Why are some people prejudiced against Jews? A bottle of wine awaits the best answer

Since no Jewish organization is ever going to hold an essay-writing competition on this subject, we are going to have to do it here.

The last time I sat for a written test was 16 years ago, so I took my time answering the question put to British high-school students in a national exam last month: “Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.” This question, which appeared in a religious studies examination taken by about 1,000 students, many of them at Jewish schools, has since been the subject of a mini-storm.


Britain's Education Secretary Michael Gove arrives at Downing Street.

Britain's Education Secretary Michael Gove arrives at Downing Street for a cabinet meeting in central London - Photo by Reuters


Jewish leaders attacked it as “insensitive” and Britain’s education secretary, Michael Gove, said to the Jewish Chronicle, which broke the story, that “to suggest that anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre.”

Of course, I can understand why politicians and community worthies feel they have to condemn the very idea that high-schoolers be asked to exercise their minds and try to answer one of history’s most fascinating questions. If they start thinking for themselves and asking difficult questions at school, what will happen when they are of voting age?

The explanation of the board that prepared the exam paper that “the question concerned acknowledges that some people are prejudiced, but we did not intend to imply in any way that prejudice is justified,” seems totally plausible. I expect nearly all the students who answered the question understood it in that light, and unlike the politicians and machers, went on to write intelligent answers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if at least one Jewish organization in London, instead of acting all offended, would have welcomed the question in the spirit of the eternal Jewish quest for understanding and knowledge and sponsored a competition for teenagers, Jewish and non-Jewish, to write an essay on exactly that topic?

The issue is too important to be left to academics and politicians; let’s have some fresh thinking from young minds – they are the ones who will have to face these prejudices as they embark on their grown-up lives and careers; indeed they already are. But for some reason, this question is so toxic that no one can ask it without getting burned. Henry Blodget, a respected American financial analyst, broadcaster and blogger, read about the exam question in the British media and was intrigued. He wrote a blog post on his website, Business Insider, describing the anti-Semitic comments sometimes written by visitors to the site and his personal perplexity at them.

Mystified and curious

“Why?” he asked, “What is the source of this animosity? Why does it perpetuate itself? Where did this prejudice come from?” And he opened it up to his readers, emphasizing that he was “asking this question seriously” because he was “genuinely mystified and curious” and promised that he would immediately remove any anti-Semitic comments. He was prepared for a spirited debate but the level of emotions his question generated surprised him.

“Lots of the feedback, believe it or not, was positive,” he wrote in a subsequent post. “I was praised for starting a discussion on a sensitive topic. But lots of the response was also negative – as in, “What kind of an insensitive rockhead would ever ask a question like that?” He concluded the debate by apologizing after “some people I like and respect told me they felt insulted by and uncomfortable with the post. That did it. Whatever interesting responses came from the post, I now regret writing it. (I’m okay making people feel uncomfortable about some topics, but not this one. ) I am very sorry to anyone I offended. I sincerely apologize.”

Blodget has nothing to apologize for. The roots of anti-Semitism, both in its historic form and in the current manifestations of the varied prejudices against Jews, are something we all, Jews and non-Jews, have to be aware of. Whether they are unique to the specific condition of the Jewish people living among the nations, or prime examples of xenophobia, racism, discrimination and scapegoating that can be directed at other groups as well.

Christians should ask themselves this question for a better understanding of their own history; Muslims should do so to get a grasp on their current predicament. Jews, especially Israelis, have to dwell on it to improve the deplorable way we are now treating minorities in Israel, most recently the campaign of hatred being waged against African migrants.

This question is too important to be left to historians and sociologists who write long books that few will read on the subject. While many of these tomes are worthy and important, offering valuable insight and context, there is need of a more accessible perspective. And we certainly can’t allow politicians or lobbying groups and anti-anti-Semitism leagues to monopolize the issue and grant them the right to decide who and who is not a Jew-hater.

Too often, bona fide racists are let off the hook, their prejudices excused and explained away, because their prominence and views on other subjects, or their fundraising prowess and political connections, make them too valuable to the left- or right-wing camps. Still others are too easily tainted by the stain of anti-Semitism as a way of fending off their legitimate criticism. And once again, both the right and the left are guilty, being too quick in using this defensive tactic against attacks on Israeli policies, or against valid skepticism of multi-culturalism and political correctness.

