Myths about Antisemitism Debunked

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Racial discrimination, hatred toward various groups, and antisemitism are fueled by false beliefs. Conspiracy theories, disinformation, and prejudices all contribute to the prevalence of antisemitism, and it is important to debunk these. Here are five common beliefs that are not true.

Antisemitism Is Not a Problem Anymore

Antisemitism is clearly present in our society, and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. According to a 2018 FRA survey conducted in the European Union (EU) among those who identify as Jewish, “Simply being Jewish increases people’s likelihood of being faced with a sustained stream of abuse expressed in different forms, wherever they go, whatever they read and with whomever they engage”.

Moreover, a Special Eurobarometer survey on the perception of antisemitism conducted in 2018 among the population of the EU member states found that 50% of Europeans considers antisemitism a problem in their country.

An ADL’s research on antisemitism reveals that 24% of people in Western Europe, 34% in Eastern Europe, and 19% in the Americas harbor antisemitic attitudes. The highest ratio,  with 74%, is in the Middle East and North Africa. In Europe, the highest indicators were featured in Hungary with 42%, Ukraine with 46%, and Poland with 48%.

The Size of Jewish Population

People all over the world tend to overestimate the Jewish population. Hungarians overestimated the numbers the worst, with a quarter of respondents estimating that 20% of the world population is Jewish. The truth is, however, that the Jewish population of the world is estimated to be around 0.2%. Only Israel has a Jewish population of over 2%.

The definition of being Jewish is also not straightforward. Some are ethically Jewish, some follow the Jewish faith. Someone is Jewish either when they are born Jewish, or have converted to Judaism. The former category is known as ethnic Jews, and most Jews consider someone ethnically Jewish if their mother was Jewish, although it is not a rule held by all Jewish people.

But antisemitism not only targets Jewish people, but also those the haters believe to be Jewish. According to the IHRA, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The Jewish Influence

Overestimating the Jewish population goes hand in hand with overestimating the Jewish influence. A CNN poll revealed that in some European countries 28% of people thought that Jews have too much influence in finance and business.

The myth that Jews aspire for control over the banks and the media originated in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion published in Russia in the early 1900s. It outlined how Jewish leaders are meeting in secret at the Jewish cemetery of Prague and plot to take over the world. It is a complete fabrication that plagiarized literary works.

The false image that Jews are prominently working in finance iseven older, and it comes from the myth that Jews worked as moneylenders in the middle ages.

Antisemitism Is a Far-Right Phenomenon

When talking about antisemitism, most often people think of neo-Nazi thugs. That is not the case. Antisemitism can be and is present on all sides of the political spectrum, and are very prominent on both the far right and the far left.

Far-left antisemitism was already present in the works of Karl Marx (who was born Jewish). In his 1843 essay called On the Jewish Question he wrote: “What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist.”

The stereotype that Jewish people are rich and greedy, and that they corrupt non-Jewish people, is an important factor of far-left antisemitism. The Soviet Union had a long history of antisemitism, often masked as anti-Zionism or anti-cosmopolitanism.

The Soviet regime often exacerbated antisemitic sentiments leading to the murder of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. The most recent and prominent case of far-left antisemitism in Europe was that of a former UK Labor party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, under whose leadership antisemitism flourished in the party.

Islam Is Historically Antisemitic

Nowadays, Islam has an antisemitism problem. The most antisemitic regions are the Middle East and North Africa, the places of origin of many of Europe’s migrants. Even before the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, Europe saw a surge in antisemitic incidents perpetrated by people of Arab and Muslims background.

Antisemitic attitudes among Muslims in Europe are also higher than among the general population. One study, however, suggests that new migrants in Western Europe are more inclined towards democracy and living in peace, and that the surge of refugees is not the main contributing factor to the rise of antisemitic incidents, but the far right is.

With antisemitism running high in many of the Islamic countries, it might sound surprising that Jews and Muslims did not always have such a battered relationship. Despite some antisemitic atrocities under the Muslim conquest in the middle ages, many Jews lived on the conquered territories and they were allowed to practice their religion, although they were not treated equally.

The conditions of Jews under the Muslim rule are the subject of a heated debate, but the current antisemitism in Islamic countries is a relatively new phenomenon.

Antisemitism is a serious problem today, the misconceptions towards Jews are exploited by the far left, far right, and populists as well. It is important to act against it. You can learn more on what you can do by reading the Free Market Foundation’s Guide.


Continue exploring:

How to Counter Antisemitism?

Threats and Undermining of Press: Media Freedom in Hungary, Poland, Slovenia

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation