Zionism Historical Background: The Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism

Introduction to Anti-Semitism

Political emancipation, however, proved to be a false dawn. In the second half of the 19th century organized anti-Semitic parties emerged in Germany and Austria-Hungary. In Russia, where the emancipation had in any case been superficial, the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 unleashed a wave of nationalist feeling, and anti-Jewish riots (pogroms) spread across the country. The 1881 pogroms were as much a turning point for Russian Jewry as the French Revolution had been for French and Western European Jewry.

To escape persecution, large numbers of Russian Jews migrated to the West, primarily to the United States. A smaller number, believing that Jews living in the Diaspora were destined for the eternal role of scapegoat, and that their only security lay in a homeland of their own, went to Palestine, which was then under Turkish rule. They were given financial support by the French Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild, but many did not persevere, and this early Jewish immigration was insignificant.” (1)

History: Before 1910

Anti-Semitism. In the political struggles of the concluding quarter of the 19th century an important part was played by a religious, political and social agitation against the Jews, known as “Anti-Semitism.” The origins of this remarkable movement already threaten to become obscured by legend. The Jews contend that anti-Semitism is a mere atavistic revival of the Jew-hatred of the middle ages. The extreme section of the anti-Semites, who have given the movement its quasi-scientific name, declare that it is a racial struggle—an incident of the eternal conflict between Europe and Asia—and that the anti-Semites are engaged in an effort to prevent what is called the Aryan race from being subjugated by a Semitic immigration, and to save Aryan ideals from being modified by an alien and demoralizing oriental Anschauung.

There is no essential foundation for either of these contentions. Religious prejudices reaching back to the dawn of history have been reawakened by the anti-Semitic agitation, but they did not originate it, and they have not entirely controlled it. The alleged racial divergence is, too, only a linguistic hypothesis on the physical evidence of which anthropologists are not agreed (Topinard, Anthropologie, p. 444; Taylor, Origins of Aryans, cap. i.), and, even if it were proved, it has existed in Europe for so many centuries, and so many ethnic modifications have occurred on both sides, that it cannot be accepted as a practical issue. (…)


The sharpened faculties of the younger generation at the same time carried everything before them in the schools, with the result that they soon crowded the professions, especially medicine, law and journalism (Nossig, Statistik des Jüd. Stammes, pp. 33-37; Jacobs, Jew. Statistics, pp. 41-69). Thus the “Semitic domination,” as it was afterwards called, became every day more strongly accentuated. If it was a long time in exciting resentment and jealousy, the reason was that it was in no sense alien to the new conditions of the national life. The competition was a fair one. The Jews might be more successful than their Christian fellow-citizens, but it was in virtue of qualities which complied with the national standards of conduct.

They were as law-abiding and patriotic as they were intelligent. Crime among them was far below the average (Nossig, p. 31). Their complete assimilation of the national spirit was brilliantly illustrated by the achievements in German literature, art and science of such men as Heinrich Heine and Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882), Felix Mendelssohn (-Bartholdy) (1809-1847), and Jacob Meyerbeer (1794-1864), Karl Gustav Jacobi the mathematician (1804-1851), Gabriel Gustav Valentin the physiologist (1810-1883), and Moritz Lazarus (1824-1903) and Heymann Steinthal (1823-1899) the national psychologists. In politics, too, Edward Lasker (1829-1884) and Ludwig Bamberger (1823-1899) had shown how Jews could put their country before party, when, at the turning-point of German imperial history in 1866, they led the secession from the Fortschritts-Partei and founded the National Liberal party, which enabled Prince Bismarck to accomplish German unity. Even their financiers were not behind their Christian fellow-citizens in patriotism. Prince Bismarck himself confessed that the money for carrying on the 1866 campaign was obtained from the Jewish banker Bleichroeder, in face of the refusal of the money-market to support the war. (…)

Prince Bismarck had retired, and Count Caprivi, with a programme of general conciliation based on Liberal principles, was in power. Alarmed by the non-renewal of the anti-Socialist law, and by the conclusion of commercial treaties which made great concessions to German industry, the landed gentry and the Conservative party became alienated from the new chancellor. In January 1892 the split was completed by the withdrawal by the government of the Primary Education bill, which had been designed to place primary instruction on a religious basis. (…)


The tsar himself was at first persuaded that the riots were the work of Nihilists, and he publicly promised his protection to the Jews. On the other hand, his ministers, ardent Slavophils, thought they recognized in the outbreak an endorsement of the nationalist teaching of which they were the apostles, and, while reprobating the acts of violence, came to the conclusion that the most reasonable solution was to aggravate the legal disabilities of the persecuted aliens and heretics.

