- What do you know about antisemitism?
- Do you think antisemitism was a factor in Jewish immigration from Europe to North America?
- Is antisemitism a problem in Canada?
Antisemitism – is hostility and hatred directed toward Jews as a group. It is a phenomenon of Western history dating back 2,000 years to the initial conflict between Christians and Jews. The term antisemitismus (German for antisemitism) was popularized by author Wilhelm Marr to express the aims of his political movement to remove Jews from public life in central Europe in the 19th century. Prior to the late nineteenth century, “Jew hatred” was the general term used to describe the hatred, hostility, and contempt for Jews in European societies. Antisemitism was the guiding ideology for Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” known today as the Holocaust.
Xenophobia – is the fear or dislike of foreigners or people who are different. The term comes from the Greek words xénos meaning stranger and phóbos meaning fear.
Stereotype – is a widely held oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. In social psychology, a stereotype is a generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person in a particular group regardless of individual differences.
Diaspora – means “dispersion” outside one’s homeland. The Jewish people have been physically dispersed since the Babylonian Exile in 586 BCE. The Jewish Diaspora has grown to include almost all the regions of the world.
Anti-Judaism – is hostility and opposition to the Jewish religion. Both Christianity and Islam have anti-Judaic elements in their writings and traditions. Christianity sees itself as the fulfilment of Judaism and, over many centuries, the Church taught Christians that Judaism was replaced by Christianity and had no further significance.
Anti-Zionism – is hostility and opposition to Zionism, which was a Jewish political movement to establish a homeland for the Jewish people. There were several options for the location of a homeland, but the most significant desired location was the area surrounding Jerusalem, the traditional home of the Jews, which at the time was Palestine and home to a mix of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and Jews. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, anti-Zionism evolved into opposition to the state and its policies.
Anti-Israelism – is opposition to the existence of the state of Israel. Proponents of anti-Israelism support the dismantlement of the state of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Arab state or a bi-national state with an Arab majority and a Jewish minority. Critics of anti-Israelism, which include the vast majority of Israelis and Jews in diaspora, reject these scenarios wholesale and point to the violence and bloodshed that would no doubt ensue from such ideas.
Jews constitute a tiny minority of the world’s population.
The total world population is 7.9 billion. Today, there are approximately 15.2 million Jews living in the world, about 0.002% of the world’s population.
The majority of Jews live in two countries: the United States (39%) and Israel (45%).
Contrast this with 2.3 billion Christians (31% of world population); 1.8 billion Muslims (23%); 1.2 billion Hindus (15%); and 1.1 billion with no religious affiliation (16%)
Currently there are approximately 393,500 Jews living in Canada, about 1% of the population, with the largest numbers living in Toronto and Montreal. The total population of Canada is 38 million.
|Source: Jewish Agency 2021|
|Country||Core Jewish Population||Percentage of Total Jewish Population|
History of Antisemitism
The roots of the phenomenon historians call antisemitism are found in the first century CE, in the conflict between the Jews who followed Jesus as their Messiah and the Jews who did not. Those who followed Jesus, over time, became known as Christians and they would eventually found the religion of Christianity and the Catholic Church in Rome. The Jews who did not follow Jesus remained Jews and after the destruction of their Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, they began to establish what would become rabbinic Judaism, which is the Judaism of today.
There was enormous rivalry between Christians and Jews and the hostility between them was mutual. Christians suffered as a persecuted minority in the ancient world until Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity a legal religion in 313 CE. Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius I made it the imperial religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE. This was the beginning of what would become Christendom, a large part of the globe including the Roman Empire, east and west, eventually all of Europe, and all later European colonies in North and South America, Africa, and Asia.
John Chrysostom (c.347-407 CE) was the Archbishop of Constantinople. He was famous for his sermons and for his public condemnations of corruption on the part of political and religious leaders. Chrysostom was vicious in his condemnation of the Jews for their “rejection and murder” of Jesus, who was their own Messiah according to Christian belief. Here is an example from a sermon:
The synagogue is worse than a brothel . . . it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts . . . the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults . . . the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews . . . a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ . . . a house worse than a drinking shop . . . a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and an abyss of perdition. As for me, I hate the synagogue . . . I hate the Jews for the same reason.
Source: Malcolm Hay, The Foot of Pride: The Pressure of Christendom on the People of Israel for 1900 Years (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), 27-28.
The Gospels clearly describe the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of his disciples, the arrest, trial, and condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council), and his scourging and execution by the Romans at the behest of Caiaphas, the head priest of the Sanhedrin. At that time, the Jewish community was not allowed to execute anyone for a capital offence of their own laws and had to go to the Roman authorities to request the execution.
The Church taught that the Jews were responsible for the execution of Jesus based on the Gospels. Jesus, who was innocent of any crime, was eventually recognized as a physical manifestation of God by Christians. This made his murder a crime of deicide (the killing of God). The Church taught that the Jews were a deicide people, forsaken by God for this crime, and replaced by the Church with its new covenant in Christ. The entire Jewish people, then and for all time, were accused of deicide. This charge is the most consequential development in the Christian-Jewish relationship and it has resulted in enormous suffering for the Jewish people for almost 2,000 years.
Two decades after the Holocaust, the Catholic Church produced a document called Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. It focused on the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions and addressed several subjects, including the charge of deicide and the problem of antisemitism:
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Christian animosity toward Jews ebbed and flowed during the centuries when Jews migrated into Europe, beginning with the Romans, and travelled through Christian European societies after 1,000 CE. Jews were accused of many crimes through the centuries, from poisoning wells and spreading the plague, to killing Christian children and using their blood in unleavened bread for the Jewish holiday of Passover (known as the blood libel), to using black magic to curse Christians, to desecrating the holy Eucharist (holy communion bread) and other Christian symbols. The common denominator in all of these crimes that Jews were accused of committing was the hatred Jews were believed to hold for Christians, Christianity, and Jesus Christ himself. That was the foundational belief of many Europeans for centuries–that Jews hated Christians and committed crimes against them. The punishments meted out to Jews accused of these crimes over the centuries were swift, severe, and sometimes fatal, including torture, execution by burning and hanging, confiscation of wealth, and expulsion from the territory. Remember: fair trials and proper legal representation are a modern phenomenon, so an accusation alone could be a death sentence.
Have a look at the map below and see just how many Jewish communities were expelled from European regions during the Middle Ages and into the early modern period.
Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289
Image Source: Maptitude
The Crusades were a series of military expeditions by Christian Europeans in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion. The First Crusade began in 1095, initiated by a sermon preached by Pope Urban II at Clermont-Ferrand in November of that year. The main goals were to stop Muslim expansion into Europe and through the Middle East and to gain access to shrines associated with the life and ministry of Jesus, above all the Holy Sepulcher, the church in Jerusalem said to contain the tomb of Christ. Absolution from sin and eternal glory were promised to the Crusaders, who also hoped to gain land and wealth in the East. Nobles and peasants responded in great numbers to the call and marched across Europe to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire. With the support of the Byzantine emperor, the knights, guided by Armenian Christians, tenuously marched to Jerusalem through Seljuk-controlled territories in modern Turkey and Syria. In June 1099, the Crusaders began a five-week siege of Jerusalem, which fell to the Europeans on July 15, 1099. Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem were killed by the Crusaders or sold into slavery.
On their way to the East, some of the Crusaders attacked Jewish communities along the way. In Christendom, Jews were infidels just as surely as Muslims were infidels, but they had the added burden of being identified as “Christ-killers.” Offered the choice between conversion to Christianity or death, many Jews chose death and some committed suicide after killing their own children. The main area under assault was in the Rhineland (German lands). In Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne the range of anti-Jewish activity was broad, extending from limited, spontaneous violence to full-scale military attacks. About 10,000 Jews were killed during the First Crusade.
The Spanish Expulsion of 1492
Under severe restrictions and the threat of violence, at least half of the Jewish community in Spain converted to Christianity after 1391. This group of converts (conversos in Spanish) fell under suspicion in the following century and were accused of practicing Christianity in public for its economic and social benefits, while secretly practicing Judaism in private. These crypto-Jews were insulted with the name Marrano, meaning swine.
Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula for Christianity and unified their territories under one monarchy. They felt strongly about having a homogenous Catholic population in Spain and made the decision to expel all Jews from the country. On March 31, 1492, they issued the Alhambra Decree that gave Jews until July to sell their property and leave the country or face death. Out of a population of about 300,000 Jews, 200,000 converted to Christianity and the rest left the country. Spanish Jews settled in Amsterdam, Italy, North Africa, and in areas of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, Greece, the Balkans), creating Sephardic Jewish communities. The Jews in North Africa often intermingled with the already existing Mizrahi Arabic or Berber speaking communities, creating the Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Libyan Jewish communities.
