Let’s start off with a trivia question: what do Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Albert Einstein, Jack Black, Natalie Portman, and Jerry Seinfeld have in common?
They’re all Jewish. So are Jews evil then?
Right off the bat, you can see that these are not exactly enemies of mankind. Yet they are part of an ethnic and cultural heritage that is consistently derided as being an evil threat to the rest of us.
Below we’ll look at the curious case of antisemitism, why people fall into its trap, and how to see past it.
The Boogeyman Trap
Humanity loves a boogeyman.
We can’t help it. It’s how we’re wired — we love an “us versus them” narrative. Throughout human history, it’s been proven time and time again that people will unite over a common enemy. In fact, research has shown that bonds over a shared enemy are stronger than bonds over a shared idol.
Think about it: whenever a firebrand political figure wants to consolidate a following, the first thing they find is someone to hate. There are plenty of historical examples of this:
- Hitler rose to power by blaming just about everything on Jews. This was strange since Jews were less than 1% of the population and had fought and died for Germany in World War I.
- Modern populist leaders like Bolsonaro (Brazil) and Trump (USA) waged culture wars to gain approval. Jair Bolsonaro gained power by openly calling for the destruction of indigenous peoples’ cultures in the Amazon. Donald Trump has alternately used groups such as Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, and Democrats as boogeymen. Both leaders present themselves as brave crusaders against an unjust majority.
- American politician Bernie Sanders points to the “one percent” as the sole cause of most economic woes. In fairness, Sanders has never promoted violence and is mainly concerned with reducing economic inequality, but his rallying cry has been populist in nature.
- Senator Joseph McCarthy rose to power based on claims that communists were infiltrating American society. McCarthy charged hundreds of people as being “known communists” and had many of them arrested, though his charges were eventually exposed as baseless.
- Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines) has killed over 12,000 Filipinos who he claims were “drug holders” and “do-nothings.” Duterte even openly encouraged the murder of anyone struggling with addiction, saying in his inauguration speech, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.”
- British politician Nigel Farage built a political career on anti-E.U. sentiment, coupled with propagandizing against refugees and stirring up fear of outsiders.
These people can fairly be called demagogues, which we can define as any leader who reduces every situation to us vs. them. Unfortunately, we are at risk of sinking further into their trappings.
That brings us to the point of this article: are Jews evil?
Judaism ≠ Israel
To avoid any confusion here, we must clarify something: there is a difference between a people and that people’s government.
For example, you may disagree with the United States’ invasion of Iraq, but that doesn’t make every American evil. Or perhaps you disagree with Russia’s choice to invade Ukraine, but that doesn’t make people in Siberia evil by default.
Most of us do not represent our governments. We’re all vulnerable to poor representation and leadership, and most of us don’t have the luxury of abandoning our countries whenever we disagree with our leaders.
This is important because there’s a tendency to equate Jews with Israel. Israel was created in 1947 as an independent state where Jews could escape persecution — hardly an unreasonable request since two out of every three Jews had been systematically murdered in World War II. The resulting state of Israel, which today is home to over 9 million people, is like any country: full of mostly good people who want to live their lives in peace.
Unfortunately, Israel itself doesn’t exactly have the best human rights record. Amnesty International has said the country imposes an “institutionalized regime of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people.”
Due to modern religious and political tensions between Muslim-majority and Judeo-Christian-majority countries, many in the world tend to conflate Jews with Israel.
Antisemitism: Why Is It So Widespread?
Antisemitism is confounding, yet it persists throughout history and continues to rear its ugly head today. The roots of antisemitism can be traced back to ancient times when Jews were often viewed as outsiders due to their unique religious practices and cultural traditions. Today, this outsider status has made them an easy target for those looking to scapegoat someone for society’s ills.
It’s important to note that antisemitism is not limited to a particular time period or geographic region. It has reared its head in societies around the world, from ancient Rome to modern-day America.
Jews have been accused of everything from being greedy moneylenders to orchestrating global conspiracies. These accusations are, of course, unfounded and baseless, but they remain.
One theory as to the origins of antisemitism is rooted in religion. Early Christian teachings often demonized Jews as “Christ-killers” and held them responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. This religious-based antisemitism continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era.
Another theory suggests that antisemitism stems from economic and social factors. Jews, throughout history, have often been successful in business and finance. This success has led to envy and resentment from those who feel excluded or left behind by economic progress.
Whatever the origins of antisemitism may be, one thing is clear: it is a harmful and destructive force that has caused immeasurable pain and suffering throughout history.
How to Avoid Propaganda
In summary, Jews are not evil — they’ve simply been a common scapegoat.
Though we can’t stop our leaders and fellow citizens from demagoguery, we can learn to identify it and name it when we see it. Don’t be fooled: Jews are not evil, and anyone who says otherwise has a bigger and more sinister agenda to accomplish. Practice spreading love and it will come back to you multiplied.
[…] even when the scriptures are telling them to be peaceful instead. It’s not unlike the many misconceptions about Jewish people that have led to […]