The year 2020 saw the highest rates of online antisemitism ever recorded, a result of Covid-19 breeding new antisemitic conspiracy theories. Although disappointing, it should not come as a surprise that the blame for a major traumatic event has been pinned on the Jewish community.
These conspiracies can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and despite living in an age of scientific evidence and easily accessible information, this continues to be an issue. For a large part of its history, the conspiracy tradition was governed by the idea of Jews controlling the general population from the shadows. This still rings true today, and although racial antisemitism still exists, arguably the antisemitic narrative that is most popular today is that Jews influence all aspects of human life and exercise their authority and control over governments, financial institutions, and powerful organisations.
This article will detail some of the more prominent antisemitic conspiracy theories, investigating their origins and history, and reflecting on their existence in today’s society.
Holocaust denial can be defined as the attempt to deny or minimise the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews during WWII. The extent to which some deny the Holocaust varies. Some claim the number of Jewish deaths is greatly exaggerated, whilst others maintain the Holocaust never took place, labelling it a hoax intended to advance the interests of Jews.
Several notorious arguments have been adopted by Holocaust deniers over the years, including suggesting the Holocaust was Allied Propaganda used to justify excessive force against the Germans, or the claim that all European Jews immigrated to the United States.
Holocaust denial began during WW2, when leaders of the Nazi party conspired to destroy mass graves to cover up the Jewish extermination. As time progressed, the denial of the Holocaust has been adopted by far-right groups, antisemitic publications and even members of the historical community. This conspiracy still exists in the world today, with Holocaust deniers attempting to cleanse the history of Nazism to make it an acceptable political choice.
There are several motivations for the denial of the Holocaust, however the common denominator is antisemitism. This conspiracy is driven by a hatred of Jews and only further perpetuates historical antisemitic stereotypes, by accusing the Jewish community of conspiracy and attempted global domination.
Read our guide on Antisemitism for more background information.
Economic antisemitism is the term used to describe antisemitic stereotypes based on the economic status, economic behaviour, or occupation of Jews. Stereotypes range from the idea that all Jews are good with money, to the conspiracy that Jews control most of the world’s wealth and finances.
This form of antisemitism can be dated back to the late 18th century when the Jewish community began to rise to the middle and upper classes of Europe, resulting in the development of conspiracies asserting Jews were manipulative financiers who controlled the business world.
These antisemitic ideas continued to spread and gain traction throughout western Europe during the 19th and 20th Century. The rise of capitalism further propagated the belief that Jews possessed economic control over a city, country, and the world.
The Rothschild family were victims of conspiracies that still exist today. Arguably the most famous banking dynasty in modern history, the family’s increase in wealth and power was met with widespread antisemitism. The first Rothschild conspiracy can be traced to a pamphlet produced in 1846. Written under the pseudonym ‘Satan’, the pamphlet claimed that Nathan Rothschild witnessed the French defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Sensing an opportunity, he swiftly travelled to England, 24 hours before official word of the defeat, and made a killing on the stock exchange. Satan was in fact Georges Dairnvaell, a left-wing anti-Semite.
Economic antisemitism exists today. In fact, some of the stereotypes are so deeply ingrained into societies, some individuals are unaware that their words and actions are antisemitic. In 2018, NBA Star Lebron James shared a lyric about “Jewish Money” on social media. After being informed on the offensiveness of the comment, James apologised, stating he originally believed the comment to be a compliment.
Furthermore, videos on the Rothschilds conspiracies have garnered millions of views on social media and YouTube, with many viewers unaware of how these videos help preserve antisemitic beliefs.
Zoological conspiracy theories
Located on the internet or in the media, Israel has been the target of several zoological conspiracies suggesting the nation uses animals to attack civilians or conduct espionage. Although not always the case, most zoological conspiracies originate from Muslim-majority countries. These conspiracies attempt to add weight to an alleged Zionist or Israeli plot.
In 2013, Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group, claimed to have captured an Israeli spy eagle. Moreover, a Sudanese newspaper reported the capture of a vulture, alleging it was carrying a surveillance device.
In December 2010, several shark attacks occurred in South Sinai Resort, Egypt. Carrying GPS devices, a popular Egyptian television show argued the GPS was in fact a guiding device used by Israeli agents to control the sharks. The governor of South Sinai was open to the possibility of this conspiracy, entertaining the idea that it was an attempt by Israel to impact tourism in Egypt.
These conspiracies are quite recent and very much alive today. In 2018, a new rumour surfaced alleging Israel had collected all rats in Norway carrying the Bubonic plague and released them into Egypt.
Zoological conspiracies are not as prominent in the West, possibly a result of the West’s more stable relationship with Israel. But with the ever-present tension between Israel and the Muslim-majority nations, conspiracies start and spread rapidly further east. Motivations behind these conspiracies are more difficult to determine. Whilst undoubtedly anti-Semitic, the main motivations for these conspiracies are Anti-Zionist and Anti-Israel.
Antisemitism and conspiracies have a historical relationship that has only grown stronger due to the actions of societies all over the globe. How to prevent this from carrying on raises a lot of difficult issues. What could work for the West will likely not work for the East, whose relationship with antisemitism is heavily influenced by religion.
Antisemitism is illegal in several countries, and this number is increasing. However, it will likely require education of the masses and the self-reflection of individuals before we can begin to erase widely held beliefs and dismantle the conspiracies that exist in modern society.
For more articles and resources on this topic, head to our dedicated Racism, Islamophobia and Antisemitism section.
Edited by Abbie Harby