To this view the tsar was won over, partly by the clamorous indignation of western Europe, which had wounded his national amour propre to the quick, and partly by the strongly partisan report of a commission appointed to inquire, not into the administrative complaisance which had allowed riot to run loose over the western and southern provinces, but into the “exploitation” alleged against the Jews, the reasons why “the former laws limiting the rights of the Jews” had been mitigated, and how these laws could be altered so as “to stop the pernicious conduct of the Jews” (Rescript of the 3rd of September 1881). The result of this report was the drafting of a “Temporary Order concerning the Jews” by the minister of the interior, which received the assent of the tsar on the 3rd of May 1882. This order, which was so little temporary that it has not yet been repealed, had the effect of creating a number of fresh ghettos within the pale of Jewish settlement.

The Jews were cooped up within the towns, and their rural interests were arbitrarily confiscated. The doubtful incidence of the order gave rise to a number of judgments of the senate, by which all its persecuting possibilities were brought out, with the result that the activities of the Jews were completely paralysed, and they became a prey to unparalleled cruelty. As the gruesome effect of this legislation became known, a fresh outburst of horror and indignation swelled up from western Europe. It proved powerless. Count Ignatiev was dismissed owing to the protests of high-placed Russians, who were disgusted by the new Kulturkampf, but his work remained, and, under the influence of Pobêdonostsev, the procurator of the Holy Synod, the policy of the “May Laws,” as they were significantly called, was applied to every aspect of Jewish life with pitiless rigour. The temper of the tsar may be judged by the fact that when an appeal for mercy from an illustrious personage in England was conveyed to him at Fredensborg through the gracious medium of the tsaritsa, he angrily exclaimed within the hearing of an Englishman in the ante-room who was the bearer of the message, “Never let me hear you mention the name of that people again!”

The Russian May Laws are the most conspicuous legislative monument achieved by modern anti-Semitism. It is true that they re-enacted regulations which resemble the oppressive statutes introduced into Poland through the influence of the Jesuits in the 16th century (Sternberg, Gesch. d. Juden in Polen, pp. 141 et seq.), but their Orthodox authors were as little conscious of this irony of history as they were of the Teutonic origins of the whole Slavophil movement. These laws are an experimental application of the political principles extracted by Marr and his German disciples from the metaphysics of Hegel, and as such they afford a valuable means of testing the practical operation of modern anti-Semitism.

Their result was a widespread commercial depression which was felt all over the empire. Even before the May Laws were definitely promulgated the passport registers showed that the anti-Semitic movement had driven 67,900 Jews across the frontier, and it was estimated that they had taken with them 13,000,000 roubles, representing a minimum loss of 60,000,000 roubles to the annual turnover of the country’s trade. Towards the end of 1882 it was calculated that the agitation had cost Russia as much as the whole Turkish war of 1877. Trade was everywhere paralysed. The enormous increase of bankruptcies, the transfer of investments to foreign funds, the consequent fall in the value of the rouble and the prices of Russian stocks, the suspension of farming operations owing to advances on growing crops being no longer available, the rise in the prices of the necessaries of life, and lastly, the 140 appearance of famine, filled half the empire with gloom.

Banks closed their doors, and the great provincial fairs proved failures. When it was proposed to expel the Jews from Moscow there was a loud outcry all over the sacred city, and even the Orthodox merchants, realizing that the measure would ruin their flourishing trade with the south and west, petitioned against it. The Moscow Exhibition proved a failure. Nevertheless the government persisted with its harsh policy, and Jewish refugees streamed by tens of thousands across the western frontier to seek an asylum in other lands. In 1891 the alarm caused by this emigration led to further protests from abroad. The citizens of London again assembled at Guildhall, and addressed a petition to the tsar on behalf of his Hebrew subjects. It was handed back to the lord mayor by the Russian ambassador, with a curt intimation that the emperor declined to receive it. At the same time orders were defiantly given that the May Laws should be strictly enforced.

Meanwhile the Russian minister of finance was at his wits’ ends for money. Negotiations for a large loan had been entered upon with the house of Rothschild, and a preliminary contract had been signed, when, at the instance of the London firm, M. Wyshnigradski, the finance minister, was informed that unless the persecutions of the Jews were stopped the great banking-house would be compelled to withdraw from the operation. Deeply mortified by this attempt to deal with him de puissance à puissance, the tsar peremptorily broke off the negotiations, and ordered that overtures should be made to a non-Jewish French syndicate. In this way anti-Semitism, which had already so profoundly influenced the domestic politics of Europe, set its mark on the international relations of the powers, for it was the urgent need of the Russian treasury quite as much as the termination of Prince Bismarck’s secret treaty of mutual neutrality which brought about the Franco-Russian alliance (Daudet, Hist. Dipl. de l’Alliance Franco-Russe, pp. 259 et. seq.).

