In my last column, I discussed how antisemitism differs from other forms of racism because antisemitism allows a few Jews to very visibly succeed in society. Another important difference between antisemitism and other forms of racism is the cyclical nature of antisemitism. Oftentimes before the worst antisemitic massacres in history, Jews appear to be prosperous, well-integrated minorities.
Even a cursory glance at European Jewish history can demonstrate the cyclical nature of antisemitism. One example can be found in Germany. Prior to the rise of fascism, Jews appeared to have mostly successfully integrated into German society. When the Nazis took power, many Jewish communities did not expect to be so fiercely persecuted; they merely expected another round of vicious yet survivable persecution that European Jews had been facing for centuries.
This antisemitism mirrored the crisis of capitalism that the world faced in the 1930s. In my last column, I explained how antisemitism protects the capitalist class because Jews are blamed for economic difficulties instead of the capitalist system. As an economic system beset by recessions and economic crises, capitalism, like antisemitism, is cyclical. When capitalism faces a crisis, Jews are often blamed and antisemitism surges. In the 1930s, this pattern was made explicit when the Great Depression shook capitalism to its core and caused a surge in support for Communist parties. Wealthy capitalists and companies like I.G. Farben, Henry Ford and Krupp Industries threw their support behind the Nazis, who, once in power, privatized Germany’s economy and threw communists into concentration camps.
Currently too, as capitalism leads to mass impoverishment, antisemitism is surging. As world governments crack down on college students protesting Israel, neo-Nazi terrorist groups have been attacking Jewish cultural institutions and major American presidential candidates have incorporated neo-Nazi symbolism into their campaign videos. In Germany, this contradiction has become especially clear: Riot police attack pro-Palestine demonstrations while Alternative for Deutschland, a far-right party with extensive Neo-Nazi ties, has become the second strongest party in the German parliament.
This correlates to massive economic inequality; 40 million Americans live in poverty and in Britain, poverty has become so severe that a U.N. envoy labeled it a violation of international law. It is impossible to fully separate this rise in antisemitism from the current crisis of capitalism.
Antisemitic instances have also increased since Israel murdered over 11,000 people in Occupied Palestine during the last five weeks. As hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the genocide, groups like the Anti-Defamation League have used the crisis to associate anti-Zionism (the opposition to a Jewish ethnostate in Occupied Palestine) with antisemitism. Yet it is important to separate these antisemitic attacks from the larger pro-Palestine movements that have intensified their actions in recent weeks. There is nothing inherently antisemitic about anti-Zionism, despite what major organizations like the ADL might say. I myself oppose Zionism, not despite, but partly because of the antisemitism my family and I have experienced.
Rather, any world event in which Jews play a prominent role will cause antisemites to come out the woodwork and attack Jews. Antisemites are trying to hijack the legitimate anti-Zionist movement in the U.S., such as when the neo-Nazi National Justice Party attended a pro-Palestine rally outside of the White House several weeks ago. In a more local example, presidential candidate Vellayappa “Dr. Shiva” Ayyadurai Shiva organized a march in Harvard Square using overtly antisemitic imagery under the guise of anti-Zionism. Thankfully, local Palestine organizers quickly distanced themselves from the rally and denounced the event, but the presence of these antisemites demonstrates both the need to be constantly vigilant and the importance of taking cues from Palestinian organizers rather than grifters like Dr. Shiva. This vigilance must also not prevent us from centering the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
The cyclical nature of antisemitism is most vicious when it can lure Jews and gentiles alike into a false sense of security. Therefore, even when antisemitism does not seem particularly pertinent, we must always be on guard. However, we must not let our vigilance prevent us from advocating for Palestinian liberation, as there is nothing inherently antisemitic about that struggle. As the genocide in Gaza intensifies, the urgency of fighting for Palestinian liberation is greater than ever.