Antisemitism – then and now

Most people know about the Nazi genocide (mass murder) of Europe’s Jews during World War II. Even today, prejudice and hatred against Jews is a serious problem.

Myths of Jewish conspiracies are circulating on the web, extreme political groups are spreading hate, and attacks against Jews have increased in several countries.

Prejudice and hatred against Jews is called antisemitism.

In this material, you will learn about antisemitism, both in the past and today, and what you can do to fight prejudice and hate.

Jewish – what does it mean?

According to Jewish religious law, you are considered Jewish if you have a Jewish mother, or if you have converted to Judaism (adopted the Jewish religion). But Jewish identity can mean different things to different people. For some, it is mainly a religious identity, while for others it is also, or only, a cultural or national identity.

The first Jews lived in the area that today is Israel and Palestine. Jewish minorities have lived in Europe for more than 2,000 years, and in Sweden since the end of the 1700s. There are currently about 20,000 Jews in Sweden.

Long history of persecution

In Europe, Jews have been subjected to discrimination and persecution for hundreds of years.

The Christian Church accused the Jews of killing Jesus. During the Middle Ages, lies were spread, saying that Jews killed Christian children in religious rituals, poisoned wells, and that they had caused the plague (the Black Death).

In many places, the accusations led to massacres of Jews, and Jews being forced to leave.

Myths in modern times

Antisemitism is largely based on prejudices and myths that have been passed down through history and adapted to new political circumstances.

In the 1800s and 1900s, antisemitism was influenced by nationalism and racism. Jews were described as outsiders, and as a dangerous ethnic group or “race” that did not belong in European countries.

A myth began to spread, saying that Jews were secretly conspiring to take power over the world. Nazi Germany used all these accusations to justify their persecution of Jews.

Leading up to World War II, antisemitism was widespread in many European countries. Prejudices against Jews were common also in Sweden. But there were also many people who saw through the lies and fought against bigotry and hatred.

Antisemitism today

Antisemitism is a serious problem also today. It has become more visible in Sweden, Europe, and the USA, and is prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa.

Prejudice and hatred against Jews can occur in many different contexts, such as at school and on the internet. The most extreme forms of antisemitism are found in far-right and radical Islamist groups.
Many of the antisemitic ideas that are being spread today have historic roots.

Examples include stereotypes that Jews are rich, stingy and powerful, as well as images that portray Jews as threatening, hook-nosed figures who pull the strings behind the scenes.

Conspiracy theories

Still today, the myth of a Jewish world conspiracy is a central part of anti-Jewish propaganda. Claims that Jews have enormous power over politics, banks and the media, and that they secretly control most of what happens in the world, are common.

These notions are also behind claims that the Holocaust is a “lie” made up by Jews to gain economic benefits and support for Israel.

Code words

Since openly expressed antisemitism and racism in some countries is not considered acceptable, and could even be punishable, code words are sometimes used. Common code words for Jews in antisemitic propaganda are “Zionists”, “globalists”, “Rothschild” and “cultural Marxists”. Words like “Illuminati” and the “New World Order” may also be used in this way.

Antisemitism in the debate over Israel

Criticism of Israel’s policies is not antisemitism, but sometimes prejudice and hatred of Jews becomes part of the debate on Israel. This happens, for example, when Jews outside of Israel are attacked and held accountable for Israel’s policies, or when criticism of Israel uses antisemitic images or claims.

What does antisemitism lead to?

Throughout history, antisemitism has led to discrimination and persecution. The most extreme example is the murder of nearly six million Jews by Nazi Germany.

Today’s antisemitism also has serious consequences for Jews. It leads to hate crimes and violence, and creates insecurity and fear amongst Jewish minorities.

But antisemitism also has negative consequences for the people who are prejudiced against Jews. A person who believes that hidden Jewish conspiracies control politics, the economy and the media do not understand how the world works. With such beliefs, you cannot analyse what is going on in the world in a sensible way, nor will you be able to act sensibly.

What can you do?

What can you do to fight prejudice and hatred against Jews?

Learn about antisemitism. Find out more about the history and causes of antisemitism. Read the texts here at “Antisemitism – då och nu”. What anti-Jewish prejudices and conspiracy theories exist? What has hatred of Jews led to historically, and what consequences does it have today?

Speak out when someone is spreading prejudices and myths about Jews. Explain that such statements are false, and that they are a threat to both Jews and democratic society.

Say no to all kinds of prejudice and racism. Opposing racism against one group, but thinking that hatred towards another group is okay, has no part in anti-racism. If prejudices against one group are accepted, there is a greater risk that prejudices against other groups will also be accepted.