Seven Tenacious Antisemitic Tropes in Full Force Today
by Dr. Susan Michael, ICEJ USA Director
An antisemitic trope is a myth or sensational report, misrepresentation, or lie defamatory toward Judaism or the Jewish people as an ethnic or religious group. Some tropes date back to the birth of Christianity, like the belief that Jews are collectively responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. Others include untruths like the Jews controlling the media and the global financial system with the goal of world domination, that they are profiteers and spies, and that they perform ritual murder or “blood libel.”
Antisemitic tropes are not new; they existed millennia before World War II and, sadly, did not end with the murder of the 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. Antisemitism—and the propaganda encouraging it—continues to smolder today and is merely old myths in a new age.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), these myths have led to violence against Jewish communities worldwide throughout the centuries. Though the myths might “look” different today, manifesting in new forms, they are still provoking antisemitic violence, and according to the ADL, “finding [a] voice in the tweets and public statements of elected officials or resonating with the extremists who carried out violent attacks against Jews.”
Part 1 of this series in last month’s Word From Jerusalem discussed how these untruths play a critical role in increasing antisemitism. Seven of the more tenacious antisemitic tropes in full force today, according to the ADL, follow.
1. Jews Have too Much Power and Want World Domination.
A common myth is that Jews dominate banks, media, governments, and other institutions and are working to advance a covert, wicked agenda to control the world. This false belief leads to blaming social and political ills on the Jewish people. For example, the Rothchild family has been accused of trading insider information to profit from the Napoleonic wars, starting the Civil War, assassinating J. F. Kennedy, and controlling the US economy. This myth was birthed in 1903 when The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published in a Russian newspaper, which stated the Jews had the tools to take over the world, leaning on age-old antisemitic tropes that furthered imagery of the greedy, scheming Jew (more on this below).
2. Jews Are Disloyal.
The belief that Jews hold allegiance only to fellow Jews, a Jewish agenda, or the State of Israel is another common trope. As a result, people end up seeing Jews as untrustworthy citizens whose loyalty does not align with the country they live in. For example, American Jews may feel a connection to the State of Israel for historical, familial, or religious reasons. But so do other Americans living in the United States who have a kinship with another country. However, because they are Jews, American leaders and politicians are often viewed with skepticism, and, according to the ADL, lies about their duplicity have been blamed for “fanning the flames of social and political unrest.” At some points in American history, people even debated whether Jews deserved civil rights or should serve in the military.
3. Jews Are Greedy.
Another ongoing stereotype about Jews is that they are greedy and covetous, unwavering in their quest for wealth, yet stingy misers with a tight grip on their money. The ADL states those who affirm this untruth believe Jews “exert control over the world’s financial systems” in one breath but “regularly [cheat] friends and neighbors out of a buck” in another. Though American Jews indeed collectively represent the highest-earning religious group in the United States, the ADL argues that demonizing them for their hard-earned economic place and accusing them as money-grabbing or hungry for power implies their wealth is undeserved instead of a reflection of their commitment to hard work.
4. Jews Killed Jesus.
Known as “deicide,” this myth believes the Jewish people are collectively responsible for Jesus’ death and has been used to justify antisemitism for millennia. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, was an antisemite whose book On the Jews and Their Lies influenced Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf—leading to Nazi propaganda that popularized this myth to “justify” the Holocaust as “divine retribution.” Extremists see Jews as the deadly enemy of Christianity. Sadly, this trope endures today even though scholars, religious leaders, and historians have deemed it baseless and unsupported by Scripture; even Pope Paul IV said Jesus’ crucifixion cannot be charged against all the Jews back then—nor against Jews today.
5. Jews Use Christian Blood for Religious Rituals.
The idea that Jews murder non-Jews and perform religious rituals using their blood is known as “blood libel.” For example, in medieval times, people believed Jews used Christian blood to bake their Passover matzah and drank it as medicine.
Though absurd and dangerous, blood libel disturbingly hasn’t stopped. For example, in 1928 a missing four-year-old girl led to a rumor that Jews had killed her as part of a religious ceremony. In the mid-twentieth century, Nazi propagandists used blood libel as evidence that the Jews were a danger to society that should rid them—Der Stürmer devoted an entire issue to this myth. More recently, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that a Syrian diplomat read accusations of blood libel against the Jews during a United Nations Human Rights Commission session—fortunately, drawing an immediate protest. And in 2002, a flyer portraying an image of a dead Palestinian baby circulated San Fransisco State University, saying Jews had killed the child in a religious ritual.
6. The Holocaust Never Happened.
Holocaust denial uses made-up history as reason to deny that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, despite extensive credible evidence. The ADL says in its most developed form, Holocaust denial is:
… an antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming Jews around the world knowingly fabricated evidence of their own genocide in order to extract reparations from Germany, gain world sympathy and facilitate the alleged theft of Palestinian land for the creation of Israel. It is founded on the belief that Jews somehow are able to force major institutions—governments, Hollywood, the media, academia—to promote a lie at the expense of non-Jews.
Holocaust denial is deeply offensive to Jews, most of whom can trace the loss of a family member to this genocide.
7. Israel Has No Right to Exist.
Most disturbing is the recent increase in the delegitimization of Israel, also called “Anti-Zionism”—denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Since the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, when Rome dispossessed the Jews of their sovereignty over the region, Jews have longed to return to Zion (Jerusalem). “Zionism” is the belief Jews should have a safe place to live and the right to nationhood. Anti-Zionism distorts the truth of what Zionism is, demonizing the modern State of Israel by associating criminal acts with Israel out of context and even inventing new accusations against the nation. A current example are Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns that accuse Zionism and the Jewish State of being akin to other forms of hate, such as racism or sexism. Though criticism of Zionism is not antisemitic, anti-Zionists often lean on antisemitic tropes to delegitimize the nation—targeting anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist—Jews and Christians alike.
Antisemitic tropes can initially appear subtle in the form of inappropriate remarks, stereotypes, or labels that are easy to normalize. But doing so only reinforces harmful attitudes.
It’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus to educate ourselves to recognize the common patterns of antisemitism throughout history and understand how antisemitism takes root and operates so we can respond responsibly. Normalizing antisemitic tropes strengthens the continually mutating disease.
Most importantly, we must not remain silent when we witness these tropes. Doing so makes the harmful messaging seem commonplace—and when that happens, these myths about the Jewish people evolve into what appears like truth, which leads to acceptance.
You can comfort and stand with the nation of Israel today.