Antisemitism in Serbia then and now

Antisemitism can be described as hatred, animosity, or bias against the Jews, just because and only because they are Jews. Antisemitism is a very old phenomenon that was manifested in various ways throughout the centuries. Its most horrible form was the Holocaust.

Antisemitism still exists today, in almost all parts of the world, as well as in Serbia. Although contemporary antisemitism has certain specificities, what characterized it through centuries up until the present day, is that it remains based on prejudices, stereotypes, myths and lies.

Anti-Jewish myths and lies throughout history

Regardless of different content and manifestations of antisemitic myths and lies, from religious to racial antisemitism, throughout the history antisemitism has always had a very prosaic and practical background, that stemmed from the interest of certain structures of society to secure the power for themselves, or to turn away the attention of the people from the real social problems, passing the Jews as the “culprits” for all kinds of misfortunes, or to hinder and prevent the Jews from engaging in the economy, thus safeguarding their own monopoly, or the most prosaic of reasons – to justify the robbery of the Jewish property, as well as their persecutions and murder, or all of it together.

Religious antisemitism is hatred and animosity against the Jews based on religious “arguments”. The central point in Christian antisemitism, from early Christianity to modern times, is the accusation of the “betrayal of Jesus Christ” and “deicide”. According to the long-dominant theological teaching, all Jews are collectively responsible for Christ’s crucifixion, for eternity. This idea played an important role in the centuries-long persecution and discrimination of Jews in Europe. Another characteristic of religious antisemitism is the emphasis on the “inferiority” of Judaism in relation to Christianity. For a long time, Christian theology described Christianity as spiritual, based on love and forgiveness, while Judaism was presented as “materialistic,” with the special emphasis given to the “lack of notion of forgiveness”. Christian art accompanied this dogma, so painting, frescoes and sculptures that adorned the outer walls of churches often depicted allegories that assert “failure” and “inferiority” of Judaism. On the one hand, Jews were demonized and portrayed as freaks, and on the other hand, “erased” and left out of works of art that were supposed to portray biblical motifs, in which, in the Bible itself, the Jews play a role.

The myth that the Jews allegedly “poisoned the wells” is another in a series of absurd accusations related to Jews. The Jews were accused of allegedly poisoning the wells in order to spread the infection, so they were found guilty of the outbreak of the terrible plague epidemic that decimated Europe in the 14th century. These unfounded accusations led to the massacre of thousands of Jews in various parts of Europe, but the claims that the Jews “spread disease” or other calamities, still exist today in various contemporary forms. A similar fabrication was conceived in Europe in the 12th century, suggesting that the Jews “abduct and kill Christian children, and use their blood in rituals during the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Pesach”. The accusation that Jews carry out “ritual murders” (blood libel) exists today in various forms, especially among antisemites in the Arab and Islamic world.

One of the typical anti-Jewish prejudices is that the Jews are “obsessed with gold, money and wealth,” and that they are “usurers” who mercilessly force their debtors into ruin. This stereotype first appeared back in the Middle Ages. At that time across Europe, the local rulers and the church banned the Jews from engaging in a whole range of professions, as well as possessing or working the land, while on the other hand, encouraging them to engage in trade, banking and money lending (since usury was prohibited for Muslims and Christians for religious reasons). In essence, antisemitism was manifested through the disenfranchisement of Jews (the ban on engaging in certain professions and the possession of land), which gave rise to new antisemitic prejudices about them, that exist to this day

The concept that there was enormous “Jewish power” that posed a “threat” was, and still is, a central part of antisemitism. Such prejudices have their roots in the Middle Ages, but they developed especially during the 19th century, after the period of creation of modern nation-states and emancipation through which in some countries, especially in Western Europe, the door was finally opened to Jews to participate as equal citizens. Prejudices about Jewish (omnipotence) also played an important role in Nazi propaganda. Thus, German Jews are presented as the alleged “powers” of politics, economics, culture, and the media in Germany and part of “world Jewry” (Weltjudentum) which “controls” the world economy and “manages” all major world powers – from American capitalism to Soviet Bolshevism.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Some of the contemporary examples of antisemitism include:

• Making, dissemination or participation in the dissemination of mendacious stereotypical allegations about Jews, with the aim, do dehumanize and demonize the individual Jews or Jewish community, which includes, especially but not exclusively, the myth about Jewish world domination, or of Jews controlling the media, government, banks, etc.
• Accusing Jews as individuals or people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews;
• Accusing Jewish fellow citizens of being more loyal to ”global Jewish community” or to the State of Israel, and giving priority to representing their interests, rather than to the interests of their own countries, whose nationals they are;
• Denial of Holocaust, as well as distortion of Holocaust history, or historical revisionism of Holocaust, as well as the accusation of the Jewish people and the state of Israel that they invented the Holocaust or exaggerated the number
of its victims;
• Calling for, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a racist ideology or an extremist view of religion.

Gojko Kekić

Gojko Kekić I 22nd July 2021.