As will be seen, numerous factors have created a climate of Jew-hatred. Scripture records that the Jews were oppressed by the Egyptian pharaoh. Through Moses’ deliverance, the ancient Israelites escaped bondage, eventually settling in the land that God had promised to the Patriarchs. There they established a kingdom but were subject to constant attack from their neighbours.
In the Greco-Roman world, Jews were viewed as alien and xenophobic. With the emergence of Christianity such hostility towards Jewry intensified. Drawing upon Hellenistic ideas that had penetrated the Jewish religion, Christianity absorbed pagan hostility to the Jewish people and utilised aspects of Pharisaic Judaism to distance itself from the faith from which it had evolved. Eventually, such anti-Jewish sentiments became an essential element of Christianity.
In the post-medieval period negative stereotypes of the Jews became a central feature of Western European culture. In France Jews were depicted in the most terrible fashion. In England Jews were as detested as they were in Germany. Such Christian antisemitism was most forcibly expressed in Martin Luther’s diatribes against German Jews. Elsewhere Jewish converts to Christianity became subject to the Inquisition.
When Jewish territories were annexed to Russia in the nineteenth century the Christian population viewed their Jewish inhabitants with contempt and eventually Jews were expelled from their villages. Such attitudes continued into the modern period, when traditional Christian prejudice was coupled with commercial interests.
During the twentieth century Jews were attacked for a number of reasons. In Germany Jews were denigrated in various racist publications. Such an atmosphere led to the creation of political parties that were anti-Semitic in orientation. In France anti-Jewish views were expressed by various writers, providing the background to the Dreyfus Affair.
During this period vicious persecution in Russia drove many Jews to emigrate, while others sought to improve their position in society though revolutionary activities. In the years prior to the First World War Jews became scapegoats for the ills afflicting European countries. In Germany polemicists protested against the malevolent influence of Jewry. In Russia anti-Semites accused Jews of espionage and collaboration with the enemy. With the onset of the revolution, Jews were also charged with fermenting insurrection against authority.
Such Judaeophobia serves as the background to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. According to Hitler, the Jews constitute a vile race intent on seizing control of political, social and economic affairs. On the basis of Nazi racism grounded in the writings of earlier German thinkers, the Jewish community was subject to a series of restrictive measures and eventual plans for its extermination.
Thus, for nearly 4,000 years the Jewish people has been subject to prejudice, persecution and murder. The motives for such antipathy have been religious, economic, political and social. Even though numerous attempts have been made to curtail such Judaeophobia, antisemitism continues to exist in new forms. Is there no end to humanity's longest hatred?
By Dan Cohn-Sherbok