For nearly three years more the persecutions continued. Elated by the success of his crusade against the Jews, Pobêdonostsev extended his persecuting policy to other non-Orthodox denominations. The legislation against the Protestant Stundists became almost as unbearable as that imposed on the Jews. In the report of the Holy Synod, presented to the tsar towards the end of 1893, the procurator called for repressive measures against Roman Catholics, Moslems and Buddhists, and denounced the rationalist tendency of the whole system of secular education in the empire (Neue Freie Presse, 31st January 1894). A year later, however, the tsar died, and his successor, without repealing any of the persecuting laws, let it gradually be understood that their rigorous application might be mitigated. The country was tired and exhausted by the persecution, and the tolerant hints which came from high quarters were acted upon with significant alacrity.

A new era of conflict dawned with the great constitutional struggle towards the end of the century. The conditions, however, were very different from those which prevailed in the ’eighties. The May Laws had avenged themselves with singular fitness. By confining the Jews to the towns at the very moment that Count Witte’s policy of protection was creating an enormous industrial proletariat they placed at the disposal of the disaffected masses an ally powerful in numbers and intelligence, and especially in its bitter sense of wrong, its reckless despair and its cosmopolitan outlook and connexions. As early as 1885 the Jewish workmen assisted by Jewish university students led the way in the formation of trades unions. They also became the colporteurs of western European socialism, and they played an important part in the organization of the Russian Social Democratic Federation which their “Arbeiter Bund” joined in 1898 with no fewer than 30,000 members.

The Jewish element in the new democratic movement excited the resentment of the government, and under the minister of the interior, M. Sipiaguine, the persecuting laws were once more rigorously enforced. The “Bund” replied in 1901 by proclaiming itself frankly political and revolutionary, and at once took a leading place in the revolutionary movement. The reactionaries were not slow to profit by this circumstance. With the support of M. Plehve, the new minister of the interior, and the whole of the bureaucratic class they denounced the revolution as a Jewish conspiracy, engineered for exclusively Jewish purposes and designed to establish a Jewish domination over the Russian people. The government and even the intimates of the tsar became persuaded that only by the terrorization of the Jews could the revolutionary movement be effectually dealt with. For this purpose a so-called League of True Russians was formed.

Under high patronage, and with the assistance of the secret police and a large number of the local authorities, it set itself to stir up the populace, chiefly the fanatics and the hooligans, against the Jews. Incendiary proclamations were prepared and printed in the ministry of the interior itself, and were circulated by the provincial governors and the police (Prince Urussov’s speech in the Duma, June 8 (21), 1906). The result was another series of massacres which began at Kishinev in 1903 and culminated in wholesale butchery at Odessa and Bielostok in October 1905. An attempt was made to picture and excuse these outbreaks as a national upheaval against the Jew-made revolution but it failed. They only embittered the revolutionists and “intellectuals” throughout the country, and won for them a great deal of outspoken sympathy abroad. The artificiality of the anti-Jewish outbreak was illustrated by the first Duma elections.

Thirteen Jews were elected and every constituency which had been the scene of a pogrom returned a liberal member. Unfortunately the Jews benefited little by the new parliamentary constitution. The privileges of voting for members of the Duma and of sitting in the new assembly were granted them, but all their civil and religious disabilities were maintained. Both the first and the second Duma proposed to emancipate them, but they were dissolved before any action could be taken. By the modification of the electoral law under which the third Duma was elected the voting power of the Jews was diminished and further restrictions were imposed upon them through official intimidation during the elections. The result was that only two Jews were elected, while the reactionary tendency of the new electorate virtually removed the question of their emancipation from the field of practical politics. (…)


The only other country in Europe in which a legalized anti-Semitism exists is Rumania. The conditions are very similar to those which obtain in Russia, with the important difference that Rumania is a constitutional country, and that the Jewish persecutions are the work of the elected deputies of the nation. Like the Bourgeois Gentilhomme who wrote prose all his life without knowing it, the Rumanians practised the nationalist doctrines of the Hegelian anti-Semites unconsciously long before they were formulated in Germany.

In the old days of Turkish domination the lot of the Rumanian Jews was not conspicuously unhappy. It was only when the nation began to be emancipated, and the struggle in the East assumed the form of a crusade against Islam that the Jews were persecuted. Rumanian politicians preached a nationalism limited exclusively to indigenous Christians, and they were strongly supported by all who felt the commercial competition of the Jews. Thus, although the Jews had been settled in the land for many centuries, they were by law declared aliens. This was done in defiance of the treaty of Paris of 1856 and the convention of 1858 which declared all Rumans to be equal before the law. Under the influence of this distinction the Jews became persecuted, and sanguinary riots were of frequent occurrence. The realization of a Jewish question led to legislation imposing disabilities on the Jews. In 1878 the congress of Berlin agreed to recognize the independence of Rumania on condition that all religious disabilities were removed. Rumania agreed to this condition, but ultimately persuaded the powers to allow her to carry out the emancipation of the Jews gradually.

