“Why?” is a common first question about antisemitism. Why is this still happening? Why has this ever happened?
Antisemitism is a very light sleeper, wrote the historian Conor Cruise O’Brien. Recent events have woken it. For millennia, antisemitism—often called “the world’s oldest hatred”—has increased during times of upheaval, and we’re amid almost every kind: political, economic, social, health. Old tropes evolve into new conspiracy theories. In the 14th century, people blamed Jews for creating the Black Death plague to kill Christians, a lie that led to a massacre of Jews in Europe. Today, baseless conspiracy theories blame Jews for inventing COVID-19 to control the world and kill gentiles.
At the turn of the 20th century, people blamed Jews for the threat of “white extinction” that later fueled the Nazi regime. Today’s “great replacement” conspiracy theory pushes the myth that Jews import immigrants to outnumber and repress whites. People say history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes. Here, it loops.
“You keep wondering, this is the year 2022? Are we really dealing with these issues in the year 2022? And in America?” says Tair Giudice, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte’s chief impact officer. “These types of allegations and conspiracy theories we know from the Middle Ages, but they are somehow making a reappearance.”
Rabbi Judith Schindler believes that asking “Why?” is a hard place to start. She leads the Stan Greenspon Holocaust and Social Education Center at Queens. “Why?” is the subject of a dissertation, she says. She believes the better question is: What can we do to make antisemitism stop?
“Let hate not be the last word,” Schindler says.