Expulsion of the Jews of Spain (in the year 1492) by Emilio Sala y Francés, 1889
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German theologian and professor who was a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation. Luther transformed Christian belief systems and this transformation eventually divided the Christian world between Catholicism and Protestantism, which has many different denominations (Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite, Calvinist, and many others).
Luther taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as a free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the Catholic Church and office of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge (rather than Church councils and papal decisions). He reduced the sacraments of the Church from seven to two and opposed any form of mediation (priests, saints, the papacy) between the individual and God.
Martin Luther despised Jews as “Christ-killers” and believed they were a threat to Christian society. Earlier in his career, he was hopeful that Jews would convert to his brand of reformed Christianity, but when they were not interested he unleashed his wrath on them. His writings reveal a belief in Jewish criminality, where Jews supposedly target Christians out of hatred for Christ, and a belief in Jewish cosmic evil. Luther believed that a satanic pact existed between the Pope (as head of the Catholic Church), the Jews, and the Muslims (Turks) against true Christianity.
One of Luther’s pamphlets was called On the Jews and their Lies (1543). In it, he asked what Christians should do with this “rejected and condemned people, the Jews.” His answer:
“First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly – and I myself was unaware of it – will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them the fact that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:10) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: “what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord.” Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people’s obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter,” etc., inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach.
Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home. I have heard it said that a rich Jew is now traveling across the country with twelve horses his ambition is to become a Kokhba devouring princes, lords, lands, and people with his usury, so that the great lords view it with jealous eyes. If you great lords and princes will not forbid such usurers the highway legally, some day a troop may gather against them, having learned from this booklet the true nature of the Jews and how one should deal with them and not protect their activities. For you, too, must not and cannot protect them unless you wish to become participants in an their abominations in the sight of God. Consider carefully what good could come from this, and prevent it.
Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us an they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God’s blessing in a good and worthy cause.
Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3 [:19]). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.”
A Russian word meaning riot. This term is used in English to refer to collective violence against Jews, particularly in Eastern Europe.
From 1791 to 1917, the Russian Empire prohibited Jews (with a few exceptions) from settling in Russian territory outside the Pale of the Settlement, a region that included parts of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Poland. The same form of Christian hostility toward Jews was found in Russia and Eastern Europe, but the ruling denominations were Orthodoxy and Catholicism. There were 5.3 million Jews living in the Pale, some in small villages and others in main towns–many large cities excluded Jews. They were orthodox in their religious practice and devoted to tradition. The vast majority of Jews in this region were very poor (1/3 used welfare from the Jewish community) and worked in small trades and ran small shops. The language spoken in these communities was Yiddish, a mixture of German, Hebrew, and Slavic languages.
Any time there was a war or a revolution, the Jewish minority was vulnerable to attack and usually by all sides of the conflict. During the Middle Ages, Jewish communities were targeted in the Black Death persecutions of 1348-1350 in France, Spain, Belgium, and Prague where Jews were accused of spreading the plague by poisoning wells. In the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648-1657, Cossacks killed over 20,000 men, women and children. Women and girls were raped, property was destroyed, and entire families were murdered after being tortured.
In 1881, the Russian Emperor (Tsar Alexander II) was assassinated and pogroms spread through seven provinces of southern Russia and Ukraine. The authorities refused to stop the attacks and sometimes even participated in them.
Major pogrom outbreaks occurred between 1903-1906 during the first failed communist revolution and during World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Civil War from 1917 to 1922.
In addition to the religious conflict and animosity between Jews and their neighbours, there existed a fair amount of economic competition and rivalry between these groups as well. While there were positive interactions between neighbours, there was also a fairly high degree of mutual resentment and suspicion between Jews and the dominant majority in the countries of Eastern Europe. When conflict broke out on a large scale, Jews were vulnerable to violence and without protection from the state.
Research the Kishinev Pogrom
Using the internet, research the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. What started this violent attack on the Jewish community and when specifically did it occur? Do an image search on google and see if you can find photographic evidence of this pogrom (Kishinev is now Chișinău, Moldova).
Then read the famous poem written by Hayyim Nahman Bialik titled “The City of Slaughter.”
In small groups, discuss the contents of the poem. What does it tell us about this violent and destructive experience? Research the poem and discover its impact on Jewish youth at this time.