Persecutions, however, continued, and in 1902 they led to a great exodus of Jews. The United States addressed a strong remonstrance to the Rumanian government, but the condition of the Jews was in no way improved. Their emancipation was in 1908 as far off as ever, and their disabilities heavier than those of their brethren in Russia. For this state of things the example of the anti-Semites in Germany, Russia, Austria and France was largely to blame, since it had justified the intolerance of the Rumans. Owing, also, to 141 the fact that of late years Rumania had become a sort of annexe of the Triple Alliance, it was found impossible to induce the signatories of the treaty of Berlin to take action to compel the state to fulfil its obligations under that treaty.


Dr August Rohling, professor of Hebrew at the university of Prague, a Roman Catholic theologian of high position but dubious learning, had for some years assisted the Hungarian anti-Semites with réchauffés of Eisenmenger’s Enidecktes Judenthum (Frankfurt a/M. 1700). In 1881 he made a solemn deposition before the Supreme Court accusing the Jews of being bound by their law to work the moral and physical ruin of non-Jews.

He followed this up with an offer to depose on oath that the murder of Christians for ritual purposes was a doctrine secretly taught among Jews. Professor Delitzsch and other eminent Hebraists, both Christian and Jewish, exposed and denounced the ignorance and malevolence of Rohling, but were unable to stem the mischief he was causing. (…)


Anti-Semitism was most powerful in the army, which was the only branch of the public service in which the reactionary classes were fully represented. The republican law compelling the seminarists to serve their term in the army had strengthened its Clerical and Royalist elements, and the result was a movement against the Jewish officers, of whom 500 held commissions. (…)

The Dreyfus Case (see more here) registers the climax not only of French, but of European anti-Semitism. (…)

The government now resolved to strike at the root of the mischief by limiting the power of the religious orders, and with this view a drastic Association bill was introduced into the chambers. This anti-clerical move provoked the wildest passions of the reactionaries, but it found an overwhelming support in the elections of 1902 and the bill became law. The war thus definitely reopened soon led to a revival of the Dreyfus controversy. (…) (2)


Notes and References

  1. Information about Anti-Semitism in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)

See Also

  • Zionist Movement
  • Anti-Torture Laws
  • Haskalah
  • Discrimination
  • Zionism History
  • Zionism Precursors
  • Zionism Varieties
  • Zionism

Further Reading

  • Israel among the Nations, by A. Leroy-Beaulieu (1895)
  • L’Antisémitisme, son histoire et ses causes, by Bernard Lazare (1894)
  • Adolf Jellinek, Der Jüdische Stamm (1869)
  • Chwolson, Die semitischen Volker (1872)
  • Nossig, Materialien zur Statistik (1887)
  • Jacobs, Jewish Statistics (1891)
  • Andree, Zur Volkskunde der Juden (1881)
  • Russo-Jewish Mansion House Fund; Les Juifs de Russie (Paris, 1891)
  • Report of the Commissioners of Immigration upon the Causes which incite Immigration to the United States (Washington, 1892)
  • The New Exodus, by Harold Frederic (1892)
  • Les Juifs russes, by Leo Errera (Brussels, 1893)
  • Séménoff, The Russian Government and the Massacres, and Quarterly Review, October 1906
  • Bluntschli, Roumania and the Legal Status of the Jews (London, 1879)
  • Wir Juden (Zürich, 1883);
  • Schloss, The Persecution of the Jews in Roumania (London, 1885)
  • Schloss, Notes of Information (1886)
  • Sincerus, Juifs en Roumanie (London, 1901)
  • Plotke, Die rumanischen Juden unter dem Fürsten u. Konig Karl (1901)
  • Dehn, Diplomatic u. Hochfinanz in der rumanischen Judenfrage (1901)
  • Conybeare, “Roumania as a Persecuting Power,” Nat. Rev., February 1901
  • Nathan, Der Prozess van Tisza Eszlar (Berlin, 1892)
  • Wright, “The Jews and the Malicious Charge of Human Sacrifice,” Nineteenth Century, 1883.
  • M. Wahl in the Revue des études juives; L. Forest, Naturalisation des Israélites algériens
  • E. Audinet in the Revue générale de droit international publique, 1897, No. 4.

Hierarchical Display of Anti-semitism

Law > Rights and freedoms > Anti-discriminatory measure > Racial discrimination


Concept of Anti-semitism

See the dictionary definition of Anti-semitism.

Characteristics of Anti-semitism

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Translation of Anti-semitism

Thesaurus of Anti-semitism

Law > Rights and freedoms > Anti-discriminatory measure > Racial discrimination > Anti-semitism

See also

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