Racial antisemitism

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Nazi racial theory on the origin of Jews.

Racial antisemitism is a form of antisemitism or prejudice against Jews based on the belief that Jews are a racial or ethnic group, rather than prejudice against Judaism as a religion.[1] The definition is based on the premise that Jews constitute a distinctive race or ethnic group, whose traits or characteristics are in some way abhorrent or inherently inferior or otherwise different to that of the rest of society. The abhorrence may be expressed in the form of stereotypes or caricatures. Racial antisemitism may present Jews, as a group, as being a threat in some way to the values or safety of society. Racial antisemitism could be seen as worse than religious antisemitism because for religious antisemites conversion was an option and once converted the 'Jew' was gone. With racial antisemitism a Jew could not get rid of their Jewishness.[2]

According to William Nichols, religious antisemitism may be distinguished from modern antisemitism based on racial or ethnic grounds. "The dividing line was the possibility of effective conversion ... a Jew ceased to be a Jew upon baptism." However, with racial antisemitism, "Now the assimilated Jew was still a Jew, even after baptism ... . From the Enlightenment onward, it is no longer possible to draw clear lines of distinction between religious and racial forms of hostility towards Jews... Once Jews have been emancipated and secular thinking makes its appearance, without leaving behind the old Christian hostility towards Jews, the new term antisemitism becomes almost unavoidable, even before explicitly racist doctrines appear."[3]

In the context of the Industrial Revolution, following the emancipation of the Jews and the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), Jews rapidly urbanized and experienced a period of greater social mobility. With the decreasing role of religion in public life and the simultaneous tempering of religious antisemitism, a combination of growing nationalism, the rise of eugenics, resentment at the socio-economic success of the Jews, and the influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, soon led to the newer, and often more virulent, racist antisemitism.[4][citation needed]

Scientific racism, the ideology that genetics played a role in group behavior and characteristics, was highly respected and accepted as fact between 1870 and 1940. It was not only antisemites who believed in race science but highly educated Jews, among others, as well. This acceptance of race science made it possible for antisemites to clothe their hatred of Jews in scientific theory.[5]

The logic of racial antisemitism was extended in Nazi Germany, where racial antisemitic ideas were turned into law, which looked at the "blood" or ethnicity of a person, and not their current religious affiliations, and their fate would be determined purely on that basis. When added to its views on the Jewish racial traits which Nazi pseudoscience devised, the logic of racial antisemitism led to the Holocaust as a way of eradicating conjured up "Jewish traits" from the world.

Limpieza de sangre[edit]

Racial antisemitism has existed alongside religious antisemitism since the Middle Ages, if not earlier. In Spain even before the Edict of Expulsion of 1492, Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism (conversos in Spanish), and their descendants, were called New Christians. They were frequently accused of lapsing to their former religious practices ("Crypto-Jews"). To isolate conversos, the Spanish nobility developed an ideology of "cleanliness of blood". The conversos were called "New Christians" to indicate their inferior status in society. That ideology was a form of racism, as in the past there were no grades of Christianity and a convert had equal standing. Cleanliness of blood was an issue of ancestry, not of personal religion. The first statute of purity of blood appeared in Toledo in 1449,[6] where an anti-converso riot lead to conversos being banned from most official positions. Initially these statutes were condemned by the monarchy and the Church. However, the New Christians came to be hounded and persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition after 1478, the Portuguese Inquisition after 1536, the Peruvian Inquisition after 1570 and the Mexican Inquisition after 1571, as well as the Inquisition in Colombia after 1610.

Concept of a "semitic race"[edit]

A stylised T and O map, depicting Asia as the home of the descendants of Shem (Sem). Africa is ascribed to Ham and Europe to Japheth

In Medieval Europe, all Asian peoples were thought of as descendants of Shem. By the 19th century, the term Semitic was confined to the ethnic groups who have historically spoken Semitic languages or had origins in the Fertile Crescent, as the Jews in Europe did. These peoples were often considered to be a distinct race. However, some antisemitic racial theorists of the time argued that the Semitic peoples arose from the blurring of distinctions between previously separate races. This supposed process was referred to as semiticization by the race-theorist Arthur de Gobineau.

