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What is Antisemitism?

Antisemitism led to the murder of more than 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
Adolf Hitler promoted antisemitism during the Holocaust.
Antisemitism is often grounded in stereotypical misperceptions about Jews as well as Judaism as a whole.
Prior to and during the Holocaust, members of the Jewish faith were forced to wear identifying badges in the shape of the Star of David.
Sculpture of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor.
Morning prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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Antisemitism is a form of hatred and prejudice directed at people of the Jewish faith, or people of Jewish descent. The history of antisemitism is ancient, with ample examples of persecution of the Jewish people from history, and it continues to be a problem. In fact, thanks to an explosion of tensions in the Middle East in the late 20th century, researchers documented a distinct rise in antisemitism in the 1990s and early 21st century, despite widespread global recognition that prejudice and discrimination are not acceptable.

There are a number of different forms of antisemitism. In religious antisemitism, also known as Anti-Judaism, people of the Jewish faith are attacked for their religious beliefs. Jewish people are at a distinct disadvantage in many communities, since they tend to be a minority, and their religious beliefs cause them to stand out, making them easy targets for antisemitic attacks. This is especially true of devout Orthodox Jewish communities, in which numerous clearly visible expressions of Judaism are an important part of life. Antisemitism can also be cultural in origin, with attacks based on the cultural heritage of the Jewish people, or ethnic in nature, despite the fact that the Jews are a very ethnically diverse people.

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Historically, antisemitic behavior has manifested in a variety of ways. In some communities, the Jewish people were isolated, forced to live in particular areas and forbidden from working in certain fields. Jewish people were also persecuted and expelled en masse in numerous events, of which the most famous is probably the Holocaust of the 20th century. Even in regions where discrimination against the Jewish people was theoretically outlawed, Jewish individuals faced bias and prejudice which made it difficult to find jobs, homes, and a place in the community.

Numerous reasons have been cited for the deep-seated hatred of the Jewish people which has manifested repeatedly in history. The most likely explanation is that Jewish people tend to stand out as “others,” thanks to the fact that a history of persecution has led many Jewish communities to work very hard to retain their cultural and religious traditions. The influence of powerful rhetoric has also played a role, with political leaders using the Jews as an easy target for hatred to distract populations from pressing problems.

A big part of antisemitism has also included stereotypes about the Jewish people, and many of these stereotypes, such as the idea that Jewish people are greedy, have been heavily played up in antisemitic rhetoric, perpetuating hatred in some communities. Misinformation about Judaism has also abounded in the past, as in the case of Anti-Judaism rhetoric about the Jews being responsible for the death of Christ (Himself a Jew), or Jewish people using the blood of Christian children in secret “masses.” Needless to say, Christ died because He was a political enemy of the Roman state, and Jewish people are just as opposed to murdering children as everyone else is, but the fact that these legends have endured for centuries illustrates the entrenched nature of antisemitism around the world.

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