Classic Antisemitism – Introduction
This page will describe some of the classic and traditional stereotypes of Jews, including stereotypes around money, culture and religion. This sort of stereotyping may seem harmless in itself and can appear in a jocular fashion, but all too often it is expanded into grand conspiracy theories such as the Jews controlling world banking. While it formed part of the antisemitism of the Nazi era, it originated before Hitler’s rise and still persists today. If an antisemite can get people to believe in these stereotypes, then it may help such a person in their quest to undermine Jews’ ability to live in peace, harmony and safety.
The Nazis softened up the German people with propaganda using such stereotypes and then were able to amplify this into a much more threatening and ultimately murderous form of antisemitism. It is very important that attempts to stereotype Jews in a malign fashion are resisted, even if some of them appear relatively harmless at first sight.
Racial stereotyping by members of other ethnic groups is one of the cruder forms of racism, and thus tends to be less common on social media than those which insinuate and imply less directly; but it remains a considerable problem.
Example 6: Physical stereotypes
Physical stereotypes of Jews date back to the 13th century. Jews are often depicted with large hooked noses, dark beady eyes, and drooping eyelids. Skin might be depicted as swarthy and hair as curly – prior to the 20th century, red hair was also linked with Jews. Jews were often also simultaneously depicted as ugly, dirty or deformed. The stereotype was linked with devilishness (Jews were sometimes given horns), and with other antisemitic stereotypes we explore below, such as greed, dishonesty, or manipulation. In England, all these stereotypes persisted even during the long centuries when there were few Jews in the country. They were reflected in literature – e.g. the characters of Shylock, Fagin and Svengali – and in the illustrations of these characters – until quite recently. Such stereotypes were a staple of Nazi propaganda, and less frequently, Soviet propaganda.
Below is an illustration of Dicken’s character, Fagin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_Jews#/media/File:Fagin_by_Kyd_1889.jpg
There has been recent discussion (December 2020) of the antisemitism of author Roald Dahl, which included the following: ‘In a letter to Dirk Bogarde, Dahl called a producer, “the wrong sort of Jew. His face is matted with dirty, black hair. He is disgustingly overweight and flaccid though only forty-something, garrulous, egocentric, arrogant, complacent, ruthless, dishonourable, lascivious, slippery.”’ https://unherd.com/2020/12/roald-dahls-revolting-anti-semitism/ The crudest stereotypes of Jewish physical features and mannerisms are less often seen in modern Western social media, but do still exist. In a recent example, the image of a US Democratic (and Jewish) candidate Jon Ossoff was digitally altered by his opponent, David Perdue, to enlarge his nose in a Facebook ad, presumably in order to amplify the message that Ossoff was ‘trying to buy Georgia’ with his large campaign spend’. Photo of Ossoff’ as he is, is on the right.
Similarly, here the facial features – nose, eye-pouches and eyebrows – of philanthropist George Soros are exaggerated in cartoons portraying him as conspiratorially backing Antifa in the U.S, and funding left-wing terrorism. Of course cartoonists regularly exaggerate features, but when they conform to stereotypes of Jews one has to suspect antisemitic intent.
The stereotype that Jews are dirty is also reflected when they have been compared in derogatory terms to barnyard or wild animals, such as pigs, goats and cows. In mediaeval times churches housed ‘Judensau’, depictions of Jews having obscene relations with pigs. Depicting Jews as animals or insects continues in contemporary texts and cartoons.
Criticism of the practice of circumcision is also sometimes motivated by antisemitic attitudes: of course it is also performed by many Muslims, and in some countries is commonly performed as a health measure. Here, it is portrayed as mutilation, and in the context of criticism of Israel and of the British Board of Deputies’ ‘Ten Commitments’ (requested of Labour candidates in the 2019 General Election), it can be seen as antisemitic.
Example 7: Maliciously mocking Jewish teachings and traditions:
We have been told of an instance when bullies constantly asked the only Jewish boy in the informant’s school year whether he was circumcised. Using pig metaphors to add a particular sting to an insult towards a Jewish person is another example. Most people would recognise these as forms of antisemitism. Sometimes this can even lapse into illegality, as when a man deliberately hung pig parts on his washing line to rile his Jewish next-door neighbour. Such examples are deliberate attempts to cause maximum offence and hurt, whereas some of the other forms of antisemitism illustrated here are sometimes due simply to lack of awareness. Nowadays, adult antisemites generally find more sophisticated forms of antisemitism to get around widespread revulsion at this very overt form of racism.
The examples given below are self-explanatory.
