Accounting for Anti-Semitism
The term anti-Semitism made its first appearance in Germany in the fall of 1879. It was introduced into public discourse by Wilhelm Marr, one of the leading figures in an anti-Jewry campaign which had been gaining strength for the better part of the decade and which emerged at this juncture into a full-fledged social-political movement. We know with certainty what prompted the use of the term and why it was so readily adopted by the general public. The men who coined and propagated it wished to convey the idea that their objection to Jews had nothing to do with traditional “Jew-hatred.” A product of bygone times and obsolete conceptions, Jew-hatred had arisen against the background of the religious conflict between Jews and Christians. The anti-Semites, for their part, claimed to be entirely free of religious prejudice.
What, then, was their complaint against the Jews? It was, they said, prompted by Jewish behavior, by the preponderance of Jews in the economy, by Jewish penetration into the social fabric and cultural life of the nation, and so forth. Thus ran the reasoning of the German anti-Semites, who had been anticipated by forerunners in Hungary and who were followed by imitators in Austria and France. In all these places Jews were viewed as aliens, their participation in national life as an intrusion and usurpation. Only seldom was reference made to events and ideas of earlier times; the data of the moment were considered sufficient grounds for hostility.
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