By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Over the past several weeks, American audiences have been introduced to QAnon:
…postings that concoct a smorgasbord of conspiracy theories, like Satanic child-sex trafficking rings, ritual murder of children and the overthrow of the government by a “deep state.” 
When one reads this on-line material it becomes evident that Jews are being specifically targeted:
They hold Jews accountable for controlling governments, mass media, Hollywood, international banking, the coronavirus and working to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump.
Identifying the Sources of anti-Semitism:
This expression of hatred is but the latest in a long line of anti-Jewish rhetoric and beliefs. In the material introduced below, we are exploring the various forms and outlets for such messaging:
- Historical Cycles of Anti-Semitism: Trigger events generate “waves” of anti-Semitic expression. As David Nirenberg, the Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, has argued that long established ideas about Judaism and Jews, generated by Christianity and Islam over the centuries, continue to have a profound influence on Western culture and behavior. One can then identify a number of these belief patterns in connection with anti-Jewish behaviors in each of these public spheres:
- Religion: Anti-Jewish Expressions (the Negation of Judaism)
- Economics: Jewish Responsibility for Economic Outcomes (Conspiracy theories about Jewish “control and influence”)
- Health and Welfare: “Jews Poisoned the Wells” (Medieval Beliefs)
- Politics: Jews as Disloyal (Case in Point: The Dreyfus Affair)
- Race: Jews as Inferior (Case in Point: Nazi Theory on the Aryan Race)
- External Factors and Anti-Semitic Behaviors: Economic dislocation, political upheaval, health/pandemic conditions each can contribute to anti-Semitism. Conspiracy theories represent one of the oldest forms of anti-Jewish expression. QAnon is simply the current articulation of such behavior.
- Conspiracy Ideas: By identifying individual Jewish actors, anti-Semites ascribe to these personalities extraordinary power and/or economic influence. This model is aligned with the previous one as it implies a type of conspiratorial behavior. These high-profile players represent the symbol of the powerful or infamous Jew. Giving to Jews almost supernatural power allows the enemies of the Jewish people to describe Jews and Judaism as outliers.
- Marginalizing Jews: Attacks are directed against Jews on the basis of personal traits, practices and beliefs. These expressions represent one of the oldest forms of anti-Semitic practice. Such notions were particularly prominent in the Middle Ages and within early modern societies. Such views led to the isolation or ghettoization of Jews and others as “undesirable.”
- Money and Economics as Factors in anti-Semitic Practice: “Money” represents one of the oldest canards employed against Jews. Negative descriptions of Jews as controlling and using their wealth abound.
- Social Media: Today, social media platforms are the major purveyors of hate, as such resources are contributing to the radicalization of particular audiences. Increasingly, we find individual actors drawing upon social media messaging as the justification for their anti-Semitic actions.
- The Holocaust Denial and Application: Here, we can identity two outcomes. An effort to deny and/or minimize the death of Jews under the Nazis represents the first of these behaviors. If you reject the Holocaust or employ historical revisionism, you further minimize Jewish claims to their story and in turn, seek to remove/diminish the blame on those who perpetrated these crimes.
Appropriating actions and practices of the Nazis directed against Jews and applying these same ideas and practices to the actions of the Jewish State allows Israel’s critics the basis for identifying Jews as the “new Nazis”. This “appropriation” model suggests that the former victims have taken on the characteristics and behaviors of their oppressors.
- Israel as the Collective Jew:Actions undertaken by the Jewish State are then ‘recycled’ to be employed as “evidence” of negative Jewish behavior. Anti-Zionism represents the latest and most overt contemporary expression of anti-Semitism. Is it a distinct and different type of expression of hostility against Jews or can it be seen as yet another manifestation of historic Jewish hatred?
The employment of boycotts against Israel represents a central strategy. The BDS movement is a successor to the Arab Boycott and continues to pursue the use of economic pressure as a device to try and weaken Israel. The debate centers on when and whether such actions are introduced as tools to change Israeli policy or represents a more sinister purpose in seeking the demise of the Jewish State.
- Applying intersectionality, Cancel Culture, and Replacement Theory to the Repertoire of anti-Semitic Practice: In the first instance (intersectionality) the victimization of Palestinians is cataloged along with other persecuted groups who have also been so identified. In the second (cancel culture), the discarding or removing of persons whose politics ([pro-Israel) and political identities (Zionism) are seen as suspect and/or problematic. Their credibility and legitimacy are associated exclusively with these labels. The third (replacement) posits that another people or culture are entitled to “replace” those who currently claim ownership or title to their identity (i.e. Black Hebrews as the “true” Jews). The appropriation of a group’s identity symbolizes a formal rebuke of their status, as their claims of authenticity are removed. The bottom line here is the ultimate elimination of Jews as having no legitimate standing.
- Jews and “Whiteness”: For the alt-right and white supremacists Jews are seen as seeking to replace “white people” in positions of power and influence. In this context Jews are described as becoming “too white.” On the political left, Jews are seen as shedding their minority credentials and victimhood status in favor of “becoming white”, and in the process their claims of persecution and victimization are rejected as no longer holding validity. In the 21st Century, race has returned as a central measure of one’s status.
Crisis situations create an environment in which various forms of anti-Semitic expression are reintroduced. In unsettled social conditions, such as the one we are experiencing, conspiracy theories flourish as they provide simple explanations for these complex circumstances. There is a tendency to place blame, creating opportunities to artificially construct meaning and target particular groups and/or prominent individuals. Sadly, moving forward, we will need to anticipate the continued presence of conspiratorial ideas and anti-Semitic attacks.
Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR. His writings can be found on his website: www.thewindreport.com.