Anti-Semitism: A Discussion

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Anti-Semitism: A Discussion


Antisemitism is prejudice, hostility, and/or discrimination toward Jews as a racial, religious, and/or ethnic group on an individual, community, institutional, and/or societal level. Antisemitism can be categorized into three central forms: religious (anti-Judaism), racial/ethnic (classical Antisemitism), and political (anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist).

Diner (pp. 67) mentions this definition underscores a major problem with defining and understanding Antisemitism; that is, Jews cannot be adequately classified using the established taxonomies for cultural demography. This is primarily because Judaism is often viewed only as a religion and because of the erroneous assumption that all Jews are White; this inaccurate view of Judaism ignores the within-group diversity of Jews. In fact, the term anti-Semitism originally and erroneously referred to a Jewish racial group: Semites. There are differences in Jewish racial and ethnic origins (i.e., Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Mizrachim) and different identities both within the diverse Jewish religious denominations (e.g., Orthodox, Hasidic, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist) and within nonreligious Jews. Hence, Antisemitism consists of more than religious bias.

The term anti-Semitism was first used by Wilhelm Marr, a German national and political conservative, in 1879 to express anti-Jewish feelings. Marr's original intent was for political purposes, which was developed more fully into a “racial” concept when applied by the Nazis and later used as an anti-Israeli referent after the creation of the State of Israel (Diner, pp. 68-71). Finally, many scholars no longer hyphenate this term as anti-Semitism to cease the use of this word for anything other than its original intent: Jew-hatred. This has been done because some have attempted to use the term anti-Semitism for other purposes. Specifically, some Arabs have claimed they cannot be anti-Semitic because they themselves are Semitic. Others have attempted to use the term to be critical of Israel's interactions with other Semitic peoples of the Middle East. Hence, eliminating the hyphen takes the focus away from the term Semitic.

Prevalence of Antisemitism

Although there have been some suggestions that Antisemitism is no longer a problem, a 2005 Anti-Defamation League poll found that roughly one in six Americans (14%) hold “strongly antisemitic” views. In addition, there was a 17% increase from 2003 to 2004 with regard to the number of antisemitic incidents that were reported (i.e., 1,557 to 1,821); the 2004 figure represents the highest number of incidents in the past 9 years. Finally, of the 1,374 religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States committed during 2004, 954 (70%) were exclusively anti-Jewish, accounting for 12% of all 2004 bias crimes (Diner, pp. 78).

Examples of Antisemitism

Antisemitism has existed for more than 4,000 years and has manifested in a variety of ways, including negative stereotypes, oppression, discrimination, segregation, forced expulsion, pogroms, and genocide. Anti-Jewish prejudice dates back to when the ancient Hebrew people refused to accept foreign deities, particularly under Greek and Roman domination (Diner, pp. 72-74). Some examples of Antisemitism from history include the (a) exile of Jews from their homeland, (b) persecution of Jews after Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, (c) centrality of Christian teachings of ...
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