Gobineau himself did not consider the Semites (decedents of Shem) to be of a lesser race. He broke people up into three races: white, black, and yellow. The Semites, like the Aryans (and Hamites) came from Asia and were white. Over time each of the groups had mixed with black blood. The Aryans had stayed pure longer and it was not until more recent times that they had mixed. It was this mixing of races that would lead to man's downfall.[7] This idea of racial "confusion" was taken up by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.[8] It was used by the Nazis to perpetuate the idea that the Jews were going to destroy Germany.[7][citation needed] The term semiticization was first used by Gobineau to label the blurring of racial distinctions that, in his view, had occurred in the Middle East. Gobineau had an essentialist model of race based on the three distinct racial groups, though he had no clear account of how this division arose. When these races mixed this caused "degeneration". Since the point at which these three supposed races met was in the Middle East, Gobineau argued that the process of mixing and diluting races occurred there, and that Semitic peoples embodied this "confused" racial identity.

This concept suited the interests of antisemites, since it provided a theoretical model to rationalise racialised antisemitism. Variations of the theory are to be found in the writings of many antisemites in the late 19th century. The Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg developed a variant of the theory in his writings, arguing that Jewish people were not a "real" race. According to Rosenberg, their evolution came about from the mixing of pre-existing races rather than from natural selection. The theory of semiticization was typically associated with other longstanding racist fears about the dilution of racial difference through miscegenation, manifested in negative images of mulattos and other mixed groups.


Modern European antisemitism has its origins in 19th century theories—now mostly considered as pseudo-scientific, but then accepted as credible—that said that the Semitic peoples, including the Jews, are entirely different from the Aryan, or Indo-European, populations, and that they would not be able to assimilate. In this view, Jews are not opposed on account of their religion, but on account of their supposed hereditary or genetic racial characteristics: greed, a special aptitude for money-making, aversion to hard work, clannishness and obtrusiveness, lack of social tact, low cunning, and especially lack of patriotism. Later, Nazi propaganda also dwelt on supposed physical differences, such as the shape of the "Jewish nose".[9][10][11][12]

Racial antisemitic legislation[edit]

A chart use to explain the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which used a pseudo-scientific racial basis for discrimination against Jews

In Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 prohibited sexual relations and marriage between any Aryan and Jew (such relations under Nazi ideology was a crime punishable under the race laws as Rassenschande or "racial pollution"), and made it that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were no longer citizens of their own country (their official title became "subject of the state"). This meant that they had no basic citizens' rights, e.g., to vote. In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them having any influence in politics, higher education and industry. On 15 November 1938, Jewish children were banned from going to normal schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or had been persuaded to sell out to the Nazi government. This further reduced their rights as human beings; they were in many ways officially separated from the German populace. Similar laws existed in Bulgaria (The Law for protection of the nation), Hungary, Romania, and Austria.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Anti-Semitism", Jewish Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Brustein, William (2003). Roots of Hate. Cambridge University Press. p. 173.
  3. ^ Nichols, William: Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate (1993) p. 314.
  4. ^ "Antisemitism in History: Racial Antisemitism, 1875–1945". www.ushmm.org. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  5. ^ Brustein, William (2003). Roots of Hate. Cambridge University Press. pp. 95–96.
  6. ^ Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Pablo A. Chami.
  7. ^ a b Brustein, William (2003). Roots of Hate. Cambridge University Press. p. 101.
  8. ^ "Alfred Rosenberg". www.ushmm.org. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  9. ^ "How to Tell a Jew".
  10. ^ "Education - Lesson Plan: Antisemitism".
  11. ^ "Antisemitic Caricature: 'The Jewish Nose is Wide at the End and Looks like the Number Six '".
  12. ^ "Jews and their noses".


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Further reading[edit]