The wave of pogroms in the late 19th century encouraged 2 million Jews to emigrate to the United States. And some came to Canada too. The combination of grinding poverty and very real violence helped Jews decide to leave everything behind and start over in North America.
Some of those who stayed became politically active, joining the General Jewish Labour Bund (socialists), Bolshevik groups (communists), Jewish self-defence leagues, or joined the Zionist cause to establish a Jewish homeland where the Jewish people would be in charge of their own destiny and be able to protect themselves.
1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews”
Print by Emil Flohri. Source: Library of Congress
Race and Antisemitism
The concept of race was developed in Western Europe in the 18th century and 19th centuries. The different peoples of the world were understood to be separate races of people and were arranged into a hierarchy based on their intellectual, technological, and artistic development. Western Europeans were at the pinnacle of development and were set above all others, including the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, Africans, Asians, Arabs, and Indians (today’s Indigenous peoples). The list was thought to list the superior races down to the inferior races, many of whom were not thought to be human at all, but closer to animals.
The Five Races of Mankind, 1911, German magazine
Many disciplines like linguistics, history, philosophy, and anthropology incorporated racial science and these subjects were taught at university and were used to understand and explain the world. From the field of linguistics came the terms Aryan and Semitic, which describe two different language families. The Indo-Aryan languages are a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages in the Indo-European language family that includes German and English. The Semitic languages include Hebrew and Arabic. These terms were used to describe the speakers of these languages in racial terms, so the speakers of Semitic languages became Semites and the those who spoke Indo-European languages became Aryans.
This is where the term Antisemitismus (Antisemitism in German) came from and where Hitler and the Nazi Party found the word Aryan. The Germans, English, and Scandanavians were thought to be Aryans who were descended from some mystical Indo-Aryan people in ancient Iran. Jews were characterized as Semites, a completely foreign and inferior race who migrated into Europe from the Middle East. These races were opposed and at war with one another in the minds of racist thinkers and politicians like Adolf Hitler.
All of one’s qualities (intelligence, ethics, honesty and integrity, physical appearance and beauty, athletic ability, creativity, artistic ability and taste, and so on) were thought to be determined by one’s race.
From the Nazi paper Der Stürmer,
Title: Jewish Congress
Caption: “Let the Goyim believe that we can be Americans, Englishmen, Germans, or French. When our interests are at stake, we are always Jews, and nothing but.”
Der Stürmer, July 1934 (Issue #34)
Credit: German Propaganda Archive
In the century after the French Revolution (1789-1799), European Jews were emancipated and given civil rights like other citizens. It was a long process and it happened in different regions at different times during the 19th and 20 centuries, sometimes it was even reversed and re-established later by another government. The racist antisemites of the late 19th and early 20 centuries wanted these changes reversed permanently and they established political organizations and parties to remove Jews from society. Wilhelm Marr created the League of Antisemites for this purpose, and he is attributed with popularizing the new term: antisemitism.
Racist antisemites believed that Jews were inherently lazy, dishonest, parasitical criminals who were all operating as part of a massive global conspiracy to dominate the economic and political systems of the world. This belief in a world Jewish conspiracy is the cornerstone of modern antisemitism and it was the foundation of Adolf Hitler’s worldview. One of the most famous Nazi propaganda films conveys Hitler’s view of Jews and their fictional world conspiracy: The Eternal Jew.
Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a Russian work of fiction (1903) and the most notorious and widely distributed example of anti-Jewish propaganda. It is designed to be the supposed minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global domination by subverting the morals of non-Jews, by controlling the press, and the world’s economy. Even after it was exposed as a hoax in the 1920s, it still circulated and was quoted by antisemites, including Hitler. Translated editions were sold across Europe, Great Britain, the US, South America, and Japan. Arabic translations appeared in the 1920s.
Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world, Germany 1938
Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company and the inventor of the mass production of cars, claimed that Jews created capitalism. He opposed the First World War and believed that German-Jewish bankers started it for their own profit. From 1920 to 1922, he published a series of antisemitic articles titled “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. In 1921, Ford cited evidence of a Jewish threat: “The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are 16 years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time.”
The International Jew was published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars.
Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A portrait of Ford hung in Hitler’s Munich office, the New York Times reported in 1922. A table in the antechamber was also covered with translated copies of a book written and published by Ford. When a Detroit News reporter asked Hitler about the painting, he responded, “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” the Dearborn Historian reported.
