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deconstruct antisemitism!

deconstruct antisemitism! Recognizing antisemitic codes and metaphors

Antisemitism is communicated either openly or in codes and metaphors – in Social Media, at protest marches, in TV debates, in the pub or in parliament.

Antisemitic codes and metaphors can be used consciously as well as unconsciously. Unconscious recourse to antisemitism is made possible by the centuries of circulation that have fed some of these codes into our society’s collective memory. Conscious recourse to antisemitic codes serves multiple purposes. It can circumvent a public outcry or even criminal prosecution. After all, open hatred of Jews is taboo in German society since the Shoah, when six million Jews were murdered in National Socialist Germany, and is a criminal offence under German hate speech laws. Yet, no matter if they are used consciously or unconsciously, antisemitic codes and metaphors function as a “dog whistle”: those who are able to “hear the whistle” know how to decipher the code and will understand anti-Jewish hate is being spread.

This handout helps to detect and interpret antisemitic codes and metaphors. Most of these terms are not antisemitic per se. Their context and historical background have to be taken into account in order to recognize the antisemitism they contain. We do not claim our selection is exhaustive but have chosen codes and metaphors that we feel are being used most frequently.

The Great Replacement, New World Order, Great Reset, Puppet Masters

[The delusional idea that the (white) European population is going extinct and is deliberately being replaced with migrants has been a key narrative of the Far Right for years – pictured here at a right-wing extremist rally in June 2015. Image: (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

The myth of “The Great Replacement“ claims there is a global elite with a secret plan whose goal it is to replace and annihilate the white, Christian population by means of mass immigration of non-white or Muslim people. The global elite in question is conceptualised as Jewish. Often, Jewish US-American philanthrope George Soros is cited. The myth is linked to the antisemitic idea of a “Jewish world conspiracy”. It was popularized by Frenchmen Renaud Camus and his book “Le Grand Replacement” (2011) and is spread widely across the New Right and the Far Right (e.g. German Far Right party AfD and the Identitarian movement). Right-wing terrorists in Christchurch, NZ, and Halle/Saale, Germany, have made reference to it, with the Christchurch shooter even calling his manifesto “The Great Replacement”. The myth of a “New World Order”, or “One World”, respectively, follows a similar structure. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the rise of the “Great Reset” narrative. They claim a global elite is pursuing the goal of establishing a supranational world government and thereby abolishing civil liberties among other things. These conspiracy myths have in common the notion of a secret “Puppet Master”. For a long time, the image of “The Jew” secretly pulling strings in the background to control world affairs has been spread.

Financial elites, high finance, East Coast, Wall Street, predatory vs. productive capital

Money makes the world go ‘round – so far, so good. Criticism of Capitalism however becomes problematic if people talk about an ominous “financial elite” who is pulling the strings. Capitalism is comprised of finance just as well as of businesses. A distinction between financial and industrial capital is artificial and divides Capitalism into supposedly good and supposedly bad parts. This is problematic because it simplifies a complex system. Too often, the “bad side”, i.e. finance, is characterised using antisemitic notions of “the Jewish”: The economic and thus political fate of the world is allegedly controlled by “the Jews” as they are allegedly in control of the financial system. Owing to the age-old image of the money-loving Jew who purportedly amasses riches at the expense of those in need through money lending and usury, individuals (e.g. Rothschild) or whole professional groups (e.g. bankers) are viewed as a symbol of money and Capitalism. In contrast to honest, productive wage labor, banking and the stock exchange are portrayed as somehow close to Judaism and as dishonest and predatory. Using the same language, the National Socialists tried to identify Capitalism as a Jewish invention. The antisemitic code of “high finance” resembles the National Socialist term “international finance Jewry”. Today, it is a common code among conspiracy ideologues. Not uncommonly, alleged criticism of Capitalism veils outright anti-Americanism: “East Coast” as well as “Wall Street” suggest Jewish control of the US-American stock exchange – and therefore the world.
[If people imagine Capitalism growing tentacles, their world view is likely structurally antisemitic. Image: Amadeu Antonio Stiftung]

USrael, JewSA, Jewnited States

[The biggest English language newspaper in India, “The Times of India”, used the antisemitic code USrael in a report. Screenshot: The Times of India]

Antisemitism and anti-Americanism are not only equally widespread but also have structural features in common, as is expressed by the term “USrael”. Alternatively, the labels “JewSA” or “Jewnited States” are being used. These encompassing terms hint at Jewish control of US-American politics and economy who then pursue policies beneficiary to “the Jew” and the State of Israel. As the US is seen as a global power, the same notions can insinuate a “Jewish world conspiracy” in a codified way. Claiming the US is controlled by Jews picks up on multiple antisemitic narratives. In a nationalist and völkisch context, “the Jews” are emblematic of an anti-national group who undermine the ethnic collective as well as (liberal) modernity itself. The oldest modern democracy – built on civic principles in stark contrast to ethno-nationalist ideas and seen as the pinnacle of Capitalism – is identified with “the Jewish”.

