Does Antisemitism Matter?

In the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding Israel. While Arab Islamism has been accused of being the primary source of this misinformation, a deeper examination reveals a troubling history rooted in Russian/Soviet antisemitic propaganda. Bradley Martin’s recent article, “The Soviet Roots of Far-Left Antisemitism,” discusses this complex narrative and sheds light on a phenomenon that has been present in media outlets and academia for over five decades.

In 1955, the USSR would begin to sell weapons to Arab countries. Even the cause of Palestinian liberation and statehood was largely invented by the Soviets, considering the blueprint for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Charter was drafted in Moscow in 1964 and approved by 422 Palestinian representatives hand-selected by the KGB, according to Ion Mihai Pacepa. Such “liberation fronts” were “seen by the USSR as centers of Marxist indoctrination and opposition to democratic and capitalist movements,” states an article in the Stanford Review.

There has been a resurgence of antisemitic falsehoods that were initially spread by the Soviet Union and later adopted by the Arab League and some UN members. This trend is now being supported by certain professors and students who adhere to a pro-Palestinian Soviet ideology. This worrying development has affected esteemed institutions such as Oxford, Columbia, Yale, and others worldwide. It is often disguised as free expression, making it harder to identify. In response to this trend, organizations like the AMCHA Initiative are taking action to combat it. They are compiling lists of biased professors by documenting instances of antisemitic behaviour across various campuses.

Consequences of Misinformation

Misinformation can have profound and far-reaching consequences. False narratives, such as the assertions that “Zionism is racism” or that “Israel is an apartheid state,” have become disturbingly widespread. This trend echoes a statement often misattributed to Goebbels, which posits, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Disseminating false and misleading information about Israel and Jewish people contributes to fostering harmful attitudes and actions toward the Jewish community. These false narratives and stereotypes can incite discrimination and even violence against Jewish individuals. It is essential to counter these falsehoods and to promote understanding and empathy among different groups to prevent prejudice and hatred. Recognizing and addressing this dangerous trend and seeking accurate information are critical steps.

In his book “Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks delves into the complexities of ideological violence across various belief systems. He coins the term “altruistic evil” to describe the psychological underpinnings of such violence. Despite the significant impact of this phenomenon on ideologies, including Jihadism and antisemitism, many individuals remain reluctant to engage with it, perhaps due to an aversion to confronting the atrocities of historical events such as the Holocaust, Jim Crow laws, and Jihadist violence.

Understanding the Ideological Roots

Rabbi Sacks points out that people often have complex thoughts that can lead to harmful beliefs against others. He mentions that both Islamic Jihad and antisemitism use what he calls “altruistic evil” to take advantage of our desire to do what’s right and support each other. This manipulates essential parts of our human nature.

Sibling rivalry is a common aspect of childhood, often triggered by the perceived loss of attention when a new sibling is born. Aggressive feelings toward siblings, even to the point of violence, are well-documented and can fuel ideologies of hatred.

Hostility toward outsiders is a survival mechanism for groups, creating a sense of unity against external threats, known as “Us against them.”

Scapegoating involves blaming external parties for internal problems, creating a false sense of unity but avoiding real issues within the group. This tactic can lead to a self-imposed “prison of victimhood.”

Victimhood, a consequence of scapegoating, hinders progress by avoiding self-reflection and necessary remedies. Some individuals, even after experiencing victimization, reject the label of victim.

The ideology of dualism versus monotheism is a more abstract concept. Dualism, dividing the world into good and evil forces, promotes demonization and hatred. In contrast, monotheism sees G-d as the source of both good and bad, highlighting human potential for positive and negative behaviour. This understanding provides a path toward peace and reconciliation to achieve harmony in the “messianic times.”

Rabbi Sacks explains succinctly that antisemitism is used to justify wrong actions against Israel and Jewish people.

By portraying Jews as an easy target for blame, they are singled out for any hardships experienced by a group. Seen as a mysterious and mighty enemy, animosity towards Jews fosters solidarity within the group, suppresses dissent, diverts attention from uncomfortable realities, and forges alliances between usually opposing factions who unite against a shared scapegoat.