Example 8: Jewish love of money:
This tweet shows a Hamas leader comparing Trump to a Jew because of the Jews’ alleged love of money. This perception of Jewish people is centuries-old, and is more prevalent even today than some of us might like to think. Historically, Jews were forced to embark on careers in the financial sector, because land-owning and many trades were barred to them in many countries. Indeed, usury – lending money at interest – was forbidden to Christians in the Middle Ages, so became the province of Jews. Some naturally became wealthy, even household names. The success of certain people within the Jewish population was noted and gradually spread into a notion that Jews were particularly apt to love money, more so than other ethnic groups. This featured in Nazi propaganda and still does find a voice in the views of modern neo-Nazis, but it can also be found away from that side of politics.
Example 9: The assumption that all Jews are rich, or that criticism of the rich is antisemitic:
The assumption that all Jews are rich is not new. It is part of classic Nazi-style antisemitism, and is related to our previous example ‘Jewish love of money’. Although there are examples of wealthy Jewish people, it is racist to assume all Jews are rich. It is not difficult to find people of Jewish ethnicity who struggle financially and/or are members of the working class, both in Britain and in any other country where Jews live.
It is not at all uncommon for antisemites to attack Jews either generally or specifically on the supposed basis of their wealth. However, it is completely wrong to assume that all criticism of the wealthy, or ‘the few’ (as in the Labour slogan ‘For the Many, not The Few’) has an antisemitic basis. Those who make such accusations of antisemitism are thus resting on the lazy antisemitic assumptions of universal Jewish wealth. Such accusations are generally made from the political centre and right.
In the example below, Toby Young accuses Philip Hammond (and Robert Harris) of antisemitism, on the grounds that Hammond suggested that Boris Johnson’s policies were influenced by his closeness to city speculators. Of course, most city speculators are non-Jewish, and it is therefore antisemitic of Young to base his attack on an assumption that Jews were being referenced here. Not surprisingly, Hammond finds the accusation that he was antisemitic defamatory.
Incidentally, this is a separate issue from antisemitic discourse specifically about ‘the bankers’ (as opposed to rich people generally), which relates to the specific trope about Jewish bankers like the Rothschilds controlling the world.
Example 10: Claiming that Jews demand special status:
The claim that Jewish people demand some sort of special status is often made. Sometimes it is expressed as criticism of the concept in Judaism of being the ‘chosen people’, i.e. chosen to be in a covenant with God. This in fact does not mean that Jews regard themselves as a superior people; it is much more a case of the Jewish people having a special responsibility towards God and other people.
In the example below, Crispin Blunt, a Tory MP and humanist, argued against comments by the Chief Rabbi (who had apparently suggested that some humanists were becoming intolerant of religion). He said “…regarding the demand for special status…what’s required is for everyone to have tolerance of other people’s position and not to impose unfair views.” He also reportedly supported calls for “eliminating subsidies” to the Community Security Trust (CST) in order to “save taxpayers’ money”. These grants are used in fact for the security and protection of communal institutions, including synagogues and schools, against antisemitic attack. Wanting these particular needs met does not mean that Jews are demanding any ‘special status’. Indeed, the Government Places of Worship (POW) protective security funding scheme is available to all religions. Jewish people, on the whole, want to be treated equally and do not demand special status as Blunt puts it. Socialists Against Antisemitism remains very unhappy that no disciplinary action has, many months after this outburst, been taken against him.
Of course, Jews are commonly regarded as a religious group, but in fact are very much an ethnic group; Jews do not cease to be ethnically Jewish if they do not attend the synagogue or believe in Judaism as a religion. In the vast majority of cases, Jewish people do not demand ‘special status’ but want no more than to be treated the same way as other ethnic groups are treated. Although the phenomenon of ‘Jewish exceptionalism’ does exist in the form of feeling that antisemitism is of greater importance than other forms of racism, it is completely unfair to accuse the entire Jewish community of believing this.
In fact, rather than Jewish people being after special status, more often than not they have to fight to get prejudice against themselves defined in the same way as it is with regard to other minorities. Some anti-Zionists define antisemitism as being little more than overt hatred of or violence against Jews and their institutions such as synagogues, schools and cemeteries, but do not include prejudiced antisemitic stereotypes, tropes and conspiracy theories such as those we describe in this Gallery, as they would when defining prejudice against other ethnicities or religions. In some cases, they justify this by explaining that Jews are, on average, less economically and societally disadvantaged than some members of other ethnic minorities in Britain and many other countries. This, we believe, creates a hierarchy of racism, meaning that discrimination against certain minorities is a higher priority in terms of opposition than against certain other minorities. That is a view we reject; we believe that all racism is contrary to socialist principles, and needs to be fought with equal vigour.
Example 11: The myth of ‘Jewish criminality’:
Michael Berkowitz published his book The Crime of My Very Existence: Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality in 2007. As described there, Julius Streicher’s notorious children’s book The Poisonous Mushroom published in Nazi Germany in 1938 depicted, among other things, Jewish doctors wanting to rape German girls who went to their surgeries. Modern Nazis have also often depicted Israel and Jews in general as being sex-traffickers – this is pure fiction without a scrap of evidence.
