There are two ambiguities of reference which demand clarification: First sentence, second paragraph from the end: Your term "Jewish hate". Does it refer to something directed against Jews, or something Jews direct against others? And first sentence of last paragraph: Your phrase "hatred of Jews". Is it an objective genitive, as description of a hated object? Or is it a subjective genitive, as describing a hating subject? Because these ambiguities seem to be deliberate, unless you can confirm one pair of interpretations and exclude their opposite, one can safely presume they are meant to be read in both ways according to the reader's predilection.

My original question has not been addressed, only its premise denied. If you continue to keep your reasoning secret with regards to how you can separate contemporary antisemitism from Israeli state behavior in the occupied territories, your readers are likely to conclude that you don't have any.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 -- 11:19 AM

To be clear, I indeed deny

To be clear, I indeed deny your premise. Israel is not a direct cause or even a reflection of antisemitic resurgence, and that, despite a typo or two, is my view.

Semiology is not germane and dryly esoteric in a conversation concerning antisemitism.

The term "Semite" has largely lost its meaning in modern usage and had more to do with a commonality of language than geography. However, the two were essentially the same in ancient history. Extending antisemitism to Israeli actions is to obscure the nature of the ethnic hate that drives it and possibly could be considered antisemitic. Let's defer to common usage and the topic at hand. This is not to say that others, like the Roma, the Kurds, and the Palestinians, do not require higher justice.

I prefer that modern Palestine and Israel had agreed to the 1947 partition plan, which approximates the current jurisdictions between Israel and Palestine, minus overreach by Israel and several thousand lives that might have been saved. The current state of affairs is unjust from any perspective but cannot be disambiguated from the military conflicts and issues that have brought about the status quo. Antisemitism can be attributed to Arabs who have resisted Jewish immigration and settlement, but the conflict is political and economic. Arabs would not care if a Jewish homeland were established outside the middle east; antisemites would care.

Very recent initiatives by Israel have calmed the waters of the Arab-Israeli conflict while disenfranchising Palestinians. If people disagree about this, the net contribution of current events is no great increase, at least, over the far more militant actions of events since 1947. This may be a matter of perspective on what one considers recent and what events we are discussing. Selling Pegasus technology to Sunni nations and countries outside the Middle East has decreased tensions between Israel and some states while endangering others, some of which have significant Jewish populations and even leadership. These endangered others are where I find hypocrisy.

In any case, I indeed deny your premise. Israel is not a direct cause or even a reflection of antisemitic resurgence, even as the founding of Israel is. I would listen to others, but that is my take.

Israeli actions are no proxy for controlling antisemitism outside the middle east either, where most Jews are secular or traditional. Though comparatively better off economically than other religious and ethnic groups, most Jews are not wealthy either. This disparity is especially so for the vulnerable ones who are often the victims of antisemitism.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, May 13, 2022 -- 8:43 AM

Jealousy is an evil and

Jealousy is an evil and insidious thing. As a young person, my memories of comments/criticisms of Jews always seemed to be perjorative. People of my parent's and grandparent's generations far more often made caustic remarks. Jews were shrewd business people. They would cheat you, any way they could. So, it was a not a far stretch to conclude no Jewish person could be trusted Generational ethnic condemnation. This sort of thing continues now, across a broad range of issues. We call it culture war.
Anyhow, Nietzsche may have said it best---if it was he who said it: whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. A good rule of thumb for any oppressed people.

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Daniel's picture


Monday, May 16, 2022 -- 4:05 PM

In discussion of the new anti

In discussion of the new anti-Semitism it seems important to distinguish it from two recent previous ones. The first is an artificially generated version designed to deflect criticism of actions and policies for which the Israeli state together with the relationship to the U.S. is/are responsible. This occurs e.g. in exceptions to international law on grounds of state-survival, and therefore by association as asserted in terms of Jewish nationalism, the objections to which thereby can be termed as anti-Semitic by means of that association, translating support for international law into the translator's claim of offense against the respective population.

The second anti-Semitism is the one which makes the same arbitrary association but on the other side of it. On the receiving end of respective state conduct, deflecting demands for critique of conduct is not the target, but rather the claim of association as generalized to the offending object as associated with the extra-national population in whose name the state behaves.

If these two anti-Semitisms above are put aside, what's left is the current one in the Western industrialized nations, which in my view is in largest part a result of the crisis in economics occurring November of '08. In that relation it can't be accurately viewed as a relationship between two separate groups, with one as actor and the other as patient. This is true on account of the fact that the institutional form in a given society is characteristically shared in more fundamental ways than associated cultural pullulations; and as these institutional forms belong to social institutions, they are by association if not by definition matters of choice. What I'd like to argue here is that a more fundamental causal determination can be found in a distinction between two sets of choices, rather than between two or more cultural groups. As a means of one set overriding the practical efficiency of the other set, Anti-Semitism, as a tool of blaming economic exploitation on a non-responsible party, emerges in the service of collective apology for participation in this exploitation. Anti-Semitism as a heritage therefore counts for very little. Its heritability-function consists in lying around in the actor's toolbox, as a participation-apology. (The word "scapegoat" is here avoided, since its reference to animal sacrifice would confuse the issue). More important are the conditions under which this tool was deployed, which have to do with prevailing elements of our financial system. Perhaps it might be of some assistance, then, to review some element of the '08 crash and the government's response, commonly referred to in terms of a crisis in the derivatives-market and a "bank-bailout". A derivative is a secondary form of tradable security derived from a primary one. As a condition for a loan, for example, the recipient agrees to buy something from the lender, say a bag of apples, at a later date. The lender needs insurance against default, so at least she or he will sell a bag of apples out to the deal before the lender loses the principle or, extended more generally, files for bankruptcy. The role played by a derivative in this example is as an insurance contract, but where such contracts can be bundled together and traded as a single package, the need for oversite by an impartial party to prevent fraud becomes evident. The crash of the housing market in November illustrated the system's unregulated character by showing how repayment of loans became irrelevant once their contracts had been included in a package of securities which is sold by the firm which wrote them. The top incentive was to lend out as much as possible, knowing that most wouldn't be payed back so that the insurance contracts against loan default can be drawn upon. This had the effect that any asset still liquid was drained out of the economy, so that a multinational version of a run on the banks ensued.

The original borrower was in all respects defrauded into unaffordable loans. This fact together with the unpopular recapitalization of the big investment banks, instead of the much more rational response of nationalizing them and the banking sector in general, generated the conditions under which the current form Anti-Semitism, (which has distinct characteristcs not shared by other forms, such as a relationship to frequent references to what's called "border security"), has been not only deployed as insertable apologetics into the typical functioning of the predatory financial elements of the prevailing economic system, but has exercised it's more overt and extreme elements as nurse to respective anti-social potential. Here the typical anti-Semitic tropes as a handed-down heritage can be fitted easily into an otherwise accurate account of the government's response and continued similar financial behaviors. The well-intentioned borrower was swindled into a bad deal because he/she couldn't understand the terms of the contract, so that the TARP program (the Troubled Assets Relief Program) looks like a reward to the predators and a disregard for the afflicted. Only with respect to the facility of associating the actual institutional conduct with inherited fears and prejudices do these latter play any detectable role. Primary on the contrary is the way it fits into the narrative that the bearing of such views can hold as a personal absolution from involvement in the anti-social behaviors which can now be in effect tacked onto another apt carrier, in effective place of an understanding of ones own involvement and optional participation.

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