Zionism, Zionists, ZOG

The term Zionism refers to an originally left-wing movement and a political stance that deems it necessary to organize Jewish resilience on a national level. Zionism supports a Jewish national state’s, the State of Israel’s, right to exist. The Zionist movement historically was and still is a response to a long history of Antisemitism that ultimately led to systematic persecution and murder of Jews. If the terms Zionism and Zionist are used to describe a “Jewish world conspiracy”, they assume an antisemitic meaning. This becomes especially clear in the acronym ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government). The codes convey the antisemitic idea of a globally active structure of power that supposedly affects world affairs negatively. They appear in different contexts – in reports for Islamist TV stations on the conflict in the Middle East, within the framework of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) or in the world view of German soldier and alleged right-wing terrorist Franco A.
[For anti-Zionists (as seen here in Berlin, May 2021), Zionism (as well as the State of Israel) is not so much an expression of Jewish right to self-determination but a racist ideology. Image: Grischa Stanjek/democ.]

Apartheid state, unconstitutional state

[Claiming Israel is a genuinely racist, unjust state – made here at a protest march in May 2021 – is a popular demonization of the Jewish state. Image: Grischa Stanjek/democ.]
When Israel is characterized as an unconstitutional state, it is not the term itself that is antisemitic. However, the context of the statement has to be considered. Often, it serves as a code that helps demonize Israel. This code implies it is Israel’s intrinsically sinister intention to exercise systematic injustice towards the Palestinians. Thus, century-old antisemitic images are projected unto the Israeli state and Israel, representing Jewry as a whole, is declared Evil incarnate. Calling Israel an “Apartheid state” or an unconstitutional state means denying its constitutional legality and its democratic nature. The term Apartheid, which once described the racist segregation of the South African population, implies the allegation Israel is a racist construct per se. Furthermore, Israel is characterized as an aggressor who harasses its own population. The complexity of regional conflicts as well as each party’s agency and positions are being ignored. Instead, Israel is portrayed as the (sole) war monger.

Child killers

The medieval blood libel claimed Jews utilized the blood of (Christian) children to bake bread. This myth has been passed on over centuries. Updated versions of it remain in circulation today. One version is the slogan “Kindermörder Israel” (child killers Israel) that is chanted and shown on signs during rallies. It accuses Israel of spilling the blood of Palestinian children intentionally and with satisfaction. Another version can be found in the QAnon cult. First established in the US, the QAnon conspiracy theory claims a satanic elite abducts, tortures and kills children in order to use their blood to procure a rejuvenating drug. The narrative is spread most notably on Social Media (e.g. Telegram). Both versions demonstrate how the notion of Jews as child killers can yield a desire for annihilation: If Israel allegedly wants to wipe out Palestinians for racist reasons or murders children, within the framework of an antisemitic world view, it has to be opposed by any means necessary and erased from the map. If a satanic elite is killing innocent children, it has to be eliminated.

Devil, Satan

[Jews, Freemasons, the Catholic church and the Pope – all part of a satanic world conspiracy in the eyes of this protester at a rally against Covid-19 rules in August 2020. Image: Grischa Stanjek/democ.]
Throughout the centuries, the Devil has been a key metaphor in Christian culture. Satan is Evil incarnate. Today, the Devil-metaphor can be found in abundance on Social Media and helps to portray whoever one’s enemy is as unequivocally evil. Sometimes, imagery of the Devil is conflated with antisemitic stereotypes of a “typically Jewish” appearance (e.g. hook-nosed). In the history of antisemitism, such imagery has a long tradition. In his canonical “The Devil and The Jews”(1943), Joshua Trachtenberg examines the origins of the comparison between “the Jew” and the Devil. Christian anti-Judaism plays a key role. Especially during the Middle Ages, Jews were believed to have entered a pact with Satan. This pact supposedly enabled Jews to cause wars and famines, the Plague and other epidemics.

Big Nose, Happy Merchant

A big nose, a greedy gaze and sidelocks – most antisemitic images of “the Jew” include these features. Frequently, these are depictions of men in expensive suits and big glasses, rubbing their hands. They paint a picture of a money-grabbing, rich man. The outward appearance that is attributed to “the Jew” make him the Other, an outsider. This portrayal can be found frequently as a meme in right-wing extremist and terrorist online subcultures where it is called “Happy Merchant”. The antisemitic stereotype of typically Jewish features and the claim Jews can be recognized from their outward appearance has a long tradition. Antisemitic portrayals of Jews rarely lack a big nose. These can be found from depictions on coins in the 17th century right up to cartoons in National Socialist propaganda paper “Der Stürmer” in the 20th century, just as well as in images of even non-Jewish people who are meant to be associated with supposedly Jewish characteristics.
[The antisemitic meme showing variations of the “Happy Merchant” is available as a sticker set on Telegram. Screenshot: Telegram]

