Connecting The Dots

Pew has recently reported on the global eruption of anti-Jewish incidents.

Jewish people were the targets of harassment in 94 countries in 2020, with incidents ranging from verbal and physical assaults to vandalism of cemeteries and scapegoating for the COVID-19 pandemic….

The U.S. hasn’t escaped that worldwide rise.  Violence focused on Jews and other minorities tends to spike in times of social and civil turmoil, and unscrupulous politicians are always willing to stoke the flames. (DeSantis recently  labeled New York DA Alvin Bragg a “Soros-funded” prosecutor, a reference clearly intended to suggest to the anti-Semitic Right that–while Bragg is Black– Jews are to blame for Trump’s expected indictment.) 

For obvious reasons, anti-Semitism is something I take personally. It is also a type of hatred I’ve found difficult to understand–so a recent podcast in which Yascha Mounk interviewed Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, was very enlightening.

In that Persuasion interview, Mounk raised several questions that have always bedeviled me. For example, the usual explanation for Christian hatred of Jews is religious–rooted in the bogus “Jews killed Jesus” accusation. (I always want to respond  by pointing out that Jews lacked the power to kill anyone; it was the Romans, dammit!) (We also don’t have space lasers…) But if you look at a survey of some of the worst eruptions of anti-Semitism–in the Inquisition and  Nazi Germany, for example– it becomes obvious that  conversion to Christianity doesn’t erase the hatred.

As Mounk noted,

If it’s purely religious, then it should be the case that the moment you convert that there should be no prejudice against you, you should be fully accepted. But if it has an ethnic, racial, and perhaps in certain ways, cultural element, then you go on to say, “Well, OK, you’ve converted, but you’re still a Jew.” Now, obviously, that’s true in the Holocaust: many, many murdered Jews were Protestants and Catholics, had been baptized, and the Nazis didn’t care.

The  whole conversation was edifying , but one observation by Greenblatt triggered an epiphany for me.

What’s different is that anti-Semitism, as the Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt has written, is a kind of conspiracy theory about how the world works that posits that the Jew, the Eternal Jew, in some way is responsible for whatever is wrong. Colorism, we call it racism today, isn’t new. It’s been going on for thousands of years. But that’s where someone feels superior to someone else. Anti-Semitism is “the Jews who are responsible for controlling business, manipulating government, the world’s wars, cheating me,” whatever. There’s a set of recurring myths that seem to cross cultures—that have been reinforced, again, by different sociocultural forces over time—that keep this alive. But I think the conspiratorial nature of anti-Semitism makes it very different. We’re living in a time that is shaped by social media, where we’re trapped in our filter bubbles in a world where everything has become relative. Conspiracy theories are often the coin of the realm in a world in which nothing can be believed and in which anything is possible. People always feel like something is working against them. We shouldn’t be surprised that anti-Semitism not just festers but flourishes in a world in which systems also seem to be failing. Our politics are failing. Markets are failing. Our expectations aren’t being met. That creates the kind of space where populist demagogues come in and their typical toolbelt is blame: “Well, it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the Jew.” And so the conspiratorial dimension of anti-Semitism, which, again, I think is somewhat unique, because of its recurring nature and how amorphous it is. The immigrant takes your job. The welfare queen takes your money. But the Jew does all of it. 

Until recently, I hadn’t really thought about the prevalence–and enduring political utility– of conspiracy theories, or the recurring role they play in offering comprehensible “explanations” of complicated realities. It has only been with the advent of social media and the Trumpers that I have come to appreciate the role that conspiratorial beliefs play in society, and the way they fulfill the very human need to simplify a bewildering social environment, to understand why-why is my life going the way it is?  Why does that person make more money, or have more friends, or [fill in the blank] than I do?

For many people, ambiguity is intolerable. Such people desperately need to construct a simpler world–preferably, a world where “people like me” are clearly good and others are just as clearly evil. They need to believe– in an ideology, or religion, or a comforting conspiracy theory that tells them who to blame for their problems.

