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In modern usage, antisemitism is a prejudice not against all Semitic people, but specifically against Jews. Some describe a "new antisemitism" in which varying degrees of criticism of Israel is really aimed at the Jewish people, or, more narrowly, Zionism; there are strong opinions on both sides.

The term is sometimes awkward, as Arabs, a dominant Muslim group, are Semites. The less than ideal term Islamophobia has been used as a rough equivalent, although both can be considered an offense to semantics, if not Semitics.

European themes

While the greatest intensity of antisemitism is associated with the Nazis, it long preceded them. Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and made targets of the Inquisition.

Daniel Goldenhagen, in the book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, first argues that Holocaust was not strictly Nazi-inspired, but drew on tendencies present in German civilization. While he does focus on German examples, he also does a more general analysis of antisemitism that identifies European and Christian tendencies, which he lists as German, the first two of which are, he says, well supported in the literature but the third is new:[1]

  1. "The existence of antisemitism and the content of antisemitic charges against Jews must be understood as an expression of the non-Jewish cultere, and are fundamentally not a response to any objective evaluation of Jewish action, even if actual characteristics of Jews, and aspects of realistic conflicts, become incorporated in the antisemitic litany.
  2. "Antisemitism has been a permanent feature of Christian civilization (certainly after the beginning of the Crusades), even into the twentieth century.
  3. "The widely differing degree of antisemitic expression at different moments in a bounded historical time (of, say, twenty to fifty years) in a particular society is not the result of antisemitism appearing and disappearing, of larger or smaller numbers of people being or becoming antisemites, but of a generally constant antisemitism becoming more or less manifest, owing primarily to altering political and social conditions that encourage or discourage people's expression of their antisemitism."

Muslim themes

Bernard Lewis wrote that traditional European forms of antisemitism were, at one time, alien to Muslim traditions, but European themes, ideas, the literature, even the crudest inventions of the Nazis and their predecessors have been internalized and Islamized. He believes that the peace process has stimulated the adoption of ideas such as "poisoning the wells, the invented Talmud quotations, ritual murder, the hatred of mankind, the Masonic and other conspiracy theories, taking over the world" have recently been given a new twist. [2]


  1. Daniel Goldenhagen (1996), 1: Recasting the view of antisemitism: a framework for analysis, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0679446958, p. 39
  2. Bernard Lewis (June 1998), "Muslim Anti-Semitism", Middle East Forum