Rothschild, Rockefeller, Soros, Anetta Kahane, Zuckerberg, Gates

[“Powerful families“, frequently linked to Judaism, are a key element of antisemitic conspiracy narratives – seen here at a rally of Covid deniers in November 2020. Image: Elisabeth Fast]
The antisemitic claim of a natural link between “the Jews” and finance reaches as far back as the Middle Ages. One old Jewish family’s name is used as a code for alleged Jewish control of international finance: Rothschild. Having amassed their riches dishonestly, “the Jews” supposedly gained the power to control and govern the world. One of the biggest National Socialist propaganda movies is called “The Rothschilds” (1940). The code personalises complex social relations. Behind it all, so it is claimed, are “the Rothschilds” and their kind, when in fact it is “the Jews” who people want to accuse. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the name was used to avoid open antisemitism. No small number of those who were radicalized by the pandemic started out talking about “the Rothschilds” and are now blaming “the Jews”. Rothschild, however, is just the most famous name. Today, the names Rockefeller, George Soros, Anetta Kahane, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates are frequently invoked along with it. Rockefeller and Gates are not Jewish, yet people claim in reality they are or at the very least, they are puppets controlled by “the Jews”. The names allegedly call out the masterminds of a global conspiracy.

Octopus, Snake, Pig

In 2014, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung published a cartoon depicting a data collecting octopus with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s face on it. The image was criticized harshly, as the animal metaphor of the octopus whose tentacles strangle the world is charged with antisemitism. It is connected to the myth of an all-powerful “world Jewry”, as is illustrated by the antisemitic cartoon of a Jewish octopus published by National Socialist propaganda paper Der Stürmer in 1938. Its message: “the Jew” controls the world. The octopus is not the only animal metaphor used by Der Stürmer. The snake metaphor shares a similar history and function. The metaphor of the Jewish snake is meant to express how “the Jew” has got the peoples of the world in a chokehold and is looking to poison all of humanity. In general, animal metaphors have a long tradition in the history of antisemitism. Jews are dehumanized collectively. The oldest example of the medieval folk art image of the Judensau (Jewish sow) dates back to the 13th century. The animal metaphor lives on: “the Jew” is insulted as a “cowardly pig” or “Jew pig” online as well as at rallies.

[An international octopus holds the world in ist grip. This at the very least structurally antisemitic animal metaphor was used at protests against the ACTA treaty. Image: Logo Stopp ACTA CC-BY 2.5 Switzerland by Piratenpartei Schweiz ]

Virus, Bacillus, Parasite, Cancer

[Portrayal of Israel as a „Jewish” virus, as it last trended during the escalating violence in the Middle East in May 2021 using the hashtag #covid 48 (in reference to the year Israel was founded), alludes to historical antisemitic images of “the Jewish” as an illness or a parasite. Screenshot via Dan Poraz, Twitter]
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel was portrayed as a virus among Arab or Palestinian activists in reference to its foundation on May 14th, 1948. The hashtag #Covid1948 was used on Twitter thousands of times in May 2020 as well as in 2021. The massive rocket attacks from Islamist terror organization Hamas fueled the antisemitic Twitter campaign in 2021. The message: the virus infests humanity in the form of the Jewish population or the Jewish state respectively. Infection leads to certain death. In order to stay healthy and secure survival, it is suggested, the infectious virus has to be wiped out before it subverts all peoples. For centuries, Jews have been linked to illnesses. In the Middle Ages, they were accused of causing the Plague (“Well poisoning”) which lead to pogroms. National Socialism updated the accusation. By casting Jews themselves as a virus, they are dehumanized collectively and made into a threat to the health and life of the rest of humanity. “Bacillus”, “Parasite” or “Cancer” are similar codes.

Schlussstrich, guilt tripping, Auschwitz as a moral club (Moralkeule)

Repeatedly, people call for putting an end to dealing with Germany’s National Socialist past and advocate for drawing a final line under it (Schlussstrich). Behind this is a mindset that is described as post-Shoah antisemitism. Frequently, these calls serve to repress memory and feelings of guilt. Sometimes, people claim it is “the Jews” who prevent an end of remembrance of National Socialism and the Shoah as they are seen as profiting from a German “guilt trip”. Calls for a Schlussstrich are not exactly new. As early as right after the Second World War, people called for an end to criminal prosecution and denazification. Most National Socialists who were actually sentenced profited from an amnesty after few years. Ever since the Reunification of 1989/90, calls for a Schlussstrich have gotten louder. Today, it is the AfD party as well as movements like PEGIDA or Querdenken who make such claims. Variations of it can be found in AfD’s Björn Höcke’s talk of a “one-eighty in remembrance politics” or Martin Walser’s description of Auschwitz as a “moral club”. Generally, those ideas are not too far removed from outright Holocaust denial. Recently, the Shoah’s singularity and the specifics of antisemitism have been called into question by equating them with other genocides and the crimes of German colonialism.
Quotes of Martin Walser and on