 Conspiratorial world-views require villains. Presumably, with space lasers…


  1. And of course conspiracy theories are a lazy person’s way of explaining the world around them.

    Sitting in classes, doing research, gathering data and statistics and writing papers are way too much work…..and learning all those big words.

    And finally, there’s that really big conspiracy theory: Christianity….. which requires only a little faith and has that huge escape clause. What could be easier?

  2. Growing up in a Staunch Republican family during the 1940s and 1950s, I began internally questioning the mumbling against Jewish store owners in the neighborhood and outright hatred of blacks; none of whom were known by nor had they ever acted against my parents or their friends. Children during that era didn’t question parents; at least outwardly so no idea how my friends felt about the issues. We didn’t talk among ourselves, having no contact with Jews or blacks to talk about. What were the beginnings of racism and antisemitism in teen years of our older generations today? Was there a starting point in the 1950s and 1960s that led to the level of distrust and hatred today that has been resurrected to dangerous levels? I didn’t understand racism or antisemitism as a very young child and I understand even less as a very old lady.

    Is antisemitism why the movie “The Ten Commandments” no longer televised on Easter Sunday? I always looked forward to watching it and miss it since it has disappeared from the annual showing. I have always wanted to have Jewish friends to ask about their religion and their family lives to see if there was an obvious, outward identifying factor. Using Sheila as my only example I find only an intelligent, educated woman with an extended, mixed family with the same values I have; we don’t always agree but we do always accept one another’s differences. Our primary goal is to save America and all people in America and to restore democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution of the nation.


  3. I dislike the Zionists in Israel and beyond. It doesn’t take much research to confirm or justify my unfavorable attitude toward Zionists.

    As for anti-semitism, it takes a colorful imagination. Mostly, the stories being told aren’t at all amusing.

    Enough said.

    I do wonder how the Chinese will deal with Israel…

  4. For some time now I have come to believe that the hatred I see and hear is nothing but projection… the projection of what someone knows about themselves placed upon another so that they do not have to face their own truth. When Trump calls Bragg a criminal and worse he is really talking about himself.

  5. Theresa,

    I believe you have hit the main nail on its proverbial head. Couple projection with the concept of the aggrieved, intellectually lazy (Thanks, Terry, for confirming one of my favorite explanations), self-serving ideologue, and you have it. Hating Jews is just another way of saying these wretches hate anyone but them or their “kind”.

    Markets failing. Societies failing. Governments failing. Hmmm. Why do you suppose that’s the case? Haven’t we humans anointed ourselves as the smartest organism on the planet? Maybe it’s the fact that we can’t manage a gathering of more than a couple dozen. Now, we have a global population of over 8 billion humans, one-third of which are food insecure and live in abject poverty. So much for the community of man as ordained by the con men like Joel Osteen. While jackasses like that get stinking rich off of the fears of the ignorant and lazy, hatred abounds.

    Maybe we aren’t as smart as we think we are.

  6. Scapegoating is a strategy that has been used for as long as different groups of people have been in conflict with each other. The players change but the purpose remains the same. It’s always dishonest and is always about power. The antidote is education. It seems to me that education is almost always the solution to our problems.

  7. Theresa and Vern are on to something. I recall in a family gathering long ago when discussing Judaism that a liberal multi-degreed lady relative when I remarked that I would have no problem marrying a Jewess quickly (and to my surprise) retorted: “Well, I wouldn’t!”

    I suppose she had long since developed her own rationale for such learned prejudice (as prejudices are), and I suspect The Merchant of Venice may have had as much to do with such bias as the biblical story of a Roman cruxification of a revolutionary who was disrupting local order (which was initiated and approved by local temple authorities), though today such executions are not public and are accomplished by poison, electricity, or lately, the return of firing squads.

