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Antisemitism, understood as rejection, marginalisation and hatred of Jews, is manifested in a variety of forms. These are influenced by the social notions and developments at the time of their occurrence.
Antisemitism has existed for around 2,000 years. The forms it has taken have constantly changed in the course of history, adjusting to the norms and challenges of the society of its times. To understand the various manifestations of antisemitism, to be able to combat them effectively and, if possible, act in a preventive manner, one must have a certain knowledge of the history of antisemitism and its causes. Contemporary antisemitic prejudices are often based on long-ago events and century-old stories. The SIG is aware of this and is guided by this awareness in its efforts to identify, prevent and combat antisemitism.
From Anti-Judaism to traditional antisemitism
One of the oldest forms is known as Anti-Judaism. It is based on religious arguments and was instrumentalised in particular by the Churches and by Christian rulers over many centuries. Especially in the Middle Ages it repeatedly led to pogroms, through which entire Jewish communities were destroyed and their members murdered or banished. The main charge levelled against Jews in the Middle Ages was that they were the murderers of Christ. They were also accused of slaughtering Christian children for their Passover feast and of being responsible for the spreading of the Plague. Discriminatory Medieval laws also gave rise to some of the prejudices against Jews that can still be found today. Jews were barred from joining a guild and were thus excluded from practicing a craft. Nor were they allowed to possess land, which means that farming, too, was out of the question. The only options open to them were door-to-door peddling, commerce, and financial business. The latter was closed to Christians, as the laws of their faith forbade them to lend money against interest. These professional limitations forced on Jews play a part in the prejudices against Jews that persist to this day. Jews, it is said, work predominantly in commerce and finance because of their inbred greed, which keeps them from choosing «honest» professions.
From the myth of race to new and more subtle forms of antisemitism
In the course of the 19th century, the religion-based Anti-Judaism because less significant, whereas a racially motivated antisemitism increasingly gained ground. Judaism now no longer just stood for a religion, it also signified a distinct race. This was fitting for an age in which humanity was divided into superior and inferior races. According to widespread, pseudo-scientific arguments, the Jews were an inferior race that had lodged itself among European nations in a parasitic fashion. Such theories paved the way to the pinnacle of modern antisemitism under the Nazis, culminating in the Shoah, the Holocaust, with the murder of around six million Jews.
Despite this unspeakable tragedy, antisemitism did not fade away after the end of the Second World War. It simply became less socially acceptable and therefore no longer articulated openly and in public, as it had been in the first half of the 20th century. Beneath the surface, however, it continued to fester. The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 gave rise to a new outlet: Israel-related antisemitism. This form becomes manifest when antisemitic stereotypes are simply projected onto Israel and Israelis, when Israel and other states are judged according to different standards, or when no difference is made between Jews and Israelis.
Conspiracy theories as a constant
Throughout the centuries, antisemitic conspiracy theories have always found adherents. The theories’ core content is usually an apparent global Jewish conspiracy, due to which Jews are held responsible for a wide range of negative or unusual events and circumstances. Jews are believed to be the power behind the media, major corporations and national policies. Their long-term goal is said to be global dominance. This shows the contradictory nature of antisemitism: On the one hand, Jewish people are believed to be weak and inferior, on the other, they are portrayed as capable of exerting wide-ranging control and power.
Especially in the context of conspiracy theories, antisemitism is not always recognisable as such. Often coded language is used, also because explicit antisemitism is frowned upon in large sections of our society. Instead of speaking of «Jews», terms such as «Rothschild», «Globalists», «Zionists» or «financial elite» are used. in the case of Israel-related antisemitism, it is often hard to draw the line between legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy and antisemitically motivated accusations. Useful guidelines in this respect are offered by the antisemitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance IHRA. It is this definition that the SIG applies when drawing up its antisemitism report for the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
Greater knowledge leads to fewer prejudices
Combating antisemitism and the preventive work that goes with it count among the SIG’s core tasks. Its activities in this respect are founded on the principles of information, education and dialogue. Prejudices are usually directly connected to a lack of knowledge. Especially among young people, knowledge about and direct contact with Jewish people can prevent antisemitic ideas and prejudices from taking root. On the legal front, the anti-racism norm (Art. 261bis of the Swiss Criminal Code), in force since 1994, represents the basis on which public instances of antisemitism and racism can be prosecuted.