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Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism – An ideology, political current and set of prejudices that attempt to justify an antagonistic attitude towards Jews. Anti-Semitism is associated with the concepts of nationalism and totalitarianism, basing itself on xenophobia and ethnocentrism. It was based on race – mistakenly identifying Jews as a separate race in anthropological terms. In the broader sense, it is an antagonistic attitude, verbal or physical aggression, negative opinions that generalize and prejudice people against Jews, and views that attempt to justify this kind of attitude by means of religious, ethnic, racist, political or economic messages. The negative or hostile attitudes towards Jews that are deeply rooted in European culture are the legacy of a conflict between Christianity and Judaism. The teachings of the Catholic Church, discriminatory legislation and persecutions throughout history have shaped the way Europeans see Jews, whom they distinguish from other ethnic groups as being accursed and ritually unclean.

During the Middle Ages, three main Jewish traits developed in the popular mind: 1) a conviction that they are evenly scattered; throughout the world, the result of a divine curse; 2) treating Jews as foreigners;, regardless of how long they had lived in a given territory; 3) attributing their physical appearance with supernatural traits and associating them with devils. This way of perceiving Jews destined the group to become a scapegoat; Jews were blamed for natural disasters, wars and social or economic crises. Jews were finally accorded equal rights relatively late--in most European countries this occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century. There were protests from the classes that were also advancing at that time, mostly the petty bourgeoisie and the peasants. These groups were competing in the emancipation process. The advancing social groups and defenders of the old order refused to let assimilated Jews participate in social and cultural life. At the same time, national consciousness was born, and its radical form led to nationalism (or chauvinism), which postulated the subordination of the individual to the nation’s interests, and that these should be considered above all else, including morality. In the intellectual sphere, nationalism was aided by social Darwinism, which proclaimed that weaker human groups would be overtaken by stronger ones, and also by racism, which assessed people according to their membership in better or worse races. While racism contradicted Enlightenment views regarding human equality, totalitarian tendencies stood in opposition to freedom, and restricted the slogan about fraternit to one’s own nation, ruled by one party.

Totalitarianism (both right-wing and left-wing, which developed later) made use of anti-Semitic slogans as well. Anti-Semitism was not a program to solve the Jewish question, though it liked to abuse that expression. The question for anti-Semites was the fact that Jews existed at all. Suggesting that Jews posed some sort of threat was a tool to attract supporters (the slogan closing ranks), and to gain complete power over them. Modern anti-Semitism developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, first in France. There, anti-Jewish propaganda was used by the Action Francaise movement, which associated itself with Catholicism and advocated the return of the monarchy. In 1894, accusations of treason against A. Dreyfus, the only Jewish officer in the French general staff, united anti-Semites. (These accusations later turned out to be false.)
In Prussia and Austria, the first anti-Semitic political parties were established, such as the Antisemitenliga [German, Anti-Semite League], founded in 1879 by W. Marr. He popularized the term anti-Semitism in his publication Zwangloser antisemitischer Hefte [German, Independent Anti-Semitic Journal, Berlin, 1879-1880]. The Christlichsoziale Arbeiterpartei [German, Christian-Social Worker’s Party], founded in Berlin in 1989 under the direction of the preacher A. Stoeker (1835–1909), managed to collect approximately 250,000 signatures in 1880 for a petition demanding that Jews be removed from state schools and universities. In 1897-1910, the mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger (1844-1910), led the [anti-Semitic] Austrian Christian-Social party, founded in 1888. The views represented by these three largest organizations, active in the neighboring countries, lay at the roots of Nazism. The ideological themes they developed, and their methods of promoting them, became ready-made role models for other European countries.
In 1880-1881, there were pogroms in Russia. The Jews in Russia were accused of spreading social radicalism and were subjected to emergency laws (the May Laws). In early twentieth century Russia, the Black Hundreds were founded, which were responsible for a wave of anti-Jewish violence and pogroms in 1903-1906. A pamphlet titled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, arguing that Jews were conspiring to destroy the world, was distributed by supporters of the Black Hundreds, and was cited as a justification for the slaughters and pogroms carried out against Jews in 1914-1919. In the Austrian partition of Galicia, T. Merunowicz, a member of the local diet there, attempted to found an anti-Jewish party in the 1870’s. Despite having borrowed a great deal from Austrian anti-Semitic ideology, his views on the Jewish Question were influenced by the program of the Krakow conservatives. Father S. Stojaowski (1845–1911), aided by anti-Semitic agitation, organized a peasant movement in Galicia (1896), which was condemned by the higher Church authorities. In the Prussian partition, anti-Semitic ideology, modeled on German models, played a significant role in a movement there that advocated a Polish economic renaissance.

