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Museum Director Bloomfield Remarks on Antisemitism at Congressional Briefing

Museum Director Bloomfield Remarks on Antisemitism at Congressional Briefing

September 19, 2014

Antisemitism has rightly been called the longest hatred. It’s also the most adaptable and resilient. It’s always there to fill a vacuum, provide a scapegoat, and offer reassuringly simple answers to complex questions. Its durability speaks to its distinctiveness.

Antisemitism has existed in connection with the monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, and with other traditions as well. It has existed on the right and the left; in democratic and autocratic societies; in good economic times and bad; among educated elites, the illiterate poor, and those in between; under globalization and in more isolated societies; with and without a Jewish homeland; and, perhaps most tellingly, with and without Jews. 

Although antisemitism began in the ancient world, after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, it took on a new role solidifying the core beliefs around this emerging religion that was to supersede Judaism. As Christianity came to define European and western civilization, antisemitism was widespread, serving both political and theological goals.  

The Enlightenment’s vision of a human community with universal rights shaped by reason rather than religion seemed promising, but ultimately secular society too found ways to hate Jews, resulting primarily in their social and economic exclusion.  

With Darwin and the rise of revolutionary theories about human origins came new ideas about human nature and genetics. These ideas led to the eugenics movement, later exploited and augmented by the Nazis who defined Jews as a biological problem capable of “infecting” the superior races.  

The Holocaust was the worst manifestation of unchecked antisemitism, but surely not the only. The key word is “unchecked,” for the Holocaust was possible only because millions of Europeans cooperated with Nazism or were indifferent to it. Hitler counted on two things: first, the human tendency toward apathy and second, the deep-seeded antisemitism—whether it was religious, secular, or racial—that made Europeans see Jews as different and problematic. 

And we should not forget that the 1930s marked the height of antisemitism in this country, which could have done so much more for the doomed Jews of Europe. For example, in February 1939 Congress debated legislation to allow 10,000 additional children into the United States temporarily. It went nowhere. And this reflected public opinion. In May 1939, a Gallup poll showed that 29 percent of Americans said there was likely to be widespread action against Jews in the United States; 20 percent were sympathetic with such action. 

Fortunately our own country has not experienced widespread or state-sanctioned violence against Jews as Europe has for so long. After 2,000 years of European antisemitism, it would be naïve to think that it ended in 1945. Now, just 70 years after the Holocaust, much has changed, but not human nature. Europe has seen the fall of communism, the rise of the European Union, and huge demographic shifts. What Europeans well before Nazism called “the Jewish question” never disappeared. In fact, after the Holocaust, new forms of antisemitism emerged, again illustrating its adaptability: anti-Zionism along with Holocaust denial, distortion, and glorification. 

We have seen antisemitism from the far left and Muslim minorities, but we must not forget the far right. It has achieved a degree of political traction in Hungary through the Jobbik party and to a lesser extent in Greece through Golden Dawn. In Hungary, it is not only Jews but democracy itself that is threatened. And more generally, in the recent European parliamentary elections right-wing candidates won 52 seats, up 15 seats from 2009.

Ultimately the problem of European antisemitism can only be solved in and by Europe. We must let Europeans know we care deeply and we must work aggressively with governments and educational institutions, but ultimately it is up to society. When civil society owns this problem and the rally against antisemitism in Berlin is led and attended by non-Jews in huge numbers, that will be a mark of progress in fighting the longest hatred. 

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Content from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Originally published at https://www.ushmm.org/information/press/press-releases/museum-director-bloomfield-remarks-on-antisemitism-at-congressional-brief

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