Hitler refers to The Protocols in his memoir, Mein Kampf:
To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic . . . the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was studied as a text in German schools. The book was already popular in Germany after the First World War as it was believed to explain all the disasters that had befallen the country: the defeat, the Versailles Treaty, the destructive inflation, and the depression.
The Protocols continue to be widely available around the world, particularly on the Internet, as well as in print in Japan, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. In most parts of the world, government leaders have not referred to The Protocols since the Second World War. The exception to this is in the Middle East, where a large number of Arab and Muslim leaders have endorsed them as authentic, including President Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Hamas (Article 32 in its 1988 Charter). Recent endorsements in the 21st century have been made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh Ekrima Sa’id Sabri and the education ministry of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, many Islamic school textbooks throughout the world use The Protocols as fact. To this day, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Holocaust deniers circulate The Protocols.
UNESCO has published a resource for teachers to help them address conspiracy theories in class.
History and Present Perceptions of Jews
- How do historical attitudes toward Jews contribute to antisemitism today?
- Did you know that antisemitism was so widespread and enduring? Why do you think this has been the case?
- Read the quotation below. Then, go up to the top of this page and re-read the first section on population. How can people believe that a tiny people like the Jews are in control of the world?
“The crimes with which the Jews have been charged in the course of history—crimes which were used to justify the atrocities perpetrated against them—have changed in rapid succession. They were supposed to have poisoned wells. They were said to have murdered children for ritual purposes. They were falsely charged with a systematic attempt at the economic domination and exploitation of all mankind. Pseudo-scientific books were written to brand them an inferior, dangerous race. They were reputed to foment wars and revolutions for their own selfish purposes. They were presented at once as dangerous innovators and as enemies of true progress. They were charged with falsifying the culture of nations by penetrating the national life under the guise of becoming assimilated. In the same breath they were accused of being so inflexible that it was impossible for them to fit into any society.”– Albert Einstein in Collier’s Magazine, November 1938, immediately following Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” Throughout Nazi Germany, Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews carried out by the police and civilians on November 9-10, 1938.
Antisemitism in Canada
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Canada selected immigrants according to common ethnic and racial stereotypes. Advertising encouraged immigration to Canada before the Second World War with headlines like this: “Britishers! Bring Your Families to Canada.” People from the United States and Great Britain, and from northern and western Europe, were welcomed with no problem. Russians and other Eastern Europeans had more trouble entering Canada however because their supposed “racial traits” were considered to be inferior to that of other European immigrants. Jews were one of several immigrant groups classified as “undesirable” by Canada. This was the case for a variety of reasons: Jews were thought to be economic competition for Canadians; they were associated with communism and revolutionary politics in the minds of many, which was not welcome in the country, and they were not Christian, which was the one common denominator of almost all immigrants to Canada regardless of their position in the hierarchy.
Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, July 1939
Credit: Azrieli Foundation
Between the 1890s and the 1920s some Jewish immigrants did manage to enter Canada. They were fleeing terrible pogroms in Russia and Poland. In Canada, Jewish people experienced discrimination, especially in employment and housing. They could only get low-paying jobs on farms or in factories because big companies, banks, and stores did not trust Jewish employees. Like the United States, Canadian universities had quotas on how many Jews could become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Even if Jews did become doctors, they could not find hospitals where they were allowed to work or where non-Jewish doctors would work with them. People would not rent apartments or sell houses to Jewish families, and there were sports clubs and beaches thatrefused to permit Jews to become members or residents. Signs at beaches, swimming pools, and parks declared “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.”
In Quebec and Ontario, anti-Jewish signboards were installed in the 1930s.
Credit: Alex Dworkin, Canadian Jewish Archives
Immigration to Canada
- Why did Jews decide to leave Eastern Europe and emigrate to Canada?
- Why do you think Jewish people believed there would not be pogroms in Canada and that they would be safe?
Refer back to the section above on pogroms. Google the question “why did Jews immigrate to Canada?” and see what kind of information you can find. Organize your information into a 3 to 4 page essay or be prepared to speak to the class for 5-10 minutes on this question.
Christie Pits Riot, Toronto, August 16, 1933
The Christie Pits Riot remains one of the worst outbreaks of ethnic violence in Canadian history with over 10,000 participants and spectators. The riot was sparked by Nazi-inspired youth flying a swastika flag at a public baseball game to antagonize and provoke Jewish Canadians.
Read about the riot and discuss its causes and the impact it had on the Jewish community in Toronto and on the city itself. Were there really swastika clubs in Canada? Why?