I have only one problem with the British exam question. How can I possibly answer that question “briefly”? Of all the issues I have written about in this column in its nearly five years of existence, anti-Semitism is the one that I find myself returning to again and again, with a feeling that I just can’t nail it down. But that only proves that it is a question we have to continue asking, and it can’t be the private preserve of newspaper columnists either.

And since no Jewish organization is ever going to hold an essay-writing competition on this subject, we are going to have to do it here. A decent bottle of wine (kosher of course ) will go to the best reader’s answer to the question: “Why are some people prejudiced against Jews” The two runners-up will get honorable mentions in a future column.

This is a no-holds-barred contest, so feel free to write whatever you really think. The only rule is that you answer “briefly” – in less than 100 words. Have fun.


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By Anshel Pfeffer

Anshel Pfeffer


  1. Andrew Hurwitz says:

    I have to say that most comes from the accusation of deicide within the Christian New Testament. Next comes from being the only non-Christians in a Christian Europe. We rejected Christianity and rejected Islam. We wished to remain Jews no matter what obstacles were put in our path.

  2. Aviva Ishai says:

    Cause of antisemitism
    From what I have read, BCE there was antisemitism in the pagan world. This was due to the situation at the time where pagans were willing to accept the G-d of Israel into their pantheon of gods, while the Jews, obviously, were not willing to accept any of the pagan gods [in reciprocity]. This angered the pagans, who thought we were being very unfair.
    The cause of the antisemitism in this case is rooted in the unwillingness of Jews to abandon Torah.
    Vis-à-vis Christianity, the best reason I have come across is a quote from William Nicholls in his book “Christian Antisemitism – A History of Hate” p. 87 “at the root of the split between Christianity and Judaism is a struggle for possession of the Jewish Scriptures, centering on the role of the Messiah. If jesus was the Jewish Messiah, his life and death, and subsequent resurrection, had to have been predicted in the Scriptures. If they were, Jews do not know how to read their own Bible. If they were not, Christianity as history has known it is either an illusion, or something altogether novel, unprepared in the Bible, as the heretic Marcion argued in the second century. These implications cannot be escaped.”
    I have also read that, subconsciously, Christians hate us for inflicting jesus (and thus morality) on them. Since hating/rejecting jesus brings with it the fear of eternal damnation, they take their anger back to the source…Jews.
    There is also the element of the antisemitism present in the Christian so-called new testament, which gave a divinely inspired acquiescence, as it were, to their hate.
    As for Islamic antisemitism, you have two elements: 1)anger at the jews who rejected their so-called prophet (this was especially rude seeing as how they/he went to the trouble of including some things from our Tanach in their religion) 2)the antisemitism found clearly in the Koran. all infidels are frowned upon but special attention is meted out to the jews and, to a lesser extent, the Christians.
    So, to sum up…the root of antisemitism, I believe, is the refusal of Jews to abandon the Torah. For various reasons, this irks everyone else.

    • Your response was more than the allotted 100 words….no bottle of wine 🙂

      • Aviva Ishai says:

        🙁 …..and i was soooooo counting on it! [:)]

      • Aviva Ishai says:

        but seriously, what do you think of what i wrote?

        • There’s a lot of truth to it. But, I think your take on it is only part of it. Anti-Semitism goes a lot deeper in modern history. For example, how do you take your definition, and apply it to the 10’s of thousands of 20-40 yr old university educated who believe Jews caused 9/11, or Jews run the media (I wish we did), Hollywood, Wall Street and are a huge part of the New World Order? Many are not even religious.

          People need to ‘blame someone’ for their unhappiness. Since “we’re” basically all bigots or racists to some degree, our need to blame someone who’s different relives us of responsibility for our own failures.

          Muslims are different. Islam teaches believers that non-believers are only worthy of being slaves. Otherwise, they must convert & submit. In Europe, most of those same anti-Semitics, now hate us AND Muslims. The ‘hate’ for those who are different, brings resentment and many times is based on jealousy.

