The roots of anti-semitism

Submitted by AWL on 23 March, 2006 - 3:49 Author: Mark Osborn

Anti-semitism, or anti-Jewish prejudice is an ancient form of racism.

Unlike modern anti-black racism, the roots of which lie in the trade in slaves and the rise of capitalist colonialism, going back perhaps 400 years, anti-semitism dates back to conflicts inside the Roman Empire.

In AD 313 the Emperor Constantine the Great gave Christianity supremacy inside the Empire. The Christians used their new power to persecute their Jewish rivals. The Jews were blamed for what was for Christians the worst crime in history: “The Jews killed Christ”.

The Christians wanted a clear line of demarcation between the Jews and those they might “seduce” into their faith. On this basis, the Jews were excluded from many jobs, driven into ghettos, made to wear special clothes to distinguish them from others. The Jews began to fill the jobs which others did not want. They filled particular economic roles in medieval societies. For example, the job of money-lender, considered sinful but necessary to the functioning of the economy, was allowed to Jews. The money lender was a disgusting figure to the peasant who has borrowed in order to live and must pay back what he borrowed and a lot extra in interest. And so the Jews, forced into a particular role, reinforced the prejudice against them. That is often the lot of the oppressed.

In a similar way, black slaves were denied schooling and then were blamed for their ignorance.

In many countries in Europe the Jews met terrible fates. In Germany, 146 Jewish communities were wiped out during the year 1298 after the Jews of one town were accused of a “ritual murder”.

The Jews were expelled from various countries — England in 1290, France in 1306 (and then again more completely in 1394), from Spain in 1492, Portugal in 1497, Naples in 1540, Vienna in 1690, and Bohemia in 1745.

The French Revolution of the late 18th century ushered in the ideas of the rising capitalist class — democratic ideas of liberty and equality. At its high point the French revolution freed both the black slaves in French colonies and the Jews from the laws which discriminated against them. Jews in Western Europe emerged from the ghettos, as citizens. The Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia remained downtrodden.

After 1881, in Russia, a country with a massive peasantry under economic pressure from the coming of capitalism, a new wave of terrible massacres took place — “pogroms” devastated 160 Jewish communities in that year. The Jews were particularly vulnerable in Tsarist Russia. There were 600 laws against them. They were forced into a particular area — the Pale.

A new Jewish response emerged, that of the Zionists, separatists who wanted a Jewish state for the Jewish people where they would be safe from the anti-semites. Jewish socialists like Leon Trotsky opposed the Zionists, arguing that Jew and non-Jew should unite in the workers’ movement, oppose the Russian Tsar and fight for socialism and equality for all. The Russian Revolution of 1917 won equality under the law for the Jews. The Bolsheviks, the party of Lenin and Trotsky, fought to make formal equality a living reality.

In the late 19th century, traditional Christian anti-semitism began to be bound up with the rabid nationalism which was generated as the European powers expanded — and murdered — their way across the globe.

Anti-semitism filtered into the workers’ and socialist movements. “Jewish bankers” were blamed for a crisis which was the fault of the capitalists as a whole. This was rightly described by leading socialists as “the socialism of idiots”.

Of course, Jews were mostly poor. And it was the poor Jewish workers, fleeing the pogroms in eastern Europe, who were the first victims of British immigration laws. The first immigration law was not directed against black people: the Aliens Act of 1905 aimed to keep Jews out of Britain. Shamefully, it was supported by some in the labour movement.

Amid the crisis and chaos of post World War One Europe, a new threat emerged. In Germany the Nazis led by Hitler developed a vitriolic anti-semitism. Nazi anti-semitism was so contradictory and downright mad that they blamed the Jews both for Bolshevik-Communism and capitalism.

The defeat of the European labour movements in the 1930s led directly to the victory of the fascist barbarians and the greatest crime ever committed the genocide of 6,000,000 Jews — an attempt to exterminate a whole people.

After the Holocaust the Zionists grew to become a majority amongst the Jewish people, stimulated by continuing anti-semitism in Europe. For example, Jewish Holocaust survivors returning to Poland in 1946, to their former homes, were met with further massacres. Anti-semitism continues to this day as a powerful force in Poland.

There is a powerful mutant strand of “left” anti-semitism which treats Israel as a peculiarly bad state and which would deny to the Israeli Jewish people the same rights as to other such peoples — the right to a state. These pretend-left politics combine traditional ideas with the “anti-imperialism of idiots” and a type of “anti-Zionism” which originated in Stalin’s USSR.

There is also a noticeable strand of anti semitism in the black movement.

For example, Louis Farrakhan has said that his organisation, the Nation of Islam, is attacked by the media because Jews “control the mass media, newspapers, the radio”.

Believing it reasonable to use the word “Zionist” to cover up anti-semitism, Farrakhan peddles the craziest of crazy conspiracy theories, one which is also popular on the left — the theory that “the Zionists” made a deal with Adolf Hitler to massacre their own people!

So, anti-semitism continues as a dangerous, powerful force even amongst radicals and socialists. We must confront it and fight it wherever we find it.

The “socialists” who excuse the anti-semitism of people like Farrakhan on the grounds that “the racism of the oppressed is not the same as the racism of the oppressor” not only patronise black people but also betray the anti-racist cause they want to serve. All racism — including black anti-semitism — is poison. It must be fought and wiped out.

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