Today, there is a disturbing rise in antisemitic incidents and attacks on Jewish people worldwide. While the most alarming increase has been in Europe, we in North America, and especially Canada, are not immune. According to B’nai Brith Canada, in 2021 there were 2,799 reported antisemitic incidents across Canada, including 264 acts of vandalism and 75 violent attacks. The majority of incidents are harassment and most of it is online.
Scholars tells us that there are three main groups fomenting antisemitism today: the far-left, the far-right, and Islamic supremacists. Watch the video below for a brief discussion of antisemitism today.
In Canada, some antisemitic harassment and bullying happens in school. Watch Stephanie’s video below where she describes the kind of antisemitism she was forced to face daily in school. Do you think she did the right thing by reporting the behaviour to teachers and standing up to her attackers?
Girl discusses the antisemitism she faced in high school
Much of the focus recently has been on trying to define antisemitism so members of the public can understand the problem and law enforcement can take action to prevent it. There is considerable debate among scholars and political activists on how antisemitism should be defined today. This is largely because of the political and territorial conflict in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians. The main point of contention between people is over the question of whether political criticism and outright hostility directed toward the state of Israel, the Israeli people, and the ideology of Zionism is also antisemitic.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is very complicated, but the basics of this conflict over territory are explained in this short video.
Today, there are three competing definitions of antisemitism:
The IHRA Working Definition (2016)
The Nexus Document (2020)
On June 25, 2019, Canada adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism strategy. This is a “working definition” that is not legally binding. It was designed to help guide law enforcement and government agencies in their understanding of antisemitism.
Political activists and some academics reject the IHRA definition because they think it will try to criminalize political criticism of the state of Israel as a form of racial hatred (antisemitism).
Watch Irwin Cotler discuss his views of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and the accusation that Israel is an “apartheid state.”
Former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada; Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism
How Do You Define Antisemitism?
Read the three competing definitions of antisemitism (links above) and discuss them with a partner.
Which definition makes the most sense to you? Are there positive and negative aspects to all the definitions or is there one that is most persuasive? Why?
Break into larger groups of 4 or 5 and discuss your views of the subject.
Islam and Antisemitism
There is a paradox in Jewish history. Historians tell us that if you were Jewish you probably would have preferred to live under Islam than under Christianity from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century. Islam never accused Jews of deicide or taught that Jews were the children of the devil. Jews were not accused of killing Muslim children and using their blood for holiday baking. Nor is there anything comparable to the Holocaust in Islamic-Jewish history. However, Jews and Christians were both considered second class groups (Dhimmī) under Islamic law and had to live according to specific rules and regulations that were discriminatory and oppressive. They did not enjoy the same rights as Muslims and could be subject to harassment and violence, especially if they violated certain boundaries.
Today, the situation is completely inverted. Very few Jews live in the Islamic world today as the vast majority (850,000) fled or were expelled after the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948. While the international community, represented by the United Nations, voted to support the partitioning of Palestine into two states (Israel and Palestine) in 1947, the Arab and Muslim worlds did not support partition and voted against it. See the vote tallies below.
Summary of the UN General Assembly vote on Resolution 181, 29 November 1947
Adopted at the 128th plenary meeting:
In favour: 33
Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussian S.S.R., Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukrainian S.S.R., Union of South Africa, U.S.A., U.S.S.R., Uruguay, Venezuela.
Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen.
Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia.
Since 1948, the rage expressed against Israel and Zionism in most of the Arab world and large parts of the Muslim world (they are not the same thing) can sometimes be directed toward Jews as a people in general. Muslim violence against Jews in diaspora has grown since the year 2000 and some of the anti-Israel rhetoric used in the Muslim world and Muslim diaspora communities employs antisemitic lies and libels.
Here is a very obvious and egregious example:
During the month of Ramadan in 2003, Hizbullah’s satellite television channel Al-Manar, which is viewed worldwide, broadcasted a 30-part antisemitic series titled Al-Shatat (Diaspora). It was promoted by the Syria Times as “a Syrian TV series recording the criminal history of Zionism.”