          In other words, Jews will be hated for any reason someone needs to hate.

          • Aviva Ishai says:

            William Nicholls addresses this in the latter part of the same book I quoted from. Pg 385 “We have learned in the last few chapters how the ancient Christian myth became secularized in the new societies emerging from the crisis of the enlightenment and the French Revolution. Jews were looked down on and hated as before, but new, no longer explicitly religious reasons were now given. Even in the still more secular societies of the late 20th century, the Christian myth about the Jews continued to exercise its’ influence, above and below ground, perpetuating old forms of antisemitism and engendering new ones. ……Few of the varieties of antisemitism prevalent in the late 20th century are altogether new. Except for the root of them all, the traditional religious hostility toward Jews of the Christian world, now two millennia old, most modern forms of antisemitism go back to the 19th century. Even religious conservatives, whose dislike of Jews was grounded in the old theological and other calumnies, had little difficulty in adding racism to their armory, once others developed the theory. In addition to racial theories, the 19th century discovered both left-wing and liberal reasons for disliking Jews. These are very much still with us in the closing years of the 20th century.”
            Ok, so people need to blame someone…that doesn’t explain why the ‘someone’ is always ‘the Jews’.
            The people in europe today who are against muslims taking over Europe are, from what I can ascertain, NOT the ones who are antisemitic. That’s because their opposition to Islam is based on reality and their desire not to live in a country ruled by sharia law. Contrast this with modern day antisemites, who, besides those who cling to the traditional christian antisemitism, are primarily sharia-promoting muslims and leftists….who hate Jews without any reason based in reality (like claiming we stole muslim land, etc.)
            The thousands of 20-40 year old university educated people who believe that Jews caused 9/11 have 2 things supporting their beliefs…1) coming from a christian society which, until recently (and maybe even currently) held the ‘protocols of the elders of zion’ to be fact and 2) are products of the educational system which the Saudis have put in place over the past 30+ years by endowing middle eastern studies departments in hundreds of colleges and universities (they certainly didn’t exist when I graduated Syracuse University in 1978) which have been indoctrinating our youth into believing the lies of the Muslims (I’m sure you’ve heard Brigitte Gabriel talk about this, as well as David Horowitz).

          • Aviva Ishai says:

            there’s also ‘why the jews’ by dennis prager and joseph telushkin.
            have you seen this lecture by Rabbi Ken Spiro? http://www.torahanytime.com/scripts/media.php?file=media/Rabbi/Ken_Spiro/2010-02-13/Antisemitism:_Why_The_Jews/Rabbi__Ken_Spiro__Antisemitism:_Why_The_Jews__2010-02-13.wmv

          • Aviva Ishai says:

            i commented above that antisemitism is rooted in the refusal of jews to abandon Torah.
            Rabbi Spiro, in the lecture(linked above), comes to the conclusion that antisemitism is a result of jewish assimilation.
            i would put it to you that both these positions are true.
            that’s because antisemitism is so deep-seated and irrational…that it defies a rational explanation.

  3. Diana Jacobs says:

    The reason I believe people hate Jews is jealousy, it plainly says in the Bible that they are Gods chosen people. Jesus died for everyone. This means Jews didn’t kill him, I did all nations did. He died for my sins and everyone else’s. I believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. God has blessed the Jews,Israel all through time. He has even proven through many battles that men aren’t even needed. He want’s us to trust him,believe Him,Praise and communicate with Him.I honestly think jealousy is the root of this Evil.King David is my favorite.

  4. Stormy says:

    I believe that jealousy, greed, etc are only symptoms of the true reason for this hatred. The main reason was prophesied over 2000 years ago. Many Bible verses tell us that the Jewish people will be re-gathered to Israel and some tell us that nations will rise up against Israel.

    The verse that answers your question the most, I believe is Zechariah 12:3 “And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.”

  5. Lori says:

    I wish I knew. Makes no sense to me. Being a Christian, I’ve always honored the Jews. Was I not supposed to? Jesus was a Jew…honor the Jews…seems like a no brainer. People are dumb..ignorance is bliss and dangerous.
    Yeah, that’s all I got. Just wanted to voice my opinion.

