The Middle East conflict is historically, politically and religiously charged. That’s what makes it so complicated. Some positions in the debate are described as anti-Semitic. But what exactly is anti-Semitism? And where does the centuries-old anti-Semitism come from?
Specialist editor for religion
Dorothee Adrian is religion editor at SRF. She studied theology at the University of Basel. Before her time at SRF, she worked at Tageswoche in Basel and at Mission 21.
Where does anti-Semitism originate?
Anti-Semitism is rooted in Christian anti-Judaism. This is as old as Christianity itself. Initially, the Jesus movement was an internal Jewish reform movement. Then more and more non-Jewish people arrived, which led to tensions. The paths diverged between the 2nd and 4th centuries. In order to differentiate the new religious movement that became Christianity from Judaism, Jews were accused of murdering Jesus. With this accusation, parts of Christianity broke away from their Jewish tradition – they became anti-Jewish. “These” Jews were no longer their own people, but became “the” others. Later anti-Semitism is linked to this so-called “othering”.
What is “Othering”?
In sociology, the term “othering” refers to the distancing of the group to which you feel you belong from other groups.
How did anti-Semitism develop?
From the 4th century onwards there were attacks on Jews. From the 6th century onwards, there were anti-Jewish regulations that separated Jewish people from the majority society. In the Middle Ages, bans pushed Jews into commercial professions and credit trading. Legends of well poisoning or ritual murders were attributed to the “others,” namely the Jewish minority. This was always linked to the question of guilt. Now this was not primarily: “Who killed Jesus?” But for example: “Where does the plague come from?” During the Middle Ages, Jews were expelled from England, France, Spain and Portugal.
How has anti-Semitism manifested itself since the Enlightenment?
In the 18th and 19th centuries, anti-Semitism was reinforced in a pseudo-scientific, racist way. This is how the SIG describes it in its anti-Semitism fact sheet. It was said that there was a “Jewish race” with certain characteristics. The National Socialists condensed negative stereotypes, conspiracy accusations and blame and propagated an ideology that denied Jewish people the right to exist.
What are the most common characteristics of anti-Semitism?
In short, it is a “certain perception of Jews that can be expressed as hatred towards Jews,” as it is described in the short definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance IHRA, of which Switzerland is a member. This could be directed against individuals and community institutions in word and deed. A distinction is made between religious, social, political, nationalist and racist anti-Semitism. Mixed forms usually occur.
These are the forms of anti-Semitism
- For the religious anti-Semitism includes the accusation of “deicide”.
- The social anti-Semitism excluded Jewish people, which led to stereotypes such as the “usurer”.
- The political anti-Semitism spreads the conspiracy narrative that Jews are secretly working toward world domination.
- The nationalist anti-Semitism excludes Jewish citizens and assumes they are disloyal.
- The racist anti-Semitism evaluates it as inherently negative.
Is criticism of the State of Israel anti-Semitic?
Not necessarily – but it can be. To test this, Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli minister, developed the so-called “3D test”. The three terms “demonization, double standards and delegitimization” can be used to check whether criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Is the state viewed as fundamentally bad (demonization)? Are actions evaluated differently because they are carried out by this state (double standard)? Or: Will the State of Israel be denied its right to exist (delegitimization)?