The Other Anti-Semitism

Historically, the animus of anti-Semitism directed against both Arabs and Jews has been the same. It has been a largely Western Christian struggle against two Semitic civilizations-one that it found living within its midst and that it saw as an internal threat; the other that it confronted as an external challenge but that it similarly defined as a threat to its survival.

Both Jews and Arab Muslims were perceived as threats-their organizations, their wealth, and even their corporate identities were seen as damaging to the West. And the results have been devastating to both peoples. Both groups have suffered a history of vilification and both have endured campaigns of systematic violence.

Several years ago I did a study of political cartoons and other forms of popular culture, comparing the depiction of Jews in Czarist Russia and pre-Nazi Germany with that of the Arabs in the United States in the 1970s and ‘80s. In both content and form the treatments given to each were identical. The two most prevalent German and Russian depictions of Jews paralleled the two most common images of the Arabs projected in U.S. cartoons. The fat grotesque Jewish banker or merchant found its contemporary counterpart in the obese oil sheik, and the images of the Arab and Jewish terrorists differed only in their attire.

Both groups were uniformly treated as alien and hostile. They were accused of not sharing Western values and were both viewed as prone to conspiracy. They were both seen as usurpers of Western wealth and were defined as threats to Western civilization. Jews were associated with capitalist greed and anarchist violence and communism. Arab avarice was held responsible for runaway inflation, and they were seen as the main agents responsible for international terrorism.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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