Historical Term: Anti-Semitism

“Anti-Semitism Term first applied in the mid-19th century to denote animosity toward the Jews. Throughout the middle ages the Jews faced hostility on religious grounds and because, unlike Catholics, they were allowed to practice usury. Modern anti-Semitism differs in being largely politically and economically motivated, doctrinaire, and based on a pseudo-scientific rationale devised by, for example, Gobineau (1816-82), Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927) and Nazi ‘philosophers.’ In the 1870s a group of German writers, using the linguistic distinctions ‘Semitic’ and ‘Aryan’ as racial terms, began speaking of the Jews and a distinct and inferior race. Anti-Semitic political parties were active in both Germany and Austria-Hungary in the 1880s while pogroms began in Russia in 1882. In France the 1894 Dreyfus case revealed a large core of anti-Semitic feeling. Between 1905 and 1909 anti-Jewish violence on a large scale again broke out in Tsarist Russia, particularly in Lithuania and Poland. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries thousands of Jews from eastern Europe fled to Britain and the USA. From 1920 to 1933 Hitler expounded theories of racial supremacy and blamed the Jews for Germany’s misfortunes. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 codified Nazi theories of race, denied Jews citizenship and forbade them to marry Aryans; in 1938 Jewish property was confiscated. During World War II over five million Jews were murdered in concentration camps. Since 1945 anti-Semitism has usually been a reaction to Zionism and the state of Israel. In the USSR anti-Semitism re-emerged in 1953 and there was serious violence against Jewish communities in 1958-9. In 1962-3 Jews were executed for ‘economic crimes’ and until recently many Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel have been imprisoned.”

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.

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