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Thursday, 11 August 2011


A Semite is a member of any of the peoples said to be descended from Shem, who was one of Noah's sons, or speaking a Semitic language. Antisemitism is defined as the hatred of Semites, especially Jews or of their interest. It is a form of racism and has been practiced since the persecution of the Hebrews by the ancient Egyptians before the Exodus.

The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 led to the dispersal of the Jews, many settling in Europe and throughout the Roman Empire.

In the 4th century, Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Empire, which reinforced existing prejudice against Jews who refused to convert. Anti-Semitism increased in the Middle Ages because of the Crusades and later the Inquisition. Also Christians were taught that the Jews killed Jesus.

On December 30, 1066, a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, which was at that time in Muslim-ruled al-Andalus, assassinated the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the city's Jewish population - an estimated 4,000 were killed. More than 1,500 Jewish families, numbering 4,000 persons, fell in one day.

The 1066 Granada Massacre

In 1189 King Richard I was to be crowned King of England. He forbade any Jews to make an appearance at his coronation, but some Jewish leaders showed up anyway to present gifts for the new king. Richard's courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out of court. The people of London joined in to persecute the Jews, and a massacre began. Many Jews were beaten to death, robbed, and burnt alive. At least one was forcibly baptised. Some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London, and others managed to escape half-dead. Later, when Richard wrote of this incident, he called the massacre a "holocaustum".

A hundred years later life for Jews in England had not improved. To finance his war to conquer Wales, Edward I taxed the Jewish moneylenders, legally an occupation Christians were not allowed to undertake. For years the English King taxed them heavily, and the cost of Edward's ambitions soon drained the money-lenders dry and when they got into debt the state accused them of disloyalty. Anti-Semitic feeling grew, until the King decreed the Jews a threat to the country and restricted their movements and activities. Edward decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow patch (see below) in the shape of a star attached to their outer clothing to identify them in public.

In the course of King Edward's persecution of the Jews, he arrested all the heads of Jewish households. The authorities took over 300 of them to the Tower of London and executed them, while killing others in their homes. Finally, 1290 , the King ordered the expulsion of all 16,000 Jews from England. Edward's wife, Queen Eleanor, died months after their expulsion.

King Louis IX of France ordered on June 19, 1269 all Jews found in public without an identifying yellow badge to be fined ten livres of silver.

Strasbourg, part of the Holy Roman Empire, was the scene of the first mass holocaust of Jews in Europe on February 14, 1349. Collectively accused of causing the Black Death by poisoning the local water supplies, 2,000 men, women and children were herded into a circle and burnt alive.

Pogrom of Strasbourg by Emile Schweitzer

As part of the Spanish Inquisition close to 200,000 Jews, who refused to be baptized, were driven out of Spain. This was inspired by the king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella who interpreted the fall of Granada as a sign that Christ’s second coming was imminent; the removal of the Jews being required before Jesus returned. The royal pair signed an edit banishing all Jews unwilling to receive baptism on March 31, 1492. Their departure brought great economic distress to Spain for in turning out their most talented and industrious citizens, Spain became speedily crippled economically.

From the 16th century Jews were forced by law in many cities to live in a separate area, or ghetto. Ghettos continued into the 20th century, and were often seen as a prison, but they have also been regarded by some as a safeguard to maintaining religious identity.

Small signs of improvement began at the end of the 16th century. In 1570 At the Council of Trent the Catholic Church absolved Jews of responsibility for Jesus’ death. In 1579 the Union of Utrecht united the northern provinces of the Netherlands, which meant the city of Amsterdam was able to offer religious toleration. As a consequence there was an influx of Jewish refugee merchants who provided the city with an unrivalled access to the world’s most profitable trading networks.

In 1655 the deeply religious English Protector, Oliver Cromwell, allowed all Jews to return to England after being banished for 350 years. He believed that if they returned to Britain, a country where now the purest form of Christianity exists, the Jews would convert to Christianity and this will bring about the Second Coming of Christ.

In 1758 the first group of Jews to emigrate to America arrived in Newport, Rhode Island. 15 families mainly from Portugal and Spain had decided to establish a congregation there.

Early 19th-century liberal thought improved the position of Jews in European society. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for example, they were allowed to own land, and following the French Revolution (1789–99) the ‘rights of man’ were extended to French Jews. The Enlightenment in 18th-century France encouraged the assimilation of Jews but expected them to give up the practice of their religion.

The rise of 19th-century nationalism and unscientific theories of race instigated new resentments, and the term ‘anti-Semitism’ was coined in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr. Literally it means prejudice against Semitic people, (but in practice it has been directed only against Jews). Anti-Semitism became strong in Austria, France and Germany, and from 1881 pogroms in Poland and Russia caused refugees to flee to the USA.

The recently elected Nazis under Julius Streicher organized a one-day boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses in Germany on April 1, 1933, ushering in a series of anti-Semitic acts. Fascism and the Nazi Party's application of racial theories led to organized persecution and the genocide of the Holocaust.

On November 9, 1938, the Nazi German diplomat Ernst vom Rath died from gunshot wounds by Herschel Grynszpan, an act which the Nazis used as an excuse to instigate Kristallnacht — the Night of Broken Glass. During the pogrom SA paramilitary forces and German civilians destroyed and ransacked Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues in Germany and Austria, resulting in at least 90 deaths and the deportation of around 30,000 others to concentration camps.

Photograph of the smashed interior of the Berlin synagogue Wikipedia

When the Nazis forced Jews to wear yellow stars during World War II, it only increased sympathy for them.. People began tipping hats to Jews as a symbol of anti-German resistance.

The Nazis once came up with a plan to relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar. The plan was postponed after the Germans failed to defeat the British in the Battle of Britain later in 1940 and was permanently shelved in 1942 with the commencement of the extermination of European Jewry.

Between 1933-45 about 6 million Jews died in concentration camps and in local extermination pogroms, such as the siege of the Warsaw ghetto. In the Soviet Union, Jews had their religion stamped on their passports and were not allowed to leave; synagogues were shut down, and the use of Hebrew forbidden.

After World War II, the creation of Israel in 1948 provoked Palestinian anti-Zionism, backed by the Arab world.

In Eastern Europe, as well as in Islamic nations, anti-Semitism exists and is promoted by neo-fascist groups. In Western countries Anti-Semitism is still fostered by extreme right-wing groups, such as the National Front in the UK and France, and the neo-Nazis in, particularly, the USA and Germany.

Sources Wikipedia, Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2011. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

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