Antisemitism: Definition and Meaning

Antisemitic manifestations and incidents, including discriminatory behaviour, harassment, and violence, are persistent and pose severe problems for entire civilizations. They can take implicit, covert, or coded forms. As an ideology founded on hatred and prejudice, antisemitism not only negatively impacts Jews, either individually or collectively, but also threatens the realisation of all people's human rights as well as the general security of the states where it exists.

Additionally, antisemitism violates a person's freedom of religion or belief. Throughout history, antisemitism has taken many different forms, from verbal or physical abuse directed at specific Jews to organised pogroms carried out by mobs, police, or even genocide. The phrase was first used in the 19th century, although it is still used to refer to earlier and later anti-Jewish occurrences.

Meaning of Antisemitism

German journalist Wilhelm Marr coined the phrase "antisemitism" in 1879 to refer to prejudice or enmity towards Jews. Antisemitism, frequently referred to as the oldest hatred in human history, is enmity or prejudice against Jews. The worst case of anti-Semitism in recorded history is the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis. Adolf Hitler was not the first anti-Semite; anti-Semitic beliefs have existed for centuries.

Jews were denied citizenship and consigned to ghetto life for much of the Middle Ages in Europe. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, pogroms, or anti-Jewish riots, swept through the Russian Empire; more recently, anti-Semitic occurrences have grown in several regions of Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Origin of Antisemitism

Moritz Steinschneider's reactions to Ernest Renan's opinions are where terms like "antisemitic" first appeared. According to Alex Bein, "Steinschneider appears to have used the compound anti-Semitism first, challenging Renan on the grounds of his 'anti-Semitic prejudices' [i.e., his denigration of the 'Semites' as a race]." In a similar vein, Avner Falk notes that Moritz Steinschneider, an Austrian Jew and scholar, used the phrase "antisemitische Vorurteile" in 1860, marking the first use of the German word antisemitic. The incorrect notions of French philosopher Ernest Renan that "Semitic races" were inferior to "Aryan races" were described by Steinschneider using this word.

In the second half of the 19th century, pseudoscientific notions about race, civilization, and "progress" were fairly common in Europe, particularly since Prussian nationalist historian Heinrich von Treitschke actively promoted them. The statement "the Jews are our misfortune" that he coined would eventually be widely used by Nazis. Treitschke, in contrast to Renan, uses the term "Semitic" essentially synonymously with "Jewish," according to Avner Falk. Renan uses it to refer to a wide variety of people based mostly on linguistic grounds.

Jonathan M. Hess claims that the term's early users intended to "stress the radical difference between their own "antisemitism" and earlier forms of hostility towards Jews and Judaism."

Antisemitism In Medieval Europe

In reality, mediaeval Europe is where many of the anti-Semitic practices practiced in Nazi Germany originated. Jews were segregated into designated areas known as ghettos in numerous European cities. In some nations, Jews were also obliged to wear a Judenhut a distinctive hat or a yellow insignia on their clothing to set them apart from Christians. Because interest-bearing loans were prohibited by early Christianity, some Jews rose to prominence in banking and finance.

This led to economic anger, which during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries prompted the expulsion of Jews from a number of European nations, including France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. In most of mediaeval Europe, Jews were denied citizenship and civic rights, including the right to practise their religion.

There was one major exception: Poland. In 1264, Jewish people were granted personal, political, and religious liberties by a proclamation by Polish monarch Bolesaw the Pious. But it took until the late 1700s and early 1800s for Jews to acquire citizenship and rights in the majority of Western Europe.

Antisemitism in Modern Europe

The condition of Jews in Europe did not much improve by the end of the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Reformation reintroduced anti-Jewish laws and strengthened the ghettoised segregation system in Roman Catholic nations. Jews were nevertheless occasionally the victims of massacres, such as those that took place during wars between Eastern Orthodox Ukrainians and Roman Catholic Poles in the middle of the 17th century, which were on par with the deadliest Jewish massacres of the Middle Ages.

Up until the late 18th century, Jews in Western Europe were subjected to periodic persecution; however, the Enlightenment changed that, at least in the West. Anti-Semitism was not necessarily reduced as a result. Despite the fact that the key figures of the Enlightenment championed the use of reason to dispel what they saw as superstitions in Christian belief, their ideas did not increase tolerance towards Jews.

Jews were blamed by Enlightenment thinkers for the birth of Christianity as well as the injustices and violence carried out by adherents of monotheistic religions, rather than for the Crucifixion. Some of the most well-known, such as Denis Diderot and Voltaire, derided Jews as an outcast race that adhered to an antiquated and superstitious faith.

The situation of Jews in Europe remained precarious up until the French Revolution in 1789. They were treated as outcasts and had few civil rights. Instead of being taxed individually, they were taxed as a group. Their exclusion from the larger society fostered their religious identity as well as the institutions inside their community, which performed quasi-governmental and judicial roles.

The rights of citizenship were extended to Jews during the French Revolution, which stood for freedom, equality, and brotherhood. Respect and rights, however, were contingent on Jews' willingness to give up their long-standing traditions and sense of belonging to a particular community. The phrase "To the Jews as individuals, everything; to the Jews as a people, nothing" has this meaning.


Antisemitism is the hatred of or discrimination against Jews as a race or religious community. In order to describe the anti-Jewish campaigns taking place in central Europe at the time, the German agitator Wilhelm Marr invented the word "anti-Semitism" in 1879.

Nazi anti-Semitism, which resulted in the Holocaust, included a racist component because it singled out Jews based on their alleged biological traits, including those who had converted to other religions or whose parents had done so. In contrast to older anti-Jewish prejudices, this type of anti-Jewish racism only dates back to the rise of so-called "scientific racism" in the 19th century.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. What do you mean by antisemitism in Japan?

Ans. Despite the existence of a modest and unnoticed Jewish population, antisemitism has grown throughout time in Japan. Before nationalist ideology and propaganda started to spread in Japan on the eve of World War II, there was no traditional antisemitism in the country. Nazi Germany, an ally of the Japanese before and throughout the war, urged Japan to implement antisemitic laws.

Q2. What is the meaning of anti-antisemitism?

Ans. Anti-antisemitism is the opposition to antisemitism or prejudice towards Jews, and like the history of antisemitism, it is lengthy and complex.

Q3. What is the meaning of secondary antisemitism?

Ans. Antisemitism which is known as "secondary antisemitism" is one that is thought to have emerged following World War II. It is frequently claimed that secondary antisemitism was brought on by the Holocaust rather than developed in spite of it.

Updated on: 08-May-2023


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