It is crucial to understand that antisemitism is not directly related to Jews; instead, it is often used as a tool for various agendas. In historical events such as the Crusades or Nazi Germany, the primary targets were Muslims and European nations, respectively. Likewise, in today’s United States, antisemitism is used to criticize and undermine the government, using emotions such as ‘us-against-them,’ ‘good versus evil,’ and conspiracy theories to unite supporters from both the left and the right.

The true significance of antisemitism lies not in its impact on Jews but in its profound effect on antisemites. It provides them with a distorted self-perception as victims, allowing them to absolve themselves of moral responsibility. In their view, any global misfortune becomes the fault of the Jews, reinforcing a narrative that they control the world.

Antisemitism has never been instrumental in the triumph of historical events, such as the Christians winning the Crusades, the Nazis winning World War II, or Muslims dismantling Israel or establishing just societies. Beyond its assault on Jews, antisemitism constitutes an assault on our shared humanity. It epitomizes the fear of the outsider, the unfamiliar, and the different. By projecting all evils onto a scapegoated group, antisemitism falsely resolves conflicts within the larger group, perpetuating a harmful cycle of division and prejudice.

Is there a way to solve the dilemma?

Rabbi Sacks asserts confidently, “Yes, there is!” He vividly illustrates the reconciliation between the Jewish community and the Vatican following the Shoah/Holocaust.

“Pope John XXIII and his successor Paul VI, reflecting on the Holocaust, read the work of the historian Jules Isaac, who showed how ‘the teachings of contempt of the Church towards the Jews had given rise to a history of libels, false accusations, forced conversions, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, expulsions, ghettoes and pogroms.

The result was a historic change in relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews, initiated by the Nostra Aetate declaration in 1965. Pope John Paul II deeply identified with that process and carried it forward. That took courage, honesty and humanity — the qualities that made him loved and admired within the Church and beyond.”

Rabbi Sacks argues that dealing with issues such as antisemitism demands more than just using force. It requires a focus on education. The fact that humans are prone to demonizing others, as seen in cases of antisemitism and racism, highlights our shared vulnerability. However, as members of the human race, we also possess the potential to gain insight and promote healing.

According to Jewish tradition, healing and reconciling with oneself is known as “teshuvah,” which means repentance or reconsideration of one’s path. Torah education aims to create a world where people from diverse backgrounds see themselves as interconnected, like brothers. This vision can only be achieved through constructive dialogue, peaceful negotiation, and studying sacred texts rather than through aggression or conflict.



  1. “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was published by Schocken Books in 2015.

4 thoughts on “Does Antisemitism Matter?

  1. Yes, all good people must understand and oppose anti-Semitism.
    I love the image you include, with the words: Think before you speak. Read before you think.
    I’d say, it’s more than read before you think. It’s LEARN, EXPLORE, EVALUATE. So many people think based on false “facts.”

  2. Excellent and enlightening article. Thank you, Abigail. See “Infectious Ideas” by Gad Saad on the point of psychological triggers of ideological possession.

  3. I just discovered this organization that is addressing how people come to join hate groups and is also attempting to show them the way out.

    This is the organization created by a former hate group participant.
    Life After Hate is committed to helping people leave the violent far-right to connect with humanity and lead compassionate lives.

    Our vision is a world that allows people to change and contribute to a society without violence.

  4. Abigail Hirsch
    0 seconds ago
    August 2, 2021, I just watched the 4:07 min highlights of the ISGAP Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism on Youtube:
    Each one has excellent points, I especially appreciated Rabbi Zweig where he explains the kernel of what it is to be a “semite/Jew” starting at 1;16 min. and Asher Small who follows him at 2:54 min. I quote, “Once we permit the Jew to be demonized, the Jew to become the epitome of colonialism and racism and elitism, and of “apartheid”, of all things “apartheid”, once we permit this, ladies and gentlemen, this is not just the beginning of our conflict with the Jew, this is the beginning of the erosion of our democratic principles.”

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