“Jews cannot fight antisemitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. The hated cannot cure the hate. It would be the greatest mistake for Jews to believe that they can fight it alone."
– Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Recent events in the news have brought an old form of hate back into the spotlight: whether through overt acts of hatred and violence, former U.S. President Donald Trump dining with an outspoken holocaust denier, or the number of high-profile people making publicly anti-Jewish comments, the recent rise in antisemitism is both troubling and ominous. Canada experienced a dramatic surge in antisemitism last year, with the rise in antisemitic violence increasing alarmingly in 2021. In the United States, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) found that antisemitic incidents reached an all time high last year, and Europe experienced a similarly dramatic rise.
What it is
Having a working definition empowers those combatting hatred to make meaningful change. In brief, we can define antisemitism as: hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or minority group, often accompanied by social, economic and/or political discrimination. Antisemitism as a phenomenon has existed for over two thousand years, with the Holocaust being the most extreme example of antisemitism in modern history.
Like most forms of racism and discrimination, antisemitism is an insidious and complex issue. However, there are three potent forms enmeshed in our history. 1) Religious prejudice, particularly persecution by early Christians, who held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Religious demonization associated the Jews with darkness and the devil. 2) Political and economic prejudice. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, antisemitism was based on the myth of Jewish plans for political and economic world domination, such as the conspiracy theories popularized by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The work is entirely fictional with no basis in fact, yet the myths persist to this day. 3) Racial “science” and the pseudoscience of eugenics. In the late nineteenth century, the pseudoscientific theories known as ‘eugenics’ emerged – the practice of genetic selection as a means for eliminating societal problems by “purifying” the human race. Eugenics theories judged marginalized groups in society, such as people of colour, as well as the physically and mentally challenged, as inferior or sub-human. In the case of Nazi Germany, Hitler and his allies drew upon these claims to frame their racial theories about Jews and marginalized groups.
While there are no simple answers to this question, historically in times of uncertainty and significant social change, racism, intolerance, and xenophobia flourish. The past few years have seen the combination of a rise in populism around the world, a global pandemic, and challenging economic times. This social climate, coupled with a current mistrust of governments, institutions and corporations in many countries, make the conditions ripe for the political and economic prejudice against Jewish people to thrive.
What You Can do
Complicated societal problems, such as fighting antisemitism, can feel overwhelming as an individual. And yet. There is enormous power in arming ourselves with knowledge and then speaking out against antisemitism and other forms of injustice when we can. What can you do? Break the silence. Learn the history, and get the facts about the holocaust and antisemitism from reliable and credible sources, a few are referenced at the end of this article. Educate yourself about what antisemitism is, and then show up and speak up, amplify the voices of others who are speaking out. To quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Jews cannot fight antisemitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. The hated cannot cure the hate. It would be the greatest mistake for Jews to believe that they can fight it alone. The only people who can successfully combat antisemitism are those active in the cultures that harbour it.”
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