  6. Crystal says:

    All through history, those who have hated Jews have also had a disdain for the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Rome took over Christianity, everything Jewish was purged and paganism was adopted and added to it, and those who wished to maintain the Jewish roots were persecuted heavily. It wasn’t because Rome loved G-d but for the sake of power and control that Christianity was hijacked. Even today, there are people who call themselves Christian but do not know the Bible and do not believe what the Bible says. G-d has preserved the Jewish people through all these generations in spite of the hatred, and it spits in the faces of those who hate G-d. Taking it out on Jews is much easier than taking it out on G-d.

  7. Robert Baker says:

    To find the answer, look for the ebb and flow of the tides of antisemitism. It flows during bad economic times and ebbs during good economic times. I believe the “culture of Torah” has led to the greater than average economic success of Jews. Through its emphasis on study leading to success in many other fields when applied there, Judaism has created higher than average wealth among its adherents. Jealousy ebbs and flows in the same cycle. Ergo, antisemitism is caused by the an irrational emotion present throughout history, coveting thy neighbor’s stuff. Thank you, and I do Bar Mitvahs!

  8. Sara Argamon says:

    There is One God and one holy nation. The rest are jealous siblings, trying to steal the birthright. But God Chose Jacob, the Children of Israel to be His Firsrborn. The closest other world views have tried to rewrite the Torah, and convert the entire world by force. Forced conversions can do strange things to people, and the children of converts inheret all of the denied memories of pain and humiliation of those forced (beaten, raped, witness to murder of family and friends, etc.). The repressed memories emerge, but are not openly allowed. Only the Jewish people somehow managed to not be forcibly converted. Jealousy boils visciously just below the surface for many “victims” of conversion. Anger towards the Jewish “survivors” is really misdirected as it should be towards the “oppressors” they have since long ago identified with; anger at the Jew is really a nationalized anger at who they were before the forced conversion, at who they could have been.

  9. Lilac Tremelay says:

    Jealousy. Jews are intelligent, gifted people, and everyone wants to be intelligent and gifted.

  10. Adoniah Ritchley says:

    It has been politically correct to hate Jews for centuries because they do not assimilate as others do and, because in order to rally support from the “people”, they need a common enemy to unite. Jews comprise a civilization and have a definite home whether anyone wishes to admit it or not. They have roots deeply planted in Israel. This gives them the strength to survive whatever is thrown at them.

    They pursue knowledge starting with the Holy Torah and expanding from there. They honor the family and care for their children. The children in turn care for their parents…All are taught respect.

    They do not proslytize. People still convert even when it is made difficult. Jews are a gift to world. This creates jealousy and in turn hate.

  11. Jane Kuhfahl says:

    As a Christian and in my personal study of Scripture, I know that the Hebrews/Jews are God’s Chosen people. They are blessed and protected by the Almighty as they wait for their Messiah. In the New Testament, I am taught that God, in His mercy, blinded the Jews, so that the Gentiles may be adopted in to His “family”. I, for one, am grateful.

    Anti-Semitism is as old as the Creation of the world. God created man in His image and gave him free will. Lucifer has always fought against God’s people/those He favored by using “pagans” and non-believers.

    Any time that mankind forgets God and seeks himself and power, there will be anti-Semitism, as was propagated by the early, corrupt Catholic church. God will ALWAYS draw His people to Himself, whether Jew or “adopted” Jew (Christian), and the rest will ALWAYS fight against the One True God under the influence of the unseen evil and hatred for the Holy One.

  12. Mary S. says:

    The reason Jews are hated is purely spiritual! Our enemy, Satan, hates them because he know that G-d has chosen them to be His representatives in the world. He (Satan) has always tried to kill them. All through the Bible, we read of it – the book of Ester, and Herod in the time of Yeshua being two examples.
    By the way, true followers of Yeshua LOVE the Jews!!! We are Israel’s best friends! And we love Torah!!!! Yeshua is a Jew and all His followers for the first 10 years were Jews!! If someone says he is a Christian and doesn’t love the Jews, he is a liar!!!

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