by: Cheryl Hauer, International Vice President
The dictionary defines a conspiracy theory as an attempt to explain harmful or difficult events as being the result of the actions or secret plots of a small or powerful group. These wild theories tend to increase in number during periods of widespread anxiety, uncertainty or hardship, such as wars, economic depressions or often in the aftermath of natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes and pandemics. Today, we as a society can tick many of those boxes, from anxiety and uncertainty to economic depression and pandemic.
Add to that the ability of the Internet and social media to provide an instant audience ready to support whatever view one might espouse, and it is no wonder that our world is rife with such theories. And it seems no one is safe. The US government, we are told, faked the moon landing and is responsible for the attacks on 9/11. The British government, they say, is responsible for the death of Princess Diana. The famous Beatle Paul McCartney is, in fact, a look-alike who has replaced the real Paul after his beheading in 1966. And then there is the zombie apocalypse lurking right around the corner. Many such theories seem ludicrous, and some are downright amusing. The pages of history, however, are filled with the often tragic consequences of the unfounded accusations that are the hallmark of the conspiracy theory. And historically, no individual or group has suffered as frequently or profoundly at the hands of conspiracy theorists than the Jews.
Perhaps the first such theory to affect Jewish life is found in Exodus 1:8. A new Egyptian pharaoh who was unfamiliar with Joseph and his family posited that those Hebrews—who were living peaceful lives tending their flocks in Goshen—were, in fact, enemies in the making, a nation within the nation, ready to rise up and overthrow the government. In Esther 3:8, we find another theorist convincing the king that the Jews in his kingdom were disloyal and dangerous, a threat to his reign that must be eradicated.
The accusation of deicide, claiming the Jewish people alone are responsible for the death of Jesus (Yeshua), appeared on the scene in the third century AD and has been responsible for the persecution and death of countless Jews throughout history. Similarly, the claim that Jewish people kill Christian children and use their blood to prepare Passover matzot (unleavened bread), called the blood libel, has haunted the Jews for centuries. Another such theory began in the medieval world, accusing the Jews of forming a powerful, secret international cabal that manipulates governmental institutions and whose goal is to rule the globe. In this theory, which is still popular today, we find Jews that control governments, the media, academia and financial institutions. They are blamed for virtually any contemporary catastrophe, including the attacks on the US in September 2011.
None of these accusations, however, are as heinous as that of genocide. It has become an albatross, woven through millennia of anti-Semitic hatred and periodically raising its ghastly head to bring disaster to the Jewish people. From 1347–1351, for instance, the devastating Bubonic plague swept across Europe, killing somewhere between 75–200 million people. By 1348, the blame had been placed squarely on the Jews. They had poisoned the wells and the food supply, the story went, in their desire to exterminate the population of Europe. This conspiracy theory unleashed mass violence, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Jewish men, women and children, most of whom were burned to death. Hundreds of massacres took place, and over a thousand Jewish communities across a large swath of the European continent were completely eradicated. Historians today struggle to determine if more Jews died due to the plague or from the ensuing persecution against them.
In 1919, high-ranking German military leaders declared that the “supreme government” of the Jewish people was responsible for the German loss of World War I. It was not a stretch for people to believe just one year later that the Jews had again polluted water and food supplies, this time with influenza. In two years, the pandemic killed more than 50 million people.
By the dawn of the 19th century, tuberculosis—or consumption—had killed one in seven of the global population. From 1891 through the 1900s, millions more died across Europe and America. In the US, the pandemic coincided with an influx of immigrant Jewish people from Eastern Europe. It wasn’t long after their arrival that they were accused of causing the plague, so much so that it became known as the “Jewish disease.”
Today, the media is obsessed with another genocidal accusation: that Israel is an apartheid state, bent on the destruction of the Palestinian people. Never mind the fact that the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics states that the Palestinian population in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) has increased fourfold since the founding of the state. On top of that, Arab Israelis serve in virtually every area of life, including government as members of Knesset (Parliament) and the supreme court, education and the military. Regardless of how one might feel about Israel, this is clearly neither genocide nor apartheid.
In January 2022, a prominent Utah entrepreneur sent an email to his state’s political leaders, stating: “I believe there is a sadistic effort underway to euthanize the American people. I believe the Jews are behind this.” Called the “white genocide,” the conspiracy theory posits that Jews are conspiring to wipe out the white race through promotion of mass immigration, interracial marriage and other sinister social schemes, including the creation and spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In a recent article in the Atlantic, author Yair Rosenberg called the idea of accusing the Jews of genocide a “masterful maneuver of moral jujitsu.” Prior to the Holocaust, Rosenberg says, anti-Semites were secure in their position as superior to the Jews. But the Holocaust has robbed them of that position. The accusation of genocide turns the victims into perpetrators, restoring the anti-Semites to their vantage point, which makes it possible for such things to happen again. After all, says Rosenberg, making the Jews guilty of genocide doesn’t just obviate non-Jewish guilt for permitting past genocide against the Jews. It also justifies the next one.
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