The following video is from episode 20 of the series, which depicts Jews murdering a Christian boy and using his blood to make unleavened blood for Passover. Remember this blood libel from Europe? Remember the discussion of the Kishinev pogrom earlier in this chapter? (Warning: the video is graphic and disturbing)
France: A Case in Point
France has experienced a number of severe terrorist attacks by Islamic supremacists. The Jewish community in France has been targeted specifically in these broader attacks on French society and in particular attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. The most devastating attacks were the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and the attack on the Hypercasher kosher grocery store in Paris in 2015. These three events alone accounted for the murder of nine Jews, including three children who were murdered at close range.
Life has become challenging for Jews in France and thousands have left the country. This video from 2015 shows the kind of intimidation a Jew can face while walking through suburban Paris today.
More recently, two of the most shocking and heinous crimes include: the torture and murder of two older women, Mireille Knoll and Sarah Halimi, both in their own homes in Paris. In both cases, the courts did not recognize the obvious antisemitism motivating the perpetrators. In cases involving the far-right this is never a problem, but some in Europe are reluctant to acknowledge the reality of Muslim antisemitism.
On April 4, 2017, Sarah Halimi, a 65 year old retired physician, was beaten for one hour and thrown to her death out of her third story apartment window. The perpetrator was her 27 year old neighbor, an immigrant from Mali, who was reciting verses from the Quran and shouting “God is great” in Arabic during the murder, according to neighbors who locked themselves in a bedroom to get away from him. He told police that he had killed the demon referring to Mrs. Halimi. This same man had called Mrs. Halimi’s daughter a “dirty Jewess” two years prior to the murder. The suspect claimed insanity and was hospitalized. In a move that shocked many people, the French prosecutor ruled out antisemitism as a factor in the murder. This led to protests in the press and one street demonstration. The aggravated element of a hate crime was finally added to the indictment months after the murder.
For years now, the courts have argued over whether or not the accused is fit to stand trial. In July 2019, a judge gave a preliminary ruling that said the perpetrator was probably not criminally responsible for his actions because he smoked marijuana before the crime. Kobili Traore supposedly smoked up to 15 joints a day. All three psychiatrists concluded that he does not suffer from mental illness, but two of the doctors believe that his psychosis was induced by marijuana and therefore he is not criminally responsible for his actions. The judge also dismissed the “aggravating circumstance of the antisemitic character” of the murder. Lawyers for several Jewish organizations appealed the decision. In December 2019, the Paris Court of Appeal announced that Traore would not stand trial as he was not criminally responsible for his actions. Lawyers for the Halimi family are again appealing the decision. The final ruling upheld that Traore is not criminally responsible for his actions.
On March 23, 2018, Mireille Knoll, a disabled 85 year old Holocaust survivor, was stabbed eleven times and set on fire in her Paris apartment by two twenty-something Muslim assailants, one of whom was her neighbour. The older suspect told investigators that the younger suspect asserted “She’s a Jew. She must have money.” The two suspects accused each other of the stabbing, one of them claiming that the other shouted Allahu akbar (God is great in Arabic) as he stabbed her.
Suspect Yacine Mihoub, 28 years of age, the son of Knoll’s neighbour, was previously known to authorities as he had sexually assaulted the daughter of Knoll’s assistant, who was 12 years old at the time. Mihoub served a few months in prison and was released in September 2017.
On 9 November 2021, Yacine Mihoub was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Alex Carrimbacus was acquitted of murder but found guilty of theft with antisemitic motives, for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Internet is the Main Vehicle for Antisemitism Today
- Read the ADL’s 2021 report on online antisemitism. How have social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, and the internet, been instrumental in spreading antisemitic propaganda? How might these same platforms be used to combat antisemitism? Make a list of suggestions.
- Some people argue that antisemitic sentiments are protected under the rubric of “freedom of speech.” As a class, research the definition of “hate speech.” Then, conduct a formal debate in the classroom: Is hate speech an expression of free speech? Should there be “reasonable limits” placed on free speech to protect society?
* Be aware that Canada and the United States have different ways of viewing this issue and have different policies and legislation as a result. Canada does not have a First Amendment, for example, and does place restrictions on speech. The social media companies are American entities and operate under American law.
The Latest Conspiracy Theory: COVID 19
As the coronavirus continues to spread, virus-related conspiracy theories have proliferated online.
There are many antisemitic memes about COVID 19, which represent the old anti-Jewish tropes recycled for today’s crisis. Remember that Jews were blamed for spreading the plague in the 14th century and suffered violence and expulsion as a result. Today, the main lies, which you can see represented in the images below, are that the coronavirus is a creation of the Jews to expand their control and influence throughout the world, and to cash in economically on vaccines and health protective equipment.