The first image below, concerning ‘clever’ Jewish criminality, is from an archive of Nazi propaganda. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as rapists, fraudsters and other types of serious criminal.
The second example is also from an archive of Nazi propaganda, describing their disgusting racial theory of how Jews came to be, in their view, ‘racially unhealthy’ asocial ‘parasites’.
Below, Gilad Atzmon in this 2015 article points out that recent UK figures show that Jews are under-represented in the prison population – the original report in fact showed only 327 Jewish prisoners in total. However, he plays on the edge of other antisemitic tropes when he describes the ‘Zionist neo-con elite’ as over-represented in media, finance and political lobbying, groups he sees as contributing to immoral wars and ‘making our entire society into a criminal collective’. He also suggests that as Jews are liable to be ‘slightly more titillated’ maybe they should be exempt from laws against sexual offences – playing with the longstanding idea that Jews are more ‘fleshly’ and licentious. Even if these suggestions were made ‘tongue in cheek’, it is irresponsible of Atzmon – who is Jewish but has declared that ‘I hate the Jew in me’ – to voice these antisemitic ideas.
Example 12: Nazi white supremacy – Dehumanisation of Jewish people, using Nazi symbols or motifs:
It is becoming increasingly common to taunt Jews by, for example, daubing property or monuments (whether specifically Jewish or otherwise) with swastikas or other Nazi graffiti. Explanation is not needed, and illustration is scarcely necessary, but here are three examples.
Example 13: Jewish responsibility for capitalism (or indeed communism):
This form of antisemitism goes to the heart of Nazi ideology. To the Nazis, the Jews were responsible for all of the chief evils of the world. These evils included not only communism, the embodiment of everything Nazis hated, but its polar opposite, international capitalism, which they attacked in their attempts to gain support from past voters for Social Democratic and Communist parties (this of course did not did not prevent the Nazis from working extremely closely with leading capitalists). Both ‘evils’ were somehow the fault of the Jews.
Antisemites have often personified Jewish responsibility for capitalism, usually in the shape of the Rothschilds, with other prominent Jews including George Soros also invoked. The blaming of Jews substitutes racist scapegoating for any proper socialist analysis of capitalism. This propaganda, as described above, has mostly Nazi origins. It is correct that both some of the leading figures in Communist history, and some extremely successful figures in international capitalism, have been of either partially or entirely Jewish ethnicity, but of course there are innumerable exceptions to each. The idea that Jewish people are in some sort of cabal in which capitalism and communism are inextricably linked is patently absurd and without foundation, and yet this is one of the principal planks of Nazi ideology. This ideology has persisted through parties like the National Front (in its heyday of the middle to late 1970s) to today’s neo-Nazis such as National Action in Britain and Golden Dawn in Greece. Even those who believe in Nazi ideology (for example leading NF figures such as Martin Webster and John Tyndall who were previously active in explicitly Nazi parties) sometimes accept that such a hypothesis is very hard to believe for most people. This has led parties in the Nazi tradition to more recently tone down antisemitic rhetoric in favour of populist hatred of other ethnic minorities.
In this example, bizarrely, the Rothschild family are blamed for wanting to build a New World Order, via the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna, and then for actually doing so – a century later – via the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution.
Example 14: Allegations of dual loyalty:
For centuries, Jews have been ‘othered’, treated as aliens even in countries where they were born and in many cases had longstanding roots. They have been expelled from many countries, including England in 1290, and have been subjected to harassment or death because they were portrayed as aliens to be feared and hated. This ‘othering’, albeit in mild form, was apparently expressed by Jeremy Corbyn when he referred to two unnamed ‘Zionist activists’ as follows: “[They] clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.” Corbyn insisted however that he was referring to both Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists, and had been misunderstood. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/24/jeremy-corbyn-antisemitism-labour-zionists-2013-speech
To accuse Jews of dual loyalty is part of the same essential mindset, one that regards Jews as not really belonging to the country where they live, or indeed more often than not were born. It animated the (later overturned) conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for treason in France in 1894; Nazi Germany portrayed Jews as a ‘nation within a nation’; and the phrase ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ was used to justify persecution of Jews under Stalin in the USSR. Of course, similar accusations are sometimes made of Muslims and other groups including, historically, Catholics in England.
Following the foundation of Israel the accusations have taken a new form. It is true that many Jewish people have a strong attachment to the state of Israel, not surprising given that very large numbers of Jews worldwide have relatives living there whose safety and well-being are of importance to them. But it’s a large leap from there to insinuating that Jews are in some way likely to be less patriotic or to belong less to their country of residence than other people. It is always wrong to accuse entire ethnicities of split national loyalties, and that is as true of Jewish people as it is of members of other ethnic groups. However, a December 2019 ICM Unlimited poll found that amongst the public at large, 24% believe that British Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the UK.