Animal concentration camps, Babycaust

[Pro-life activists regard abortions as „mass murder of unborn life” – and will not refrain from comparisons with the Shoah. Image: Robert Andreasch]
Trivialization of the Holocaust is by far not limited to the Far Right but can be found in different contexts. In 2010, German activists from animal rights organization PETA put images of concentration camp barracks and starved inmates next to modern laying batteries and chickens on a poster for their campaign “Holocaust on your plate”. Until today, many animal rights activists invoke the comparison and bluntly speak of slaughterhouses as “animal concentration camps”. Radical anti-abortion groups who prefer to think of themselves as pro-life view abortions as mass murder, comparable to the Shoah in both quality and quantity, and thus coined the term “babycaust”. Ironically, comparisons to the Shoah are relied upon so often precisely because the Holocaust was without precedence. Equating the situation of livestock, embryos and fetuses to the suffering of the victims of the Shoah denies the systematic and and singular nature of the National Socialist crimes and trivializes them. Upsettingly, such comparisons are guaranteed to gather the public’s attention.

Lethal injection, „Unvaccinated“-Yellow Star

Covid-19 vaccines are called a “lethal injection” by some. Allegedly, the vaccines serve to decimate humanity. Other conspiracy narratives about vaccines claim they are used to implant microchips or it was all Bill Gates trying to get even richer. It’s not a coincidence that, frequently, it is “the Jews” who are believed to be behind the vaccination programme. Antisemitic narratives about vaccination have a long history in in Germany, going back to the 19th century when vaccines were first invented. National Socialist propaganda weekly Der Stürmer already featured cartoons that linked “the Jews” to vaccination. Different forms of antisemitism are at play here. On the one hand, a global conspiracy against humanity itself is presumed. On the other hand, the Shoah is trivialised, as some conspiracy ideologues wore Yellow Stars that said “Unvaccinated” while attending the rallies against government Covid rules. The message the anti-vaxxers are sending is: “We are the new Jews.” This is a model case of victim blaming and will sometimes go as far as equating virologist Christian Drosten with SS-doctor Josef Mengele.
[Many protesters against current Covid rules are convinced they live in a “corona dictatorship” comparable to National Socialism. That is why they are sporting Yellow Stars that say “Unvaccinated”. Image: Kira Ayyadi]

Lügenpresse (fake news)

[Hardly any slogan is as common at right-wing rallies as the accusation Lügenpresse! (fake news), that was already used by the Nazis to denounce democratic members of the press. In this picture, taken in Chemnitz in 2018, a protester compares German media to a propaganda broadcast from the GDR. Image: Grischa Stanjek/democ.]
„Lügenpresse!“ – the sound of the shouting at right-wing rallies comes to mind instantly. Using the code Lügenpresse, or “fake news”, it is insinuated the media are not independent but forced into line. Frequently, these claims’ background is the antisemitic narrative of a “Jewish conspiracy”. This is anything but new. As far back as in the 19th century, historian and politician Heinrich von Treitschke claimed “the Jews” are behind the German newspapers, exerting too much influence and controlling society. “The Jews are our misfortune”, Treitschke wrote, blaming them for all Evil in the world. Today, the Lügenpresse code is widespread: at right-wing rallies, online, or in the pub. This antisemitic trope’s consequences are fatal. The Alternative Media scene keeps growing and growing, spreading misinformation and sowing hate. More and more, journalists are being attacked when covering rallies. The way the established media are denounced really opens the floodgates for all sorts of actual fake news.

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Amadeu Antonio Foundation is one of Germany's most important independent non-governmental organizations, working to strengthen democratic civic society and eliminate neo-Nazism, right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bigotry and hate in Germany. Founded in 1998, the Foundation has funded more than 1.700 projects and campaigns in pursuit of this goal in addition to ongoing work offering direct support for victims and strengthening democratic culture online. The Foundation goes beyond mere grant-making to assist projects in intensifying their local and grassroots work, and to help build networks and coalitions with other initiatives. In order to fill gaps in the current work in the field, to try out new approaches and to support local networks and specialists, the Foundation runs its own model projects, publishes analyses and educational material and offers consulting.

The Foundation is named after Amadeu Antonio, who was beat to death by right-wing youths because he was Black in Eberswalde (Brandenburg) in 1990. He was one of the first of more than 200 victims of right-wing violence since the Wall fell.

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Translation by Fabian Schroers





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