In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Modern Anti-Semitism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Primary Text Anthologies
  • Bibliography
  • Curriculum Development
  • Theories
  • Enlightenment
  • Emancipation
  • The Damascus Affair
  • Modernism
  • Postmodernism
  • Dreyfus Affair
  • Protocols of the Elders of Zion
  • Nazi Anti-Semitism
  • The New Judeophobia

Jewish Studies Modern Anti-Semitism
Jonathan Judaken
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0072


The term “anti-Semitism” was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to distinguish his brand of racialized and politicized Jew-hatred from earlier religious contempt of Jews and Judaism. Modern anti-Semitism (defined as denigration of Judaism, defamation of the Jewish character, or demonization of Jews) was a response to Jewish emancipation (the legal equality of Jews), which was first explored as a possibility by Enlightenment thinkers and first effected during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. As the map of Europe was carved up into nation-states over the course of the 19th century, and as legal equality was entertained or made manifest within states, prior distinctions and stereotypes between Christian and Jew, white and black, and civilized and barbarian were grafted onto the development of national cultures as they were shaped under the strains of modernization (characterized by industrialization, capitalism, and urbanization). How this was enacted differed depending upon the sociopolitical and intellectual differences across the European continent. The organization and mass mobilization of anti-Semitism crystalized in the 1880s, and its first major eruption took place in the context of the Dreyfus affair in France. The abatement during the buildup and slaughterhouse of the Great War gave way to an eruption in its aftermath caused by the massive dislocation and devastation of the war and the threat of revolutionary communism, which came to fruition in Russia, where 40 percent of the world’s Jews then lived. The interwar years gave rise to conservative authoritarian and fascist regimes, in no small part due to anti-Semitism, which helped solder together their revolution against the Russian revolution and their bid for national regeneration after the Peace of Paris (1919). The rise of the National Socialists in Germany, with anti-Semitism as their central animating idea, led to the annihilation of more than 60 percent of European Jewry. Anti-Semitism was taboo in the aftermath of the Holocaust, but it arose again in the aftershock of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it has spiked with each major flare-up in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

General Overviews

The earliest historical studies of anti-Semitism appeared around the period of the Dreyfus affair (1894–1906). But the rise of the Nazi Party to power began a critical historiography not much evident in prior approaches, since for the first time writers did not blame Jews or insist that they change, but began to focus on the anti-Semites themselves as the cause of the problem. A new explosion of research began as the Holocaust ramped up, including works of history, social science, and psychology. Having written the first comprehensive history of the Holocaust, Bréviaire de la haine, in 1951 (translated as Harvest of Hate and cited as Poliakov 1979, cited under Nazi Anti-Semitism), Léon Poliakov authored the mammoth four-volume History of Anti-Semitism (Poliakov 1974–1985, first published in French beginning 1955), which became the first global history of the topic, effectively creating the archive of the field. Poliakov’s work established the baseline for historical approaches that have dominated our understanding of anti-Semitism. Beller 2007 is a useful short introduction to the modern period, since Beller emphasizes what distinguished modern anti-Semitism from its predecessors. The subtitle of Wistrich 1991, The Longest Hatred, has become shorthand for the long-term understanding of anti-Semitism, even as Wistrich treats regional differences in the modern period. Lindemann and Levy 2010 is an excellent scholarly overview of this long history, reflecting the most recent scholarship. Katz 1980 examines how Jewish/non-Jewish interaction was a source of conflict. Brustein 2003 considers the different factors at work in different national contexts.

  • Beller, Steven. Antisemitism: A Short History. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780192892775.001.0001

    Beller argues that modern anti-Semitism has an undeniable relationship to the backlash against modernization. Therefore, while the long history of Christian hostility provides a foundation for modern anti-Semitism, it also differs from it in crucial respects. The work focuses on the history of anti-Semitism from the 19th century to the 21st century, providing insights into the relationship between modernity and anti-Semitism.

  • Brustein, William. Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511499425

    The book looks at four types of anti-Semitism—religious, racial, economic, and political—and traces each of these from 1899 to 1939 in France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and Romania. Brustein links the differences in national contexts over time to levels of economic recession, eastern European Jewish immigration, support for the revolutionary Left, and identification of its leaders with Jews.

  • Katz, Jacob. From Prejudice to Destruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

    Katz traces the development of Jewish social and political identity from 1700 to 1933 in the face of anti-Jewish opposition, arguing that the political strength and economic success of Jews caused friction with non-Jews that culminated in the creation and success of Aryan propaganda. The work offers insight into Jewish interaction with the development of the social and political forces that underpin modern anti-Semitism.

  • Lindemann, Albert, and Richard S. Levy, eds. Antisemitism: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    The essays contained in this volume provide an introduction to the history anti-Semitism from the ancient period to the present by leading scholars in each era. The chapters focused on the modern period cover it by region, looking at France, the English-speaking world, Russia and the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, and Nazi Germany, with contributions on the Arab and Islamic worlds, both before and after the foundation of Israel.

  • Poliakov, Léon. The History of Anti-Semitism. 4 vols. Translated by Richard Howard, Natalie Gerardi, Miriam Kochan, and George Klin. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974–1985.

    Poliakov’s four-volume history is foundational. Ranging “From the Time of Christ to the Court Jews” (Vol. 1), “From Mohammed to the Marranos” (Vol. 2), “From Voltaire to Wagner” (Vol. 3), up to “Suicidal Europe” (Vol. 4 covering 1870–1933), Poliakov traces the whole history of anti-Semitism from its origins to its climax on the eve of the Nazi assumption of power. First published in English in 1965 by Vanguard Press.

  • Wistrich, Robert. Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred. New York: Schocken, 1991.

    Wistrich’s volume begins with an overview of anti-Semitism from its pagan roots, but locates its hard-core origins in the rise of Christianity. He traces this legacy through Hitler’s Final Solution and into postwar Europe, examining national differences (Part 2), and the Jewish-Muslim conflict (Part 3).

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