    Blaming others for our personal predicaments and public torts via projection and other such psychological devices is helpful in explaining and forgiving our shortcomings and providing relief from responsibility for our own actions, just as it was for the “temple authorities” of that day and Trump and his renegades today. As my old World Politics professor noted, other than in science and invention not much has changed for as (as he insisted on calling us) homo saps.

  8. Where are you Todd? Jews were forced by governments out of many types of jobs so they became merchants and lenders, some of whom became well-off. Thus, disproportionately, they were tagged as “the rich”/oligarchs (hello Mr. Soros). Since much of the angst of regular people’s lives comes via the rich, it must be the Jews. Ironic, as antisemitism in most countries kept Jews from positions of power.

  9. I have often thought, if Jews are so smart they rule the US with only 2% of the population, what does that say about the intelligence of the other 98%? Can critical thinking skills be taught? So far I’m not seeing it.

  10. What is really incongruous is that most of the MAGATS aren’t doing that badly. They aren’t the best educated, but they do have jobs and aren’t poor. After Charlottesville I opined that I didn’t think any of the Jews I knew had any desire to replace the khaki wearing boy band of haters in their sales jobs at the “buy here pay here” car lot down the street.

    That said, I still believe that fear is the easiest, cheapest, most effective method of ginning up any base. We have a long way to go to make our species smart enough to avoid the easy, cheap BS offered far too often by politicians.

  11. I detest Putin but not Russians, Bolsonaro but not Brazilians, Duterte but not Filipinos, Orban but not Hungarians, Museveni but not Ugandans, etc. I hate what these countries/governments are doing and becoming under these “leaders”.

    I hate Netanyahu and what Israel is doing, especially with regards to the Palestinians, in exactly the same way. Oddly, that gets one labeled (at least by the right) as anti-semitic. It’s not. But it certainly is frustrating.

  12. In my experience hanging around the planet there are two completely personal topics, sex and religion. Strange company.

    Some religion is entirely internal, most sex is only between two willing partners but some religion and all race and most gender assignment is very external.

    Those with outsized egos prey on external symbols that challenge their internal assumptions of superiority. That’s their means to impose their internal reality on others.

    In a liberal democracy such imposition is and should be unlawful in order to protect personal freedom.

  13. No, the Jews did not kill Jesus, but A Jew did “out” him to the Romans, leading to the phrase,
    among others, “The Judas goat,” the one that leads its kind to the slaughter/goat harvest.
    Of course, as this was all in their “God’s plan,” Judas, and the Jews ought to have long been
    admired for their role in God’s plan. But that would not have helped the Catholic church of the
    day aquire (more) power.
    The reason that Jews that had converted did not halt their killing, in Nazi Germany, was the
    Nazi’s focus on clearing the “race” from the planet. From their sick eugenics perspective, the religion
    of a person of the Jewish “race,” bogus though the idea of race is, would not have cleansed the
    planet of their supposed odious impact on the human gene pool.
    Vernon, you are right, we are not, nearly, as smart as we think we are.
    Todd, the Anti-Semitism you grew up with was passed on to your parents generation, by their
    parents generation, and all the way back. Anti-semitism was rampant in the good old U.S. of A,
    long before your/our parents’ generation. Nixon did not pluck it, newborn, out of thin air, for example.
    A reading of Michael Shermer’s “Conspiracy- Why The Rational Believe The Irrational,” might shed
    some additional light on the concept.
    The dots were “always” there, and TFG put a spotlight on them!

  14. OK – with apologies to Sheila, I am temporarily breaking my ban on responding to this topic.
    First of all, I wish to apologize. The Jews managed to have lasted, in one form or another, from being a Bronze Age tribe until the present. Many think we should have gone the way of the Sumerians, but here we are. I will point out that, by one estimate, for every Jew alive today, without antisemitic murders, there would have been ten instead.

    Second, there are good Jews and bad, just like with everyone else. There are also Jewish crazies, even MAGA people (they won’t come for me, I support Trump – some people never learn from history).