In the Kingdom of Poland, the publication Rola, edited by J. Jelenski (1848–1909), popularized anti-Semitic themes (Warsaw, 1883-1913). Although it drew on ideological borrowings from France and Prussia (such as the theme of “Judeo-Masons” or the slogan about economic boycott), its publications were distinguished by a lack of any obvious racism and a pro-Russian servility, which made it difficult to associate anti-Semitism closely with nationalism. The journal Glos (Voice, Warsaw, 1886–1905), aimed at the intelligentsia, first began promoting racism against Jews during the period 1888–1900. Until the late 1930’s, racist tendencies did not constitute a significant component of anti-Jewish ideology in Poland. On the one hand, this was due to the fact that the Catholic Church clearly condemned racism; on the other, a Jewish community had historically existed in Poland, having distinctive dress, language and customs. As a result, they were easily recognizable. Anti-Semites did not have to refer to pseudo-anthropological distinguishing characteristics, though with regard to assimilated Jews they often used genealogy as a criterion in a way similar to racism. The National-Democratic Party, founded in 1897, added anti-Semitism to its program in 1903 (R. Dmowski, Mysli nowoczesnego Polaka [Thoughts of a Modern Pole]). It became the most influential organization advancing an anti-Jewish brand of Polish nationalism. In 1919-1926, the national parties, including the Zwiazek Ludowo-Narodowy (Popular-National Union), Stronnictwo Chrzescijansko-Narodowe (Christian-National Party) and Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe “Piast” (“Piast” Polish People’s Party), had one third of the seats in the Sejm.

After the May coup, Dmowski, in an attempt to recover his lost political influence, founded the Oboz Wielkiej Polski (Great Poland Camp) in 1926. It was soon banned in Eastern Galicia for anti-Jewish excesses in 1927, and then throughout the country in 1933. In 1928, influenced by Italian fascism, Dmowski founded the Stronnictwo Narodowe (SN, National Party). In 1934, some of the young radicals broke away from SN and founded Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny (ONR, National-Radical Camp), which had a totalitarian program inspired by Nazism. Its leaders included J. Mosdorf and B. Piasecki.
ONR formed units that were used during anti-Jewish excesses, terrorist acts and unrest at universities (getto lawkowe, or "bench ghettos", referring to the quotas for Jewish students in higher education); as a result, it was already banned in 1934. It was influential in many student organizations, of which only "Arconia" accepted Jewish members. In clerical circles, there was a great deal of support for SN and anti-Semitism. Most Catholic publications backed a program stipulating that Jews should be economically and culturally segregated. Their aggressive tone and spreading of hatred were conducive to acts of violence, though these were officially condemned by the Church. The anti-minority policies of Poland's interwar government contributed to the Jewish community's isolation, which later made it more difficult to organize aid for Jews during the German occupation.

During the Second World War, programmatic anti-Semitism continued within the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Sily Zbrojne), which were for example responsible for a series of killings of Jews carried out in 1945-1946. Nazism, often called "Hitlerism" in Poland, united totalitarianism and anti-Semitism most decisively. In 1919, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei was founded (German National Socialist German Workers' Party, NSDAP), which in its 1920 program denied civil rights to those who without "German" blood�especially Jews. Beginning in 1921, the party was led by A. Hitler. In 1933, Hitler became chancellor, and then, in 1934, dictator. He also became Führer of the Third Reich, which he himself had proclaimed. The utopia Hitler was striving to create was to be founded on the principle of isolating the "racially pure" Germans from everything he believed would threaten its purity. An enormous machine of state-sponsored terror helped implement this policy, which resulted in the persecution of groups that did not fit the Nazi image of society, above all Jews and other minorities (Nuremberg Laws), but also the mentally ill and homosexuals. Hitler's policies led to the Second World War and the extermination of over half of Europe's Jews (in Poland, this figure was 90%).

Although Nazism's savageness compromised anti-Semitism as a political concept, it was not eliminated entirely. Anti-Semitism continued to be used for political purposes, especially in the Soviet bloc. From the mid-1970's, a rebirth of anti-Semitism could be observed in the West, in the form of "revisionism" (the denial or minimization of facts concerning the Holocaust), the skinhead movement among young people, the rise of neo-Nazi organizations and the formation of a new radical right (Le Pen's National Front in France, the Republicans in Germany and the Freedom Party in Austria). All these phenomena appeared in the post-communist countries as well. In the 1990's, the number of anti-Jewish incidents rose, such as the destruction of historical monuments, attacks and beatings. Poland was affected as well, where during 1991-1993 most of the existing historical monuments and active synagogues were damaged or desecrated with offensive graffiti. Several people were also the victims of beatings, including a rabbi; in 1997, the synagogue in Warsaw was set on fire.

Since 1989, several dozen small, vociferous anti-Semitic organizations have been founded in Poland. There are six parties that are following in the footsteps of the Stronnictwo Narodowe. Anti-Semitic remarks can be heard on the Catholic "Radio Maryja", in sermons (such as those by Father Jankowski), and even in some of the statements made by professors at the Catholic University in Lublin (KUL). Anti-Semitism as an ideology is also used to stir up anti-Israeli sentiments in the Arab countries (such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya), as well as by Islamic fundamentalism. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been published most frequently there, where editions are sometimes subsidized by the state.

(A.C./CM)

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