A manuscript image from the 13th century of Jews being persecuted.Elizabeth Hallam

The history of anti-Semitism is long, interesting and terrifyingly homogeneous. Anne Frank wrote: “What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.” While true, something even stronger seems to be the case: the actions of no Jew are thrown back at all Jews.

The pattern of blaming any and all problems on Jewish meddling goes back to early Christianity. The story is a well-known one: the Jewish Pharisees, jealous and doubtful about the success of a new preacher and miracle-worker on the block, savagely murdered him for their own greedy ends. In Matthew 27:24-25, Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the decision, and the Jewish people replied: “His blood is on us and on our children!” This blood curse is where the persecution of Jews for evils they demonstrably did not commit has its beginning.

It’s perhaps instructive to note that even the very first instance of Jewish scapegoating is most likely false. The Jews had no apparent motivation to murder Jesus, whereas the Romans, currently in process of a rather violent occupation of the territory, were understandably worried about an up-and-coming ‘King of the Jews’. The crucifixion itself was a Roman tradition.

Christianity continued to have a complicated relationship with Jews. Martin Luther, the original ‘liberal’ reformer, wrote a book called On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he advocated burning synagogues and Jewish homes and, if all else failed, Jewish people. The Catholic Church proclaimed in 1965 that not all Jews (although some) can be blamed for the death of Christ – a nice effort, but a bit too late. The blood curse had already caught on.

Facts aren’t really all that welcome in anti-Semitism. Jews were behind the Black Death, both world wars (yes, even the second one), and more recently, the 2008 financial crisis, either the Conservatives or the Labour Party, ‘PC culture’ or the rise of neo-fascism (depending on whom
you ask).

While, in 2017, these opinions are usually found in the darkest corners of the internet, historically, the image has been advocated by the ruling classes. Kings often had ‘court Jews’ who handled financial matters and collected the king’s taxes, since usury was considered a sin (although, luckily, paying for usury was not). They provided the face of the ruling class for the people to hate, while keeping the king himself relatively blameless. The court Jew could gain impressive power for someone who was essentially a second-class citizen. But when things went wrong and the pitchforks were at the gates, kings would feel no remorse in placing all blame on the court Jew.

“Whatever feature of our political system that anyone has ever disliked has at some point been blamed on the Jews”

Such scapegoating has been going on for a larger part of the last 2,000 years. It’s not that individual Jews never do anything wrong, but the usual claims of Jewish orchestration are blatantly absurd. The haphazard way the ‘Jew behind the scenes’ trope is used by all conspiratorially minded sides of the political spectrum is shown by the paradoxical nature of all the things associated with
Jewish meddling.

We’re both the warmongerer, manipulating Bush to invade Iraq, and the meddling pacifist, putting personal safety over national glory – the banker exploiting the poor and downtrodden, and the revolutionary communist ready to confiscate people’s hard-earned private property. Any feature of our political system that anyone has ever disliked has at some point been blamed on the Jews.

Although happily absent from the maintream in western politics, the dynamic keeps playing out on the fringes. The ‘George-Soros-funds-everything-I-dislike’ mentality found in conservative circles, as well as claims that Jared Kushner, an out-of-touch goblin who can’t tie his shoelaces, is the intellectual centre of the trump administration. These ideas of nefarious jews behind the scenes have of course never been true.

The immediate consequences of this, whether they manifest in systematic and state-sponsored anti-Semitic campaigns or in individual hate-crimes and terrorism, are bad enough. But the part that really gets to me is that scapegoating Jews often masks the people who are genuinely responsible for horrible things. The banks did cause a global financial crisis largely due to stupidity and greed. There is too much money in politics. These are all real problems – but claiming that they are due to the orchestration of Jews is both false and unproductive. The truth is more complex, and relates to the deepest structures of the global political system – whether that be capitalism, political corruption or oil. Chasing the bogeyman of the ‘Jew behind the scenes’ will change precisely nothing, since the white old men who disproportionately control the world remain safe in their