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Conspiracy theories concerning Jews: Introduction
Jews have been at the receiving end of false accusations that they might conspire together secretly to act malevolently against non-Jews, very long before modern conspiracy theories arose. Possibly the oldest of these accusations is deicide, as in ‘The Jews killed Jesus/God’, which has been around for 2000 years. We cover this further in our section on Christian antisemitism. Another old Christian conspiracy theory, this one conceived in medieval England, is the Blood Libel. This is the idea that Jews baked their Passover matzo (bread) using the blood of Christian Children. Both of these have led directly to the death of countless Jews over the years.
In modern times, conspiracy theories abound, and generally involve a belief that a group of Jews control or are plotting to control the world, or at any rate bear responsibility for major catastrophes and disasters. This notion started at least as far back as 1806, when a forged letter was used by an émigré from the French Revolution, Barruel, to suggest that Jews were involved in a Masonic conspiracy to overthrow the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds banking family seem to have started in 1846 with the false allegation that Nathan de Rothschild profited unfairly from the Battle of Waterloo, and have proliferated in the twentieth century. But the myth of an international Jewish conspiracy developed most strongly in later 19th century Europe in places such as Germany and Poland. Russians picked up on this idea and ran with it in the form of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a forged work published in 1902 which claims to be the minutes of a group of Jews who are planning world dominance. It is the foundational text of all modern antisemitic conspiracy theories which purport to reveal a Jewish conspiracy behind world events and governments, and it was highly influential on the worldview of Hitler and the Nazis, as well as on various regimes in the Middle East where it is still widely circulated. This work is still very popular on social media and has also fed into New World Order conspiracies, Illuminati and other related ideas. In this way it is not an exaggeration to say that all global control conspiracies eventually come down to, at least in part, ‘blaming the Jews’.
Where there is actual power in the world, the Jews are frequently accused of having disproportionate influence and control. We have mentioned (see our section on Classic Stereotypes) the paradox that left-wing antisemites can hold Jews responsible for the worst aspects of capitalism (modern slavery etc); whereas right-wing antisemites have held Jews responsible for inventing communism and perpetrating the worst violence associated with it. More modern conspiracies use ‘Israel’ or ‘Zionists/ism’ as a switch for ‘Jews’, a concept we cover in our section on Jews, Israel and Zionism. Thus, Israel is said to control the USA, UK and other Western countries, and is seen as causing or intervening in all middle-East wars, for example infiltrating in Syria with the White Helmets. Israel/Mossad/Jews have also been blamed for causing the 9/11 attack.
Conspiracy theories are frequently internally contradictory – for example, in the present day, people who believe that coronavirus does not exist protest alongside those who see it as a Chinese or Jewish plot to control the world. Although this can give rise to wry humour, it is also very serious, because any object of prejudice – and in particular Jews – can be and have been pulled into every conspiracy theory. Jews have always been used to personify the mysterious ‘they’ who are responsible for all the ills of the world, as a substitution for a rational analysis of class and other factors which in reality structure our world.
We now list some antisemitic beliefs about Jewish control of the media, democracy, banking system, dual loyalty etc. They are often components of the full-blown conspiracy theories, some of which which we then go on to describe. We do not pretend this is a comprehensive list and it may not remain up to date, as conspiracy theory, like a virus, is in a state of constant mutation and recombination.