In the example below, Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman, on her resignation, described antisemitism in her local Labour party. https://www.timesofisrael.com/former-uk-labour-mp-says-activists-accused-her-of-dual-loyalty-to-israel/
Example 15: A Jewish ‘fifth column’:
The use of the term Fifth Column implies treachery, or a deliberate infiltration or subversion of a process, and is a very old stereotype surrounding Jews, implying that they are more loyal to each other and their own agenda than to the wider community. A number of these conspiratorial forms of antisemitism resemble each other, and this bears a clear similarity to other forms we have illustrated. The underlying theme, of course, is an attempt to blame Jews when things are not as we might wish them to be.
In the first illustration below, for example, it is implied that Jon Lansman is not a loyal bona fide member of the Labour Party, or of its organised left, despite his very long history of activity in it (Lansman was one of the major organisers of Tony Benn’s narrowly unsuccessful bid for the Labour Party’s Deputy Leadership in 1981), but is some sort of Jewish infiltrator, there not to help achieve the socialist society he actually believes in, but to do someone else’s bidding. In the second example, similarly, Jewish Labour Movement vice chair Mike Katz is called a ‘fifth column’ for doing no more than challenging antisemitism in the Labour party.
Example 16: Blaming Jews themselves, or Israel, rather than antisemites, for the rise in antisemitism:
This is directly derived from the Nazi playbook. The Nazis justified their murderous antisemitism by blaming as much as they could think of on the Jews, including different ways of organizing society (they specialised in painting ‘Bolshevism’ as Jewish). Neo-Nazis have also blamed multiculturalism on the Jews. For the antisemite, what better than to blame the Jews themselves for antisemitism – even for the Holocaust itself? The Jews have been scapegoats for centuries, even millennia, and it is not, sadly, all that unusual for them to be blamed for bringing antisemitism upon themselves.
Following the shootings at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, Baroness Jenny Tonge responded thus: “Absolutely appalling and a criminal act, but does it ever occur to Bibi and the present Israeli government that it’s [sic] actions against Palestinians may be reigniting antisemitism?” – her immediate response being to blame not far-right white nationalism, but the government of the only majority-Jewish state, Israel. She was generally condemned for this remark, and publicly criticised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, leading to her rapid resignation as its Patron. It is extremely disappointing that anyone describing themselves as a socialist should join in this chorus. An anti-racist’s reaction to an event like the Tree of Life massacre should be unconditional solidarity with the victims of a murderous racist attack.
In the following example the blame is somewhat more oblique. There is perhaps an indirect suggestion that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, by supporting other right-wing governments, bears some responsibility for a far-right atrocity against Jews. There is certainly an immediate deflection away from the massacre of American Jews onto the actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinians – a shift from Jews as victims to Jews as perpetrators – and with the implication that the former matters less than the latter.
Here is an example from December 2020. Somebody posted on Facebook that antisemitic stickers had been placed on street furniture in Leeds. The stickers were of an outline head of a Hasidic Jew, with the writing ‘Fake Jew’. Most responses were of shock and offers to report or to protest. But one person felt it would be more suitable to blame Zionists/right-wing Jews either for provoking antisemites, or even, apparently, for placing the stickers themselves in order to target Haredi Jews for their anti-Zionist religious beliefs.
Example 17: Accusing Jews who raise antisemitism of being antisemitic, for spurious reasons:
The late David Graeber has put the view that exaggerating antisemitism on the left, i.e. in the Labour Party, ends up actually damaging Jewish people for three reasons: it makes them feel less secure and more worried; it allows non-Jews to paint Jews as hypersensitive; and it antagonises the left whom he contended are Jew’s strongest ally against antisemitism especially from the far-right. He also suggested that such exaggeration could, therefore, even be a form of antisemitism. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/first-time-my-life-im-frightened-be-jewish/.
This suggestion – which we would actually dispute – was irresponsibly taken up first by The Canary, and then by people such as Eddie Leonard. Here he calls John Mann, Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge, all then MPs who had become well-known for calling out antisemitism regularly, “the real anti Semites in the Labour Party”. He cites the article in the Canary but offers no evidence in favour of this claim. We believe that this is a vexatious claim of antisemitism, and a crude and illogical blame reversal. It is particularly egregious to thus accuse Margaret Hodge, who is Jewish. In her case, we therefore put this forward as an example of antisemitism.
Our group has always acknowledged that antisemitism is sometimes factionally weaponised – by both right and left. However, this does not mean it is not real, or that those protesting left antisemitism are themselves antisemitic.