    I will refrain from comments on why, for those who wish to pick and choose, they can find justification for antisemitism in their scriptures. Just to be clear, for those who want, they can find it.

    A bit of history from a recent article in Science. This is based on the construction of a parking structure leading to the uncovering of an ancient (relatively) cemetery, culminating in an archeological investigation. Erfurt, a town in Germany had Jews and Christians living together and interacting daily. There was no evidence of intermarriage. There were Jewish shops in the middle of town, next to Christian ones. Synagogues and ritual baths were also in the middle of town. Then, in 1354, the Christians decided to kill all of the Jews. The Archbishop of Mainz, who had granted permission for Jews to live there, forced to towns people to pay restitution (the article doesn’t say to whom). Five years later, Jews from all over Europe were invited to come to Erfurt (ancient DNA contrasts the original homogeneous population with the more diverse later population). In 1454, permission for Jews to reside in town was revoked and all the Jews were expelled.

    This is the ebb and flow of antisemitism, as it has been throughout history.

    Now onto Israel. Like John H, I hate Putin, but not the Russians, Duterte, but not the Filipinos, etc. I also hate Netanyahu. I also believe that the “Palestinians” deserve a homeland (note that before the establishment of Israel, that term applied only to Jews). All fine, if you stop there. Too many people don’t. Those, like Todd, not unsurprisingly, are anti-Zionist. UN conferences on racism have seemed to decided that the only racism to confront is “Zionism”, which was also once defined as “racism” by UN resolution. A conference on “women’s issues” devolved into a denunciation of “Zionism”.

    So, what is this Zionism. It is nothing less than the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish People. People in colonial Africa could have a national liberation movement. The Palestinians can have a national liberation movement, but when the Jews wanted one, it is not allowed. It is evil.

    That is antisemitism. Hating Netanyahu or believing in a Palestinian state is not.

    Note – the colonialists were the Turkish and then the British. The term Palestinian comes from the Philistines, a colonial power, and was imposed on the region by Imperial Rome.

    One aside – in 1968, a young Trotskyite (YPSL member) told me why the “left” hates Israel. They were pro-Israel until 1967 because they always favor the underdog, but Israel won, so now they had to support the Palestinians. Forgive Israel for preventing another holocaust.

    Todd – on China – this is third hand, but, the journalist Robert St. John once said at a public forum that at its inception, Israel was talking with India and China about creating a non-allied block, not favoring Russia or the US, but the US intervened. I have no details, but find it, at least believable. My mother was in attendance, and told me later that evening, but, I still consider this third hand – not verified.

    As a book recommendation, Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial.

    Again apologies to Sheila, as this topic leads to bad places, and I could have tripled the size of this post with stories, but I return to my previous self-imposed silence.

  15. I fully accept and appreciate being Jewish! I also am strongly Anti-Zionist. (quote follows from 1919!! – Its signers ‘objected to the creation of a distinctly Jewish state in Palestine’ not only because they feared it would jeopardize the status of Jews like themselves in the home countries, but because they found it ‘contrary “to the principles of democracy’ to elevate Jewish immigrants over Palestine’s Muslim and Christian native inhabitants. … They petitioned instead for Palestine to be ‘made into an independent , free, and democratic state that would not recognize any distinctions of creed, race, or ethnic descent among its citizens – ( see: ) – A huge number of Jews – are Not white (my partner included) – 80% of such Jews report significant racism – within their Jewish community. Anti-Semitism – is very real – and very dangerous! The Christian – Evangelical – Right – are the strongest – Zionists, and we – who are Jewish – are often complicit – in the well over 100 year denial of Palestinian rights. Beyond Christian Dominance – (BCD) – – is an excellent group – including Jews and non-Jews – focused upon – “Christianity against Judaism” – and I would note that some members are – Christian ministers. Paul Kivel – see: – is a wonderful close friend and ally – who writes a lot about these issues together with racism and sexism.

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