Why has anti-Semitism persisted throughout history?

THE QUESTION:

How did anti-Semitism originate and why has this prejudice been so persistent throughout history?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

It’s often said that history’s longest-running prejudice is anti-Semitism, hostility toward Jews as individuals or as a group. (The term was coined in 1879 by an anti-Semitic German journalist!)  This is no bygone social affliction but an ever-present problem made pertinent by numerous recent events.

Though the U.S. champions religious freedom, not so long ago its prestige universities limited Jewish enrollment while realtors and elite country cluhs drew lines against Jews. More recently, in a 2014 Trinity College survey, 54 percent of U.S. Jewish college students nationwide said they’d personally “experienced” or “witnessed” anti-Semitism. Since only 23 percent identified as religious, this was largely socio-ethnic prejudice. In a similar 2011 survey in Britain, 51 percent of collegians said they observed anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League reported 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. during 2017, a 57 percent increase over 2016. There’ve been verbal attacks from figures in the Women’s March and the Nation of Islam, and President Trump’s odd response to an infamous neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va. Bizarrely, a Washington, D.C., Council member even blamed a legendary Jewish clan, the Rothschilds, for “controlling the climate.”

Overseas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated in April that modern Israel was a colonial plot that “has nothing to do with Jews,” as though they lacked any presence in the Holy Land the past 4,000 years. He blamed the Holocaust not on Nazi anti-Semitism but the Jews’ own “social behavior, [charging of] interest, and financial matters.”

At a March “global forum for combating antisemitism” in Jerusalem, speakers cited growing concern over developments among right-wing parties and Muslim immigrants in Europe, within Britain’s Labour Party, and Iran, ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Many Jews consider hostility toward Israel, the only Jewish state founded 70 years ago, to be anti-Semitic, whether from United Nations entities, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign or liberal Protestants. Others insist political enmity should be distinguished from racism. Yet one Jerusalem speaker cited linkage in a poll of 10,000 Europeans where those critical of Israel were 13 times more likely than others to be anti-Semitic.

So, what explains these and many other phenomena? A useful attempt at an answer came in a May 11 Wall Street Journal column by a Canadian, McGill University Professor Reuven Brenner, who has analyzed anti-Semitism for decades.

He thinks that “for accidental reasons, Jews have constantly found themselves opposing dominant ideologies of the times.” The pattern originated in ancient culture when most peoples were illiterate while the Israelites, with their sacred book, stubbornly embraced the one God it depicts and spurned (despite frequent temptation) worship of localized deities and idols.

Beginning in the late centuries B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”), the Jews likewise refused to bend to pagan cultural pressure from Greek civilization, followed by the Roman Empire. Then came what Alan Davies of the University of Toronto termed the new “religious anti-Judaism” with the rise of Christianity, worsened with the gain of political power centuries later.

The long and lamentable saga of Christian anti-Semitism requires a book, not a sketch like this.

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