Conspiracy Theories & The Jews

From medieval blood libels to the attacks of September 11, Jews have been a favorite subject for conspiracists.

Print this page Print this page

Who had advance notice of the 9/11 attacks? Who benefited from the 1929 Wall Street crash? Who was responsible for the AIDS epidemic? If you believe some conspiracy theorists, a single party can be blamed for all of these tragedies: the Jews.

Background

Conspiracy theories have been developed throughout history by individuals, religious communities, and political entities to explain negative events, find scapegoats, or fulfill paranoid fears and fantasies.

According to conspiracy theories, the world is divided into two camps: the manipulators and the manipulated, those who know (a secret minority) and those who do not (the vast majority). Conspiracy theories have a reassuring way of explaining world events in a simplistic fashion; they serve as a comfortable shortcut to justify the complexities of society. For many people who have suffered from recurrent crises--financial losses, lethal diseases, natural disasters--it is difficult not to understand the origins of such evil. The most terrifying explanation is preferable to uncertainty and mystery.

Conspiracy theories are dangerous because their simplicity resists all forms of dismantlement. Worse, those who dare question the seriousness of such theories are accused of being agents in the service of plotters. Conspiracists take on the heroic duty of infiltrating the "enemy" in order to interpret esoteric clues, unmask plotters, and denounce schemes.

An Old Story

Accusing Jews of being master conspirators is not new. Since early Christianity, Jews have been associated with plots to control the world and instate a Jewish tyranny. In the Middle Ages, whenever a Christian child disappeared or was found dead, Jews were held responsible. They were accused of using the blood of these children for their Passover matzot.

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories took a modern turn in the 19th century, with the publication of German author Hermann Goedsche's 1868 novel Biarritz, which describes the Devil appearing before a mysterious rabbinical cabal to plan a "Jewish conspiracy." In the chapter called "In the Jewish Cemetery of Prague," Goedsche describes a midnight meeting of the "representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel" to discuss the takeover of the world. Biarritz was a commercial success and probably inspired the author of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion a few years later. 

The Protocols is, of course, the famous anti-Semitic pamphlet published in Russia at the end of the 19th century. It purports to be the minutes of meetings held secretly by Jewish wise men plotting to control the world. Exposed many times as a forgery, the Protocols has nevertheless continued to be translated, published, and distributed across the globe. In 2003, Egyptian television aired a kind of soap opera based on the Protocols called Knight Without a Horse, a series depicting secret meetings of Jewish elders and Jews murdering Christian children to get their blood for Passover.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Brigitte Sion

Brigitte Sion is Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in New York University's Program in Religious Studies. A writer, editor, translator, and teacher, she earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University in May 2008.