None of these antisemites ever seem to wonder why it is that Jews are suffering and dying from these pandemics just like everyone else.
The most notorious of Holocaust deniers in Canada was Ernst Zündel who was extradited to Germany in 2005. In 2007, he was convicted by a German court and sentenced to 5 years for denying the Holocaust. He died in August 2017. Prior to his extradition, Zundel lived in Toronto for about 40 years during which time he often argued in court for the freedom to express his antisemitic views in books, pamphlets, and online. He questioned whether 6 million Jews had actually died in the Holocaust and was also connected to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. He protested outside his home with the sign, “Holocaust is a lie. There was no Jewish Holocaust!”
A Holocaust survivor from Poland named Gerda Frieberg lost 172 family members in the Holocaust. She asked, “Can anyone imagine the pain he inflicted on survivors after losing their entire families?” A Federal Court judge ruled that Zündel was a threat to national security and when deported to his country of birth, he was immediately arrested and held without bail. Holocaust denial can be prosecuted as a hate crime in Canada.
In January 2018, Monika Schaefer, from Jasper, Alberta (Canadian-born and of German descent) was arrested in Germany for Holocaust denial. She was sentenced to 10 months in prison. In Germany, Holocaust denial is a criminal offence and sentencing can be up to five years in prison. In July 2016, Schaefer became infamous for a YouTube video in which she described the Holocaust as “the biggest and most pernicious and persistent lie in all of history.” She also claimed that six million Jews did not die at the hands of Nazi Germany and refers to the Holocaust as “the six-million lie.” She was a candidate for the Green Party in the Alberta riding of Yellowhead in the 2006, 2008, and 2011 federal elections and campaigned with Elizabeth May. After the video controversy, she was subsequently ousted from the party. Both Alberta and Canadian human rights commissions filed hate speech complaints against her.
In Canada, there has been Holocaust denial found in Arabic language community publications distributed in grocery stores and coffee shops–a new and frightening trend. One example in London, Ontario was an article titled “The Question Which Everyone Ignores: Why Did Hitler Kill the Jews?,” which appeared in the June-July 2016 edition of the Arabic al-Saraha newspaper. The article justifies Hitler’s killing of Jews by repeating lies about Jews facilitating Germany’s “economic collapse” in the 1920s and encouraging “promiscuity . . . homosexuality . . . every type of sexual deviance.” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne condemned the antisemitic article:
“I want to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the statements in the al-Saraha article that deny the Holocaust and express antisemitic and homophobic views,” Wynne said in the email. “Statements like these, filled with hatred, prejudice and lies, have no place in our society. That is why we have established the Anti-Racism Directorate, with a mandate to fight racism in all its forms.”
She added, “The Ontario Liberal Caucus was completely unaware of al-Saraha’s intent to publish this article when it purchased advertising space to convey Ramadan greetings to the community. I assure you that our caucus will no longer purchase advertising space in this publication.”
Your Ward News, a Toronto-area publication, is known for printing hate content attacking Jews, Muslims, women, and other minority groups. The circulation was 300,000 in addition to the online version. The editor was found guilty in January 2019 for promoting hate crimes against women and Jews. Labelled racist, homophobic, and sexist, he was sentenced to the maximum one-year house-arrest sentence on August 29, 2019. Issues of the paper have glorified Hitler and shown Jews as dogs, used the n-word and other racial slurs. Despite facing legal action, the editors are determined to continue circulating. The judge could not ban the editor from publishing Your Ward News as it would violate the constitutional right to free expression. Part of the bail conditions were to remove offensive content, including vile articles attacking Jews and women. In February 2022, editor James Sears was in court again for violating parole. He has recently proposed publicly “a gruesome public execution for Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Tam.”
We live in a time where people speak of “fake news” and where facts are questioned and false information is easily shared online.
Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students and choose one or more of the following questions to research and discuss:
a) Why would someone deny the Holocaust when there is so much historical evidence of it and clear acknowledgement of the facts by Germany? Is antisemitism a factor in Holocaust denial?
b) Research the laws against Holocaust denial in Germany and in Canada. Why do you think Germany takes Holocaust denial so seriously?
c) What are the possible repercussions of spreading lies about the Holocaust? What other genocides are denied, by whom, and why?
Every effort has been made to gain permission from copyright holders to reproduce borrowed material. The publishers apologize for any errors and will be pleased to rectify them in subsequent reprints and website programming