Michael A. Meyer (Hebrew Union College)

The presence of antisemitism (preferred spelling, in my view) in Jewish experience from ancient times to current ones should not be understood to imply a consistent level of virulence nor even a uniformity of motive or expression. Antisemitism has manifested itself in a variety of forms from the Pagan world to the worlds of Christianity and Islam, down to secular cultures in the modern world. Periods of latency have aroused hopes of its disappearance, only to be soon disappointed. Herzl understood this when he wrote: "The longer antisemitism lies dormant, the more fiercely will it break out."

A comprehensive understanding of antisemitism must pay attention to ideological, psychological, and socioeconomic motivations. Over the centuries antisemitism has been cloaked in at least three ideologies of Jewish danger or despicability: as a religion, as an ethnic or national group, or as a race. The first assertion goes back to the ancient world; the second and third are modern creations. Individual antisemites may employ any one or a combination of these beliefs. Their indoctrination is a genuine cause for antisemitic acts. But ideology may mask hidden psychological needs, and political or social strife may act to transform latent sentiments into violent outbreaks. In addition, antisemitism may be instrumentalized for political purposes by those who do not actually believe in any of its ideologies.

Current antisemitism is but the most recent combination of these factors. It brings to life dormant religious antagonisms, draws in persons of vulnerable psychological disposition, and instrumentalizes prejudice for political purposes, especially to undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel.