The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Perspectives on Racism:
Anti-Semitism in Canada
Realities, Remedies & Implications for Anti-Racism
Dr. Karen Mock

Anti-Semitism as Racism

Emancipation was a mixed blessing for the Jews. Previously denied the vote, land ownership, or access to trade, industry, or education, they were now permitted both citizenship and access to the benefits it conferred Such benefits, however, did not give Jews equality. Rather, Jewish progress inflamed anti-Semitism. Fear and hatred of Jews festered and took on a racial rather than a religious dimension. That is, Jews were now resented simply for being Jews, and even changing their religion did not help. The modern age of 'racial anti-Semitism' had arrived.

As the 1988 document prepared by the Pontifical Commission of the Vatican, 'The Church and Racism,' indicates, the development of modern racist theory can be traced to the attempts by colonial conquerors and slavers to 'justify their actions.' This pseudo-scientific theory 'sought to deduce an essential difference of a hereditary biological nature, in order to affirm that the subjugated peoples belong to intrinsically inferior "races" with regard to their mental, moral, or social qualities. It was at the end of the 18th century that the word "race" was used for the first time to classify human beings biologically' (sect. 3, para. 5)

It did not take long for European racial theorists to apply such ideology to the traditional 'other' in their midst - the Jews. Leading the way were some of the principal figures of the so-called Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, who held that Jews could not be assimilated into European culture. From the perspective of the secular theoreticians of race, there simply was no solution to 'the Jewish problem.' Jews were now no longer simply 'reprobates' or 'unbelievers.' They were subhuman.

Racial anti-Semitism had considerable acceptance in pre- Second World War Germany. The National Socialist totalitarian party made racist ideology the basis of its program to eliminate all those deemed to belong to an 'inferior race,' among whom were Jews, Blacks, and Slavs. As Fisher (1990) points out, one had only to re-define a group out of the category of 'human' in order to lose all bonds of moral hesitancy on what a dominant group could or would do to a minority group.

While the situation in pre-Nazi Germany seems remote from Canada in the nineties, the rise in anti-Semitism and the strengthening of right wing hate groups across the country permit analogies to be drawn. One is the connection between hate propaganda and the rise in racism and anti-Semitism.


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