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Economic Antisemitism

Economic Antisemitism
Throughout the past weeks, we have seen how stereotypes and attitudes concerning the economic status, occupation or economic behavior of Jews, have been an important part of antisemitic rhetoric. These perceptions, which had originated in the Middle Ages, followed the Jews into modern times, changing according to the major economic developments of the period. We have already discussed how following the rise of capitalism and socialism in the nineteenth century, Jews became increasingly identified with each of these systems. During the interwar period, a time of growing economic strife and instability, these perceptions gained further momentum.
Jews were accused of aspiring to dominate the world economy and were blamed for the ills of capitalism and for controlling the big money on the one hand, while on the other, they were continually seen as the driving force of communism. These contradictory accusations would feature during the interwar period in the politics of many European nations such as Poland, the Soviet Union and Weimar Germany. They were also present in Western Europe. Let’s further examine this by focusing on France, where in 1936 Leon Blum, a socialist and a Jew, was elected as prime minister. During the 19th century even if the main antisemitism is, up to me at least, the political antisemitism. Nevertheless, the other kinds of antisemitism are still there.
I mean the religious one, the racial one and the economic one. And the economic one is shared both by the extreme right but also by the extreme left. And this is a very crucial point because the extreme left is extremely strong in France in the 19th century. A lot of the biggest thinkers of socialism
were French at that time: from Fourie to Proudhon, from Leroux to many others. And most of them share these kind of antisemitic ideas that the Jews are having so much power - economic power, that they are able to control the French society. So if you read those socialist Utopian thinkers like Fourie or Proudhon or Leroux, most of them will have, will share a kind of strong argument against the Jewish power behind the French society controlling the French society. And the myth of the Rothschild, for instance, is already shared by most of them. The Rothschilds or the Fords of the Paireres are supposed to control the French economy in the interest of the Jews themselves.
Unfortunately this kind of economic antisemitism has been shared by a lot of social thinkers in the 19th century and its influence can be seen through the 20th century also, among the French Communist Party, for instance. In the 20th century you will witness this kind of economic antisemitism the Rothschilds could be seen as the main enemy of the French power. Each time they wanted to symbolize the power of the rich, each time the Rothschilds will be quoted as the example of the economic power, dominating the French people, the French poor people. So we must understand that all those kinds of antisemitism are still active and they will be still active during the 20th century.
For instance, during the two world wars when Leon Blum became the prime minister, if you want, of France for the first time in modern period. That was a unique event. A Jew, a proud Jew, being proud of being a Jew openly saying permanently that he was proud of being a Jew, has been appointed as leading the French society during the 19th, during the Popular Front in 1936. So … but he was also a socialist. So Jews were leading the French society. In fact, he was a Jew but he was socialist, he was a prime minister. He was elected as a French citizen.
But, unfortunately, this led also to the very strong crisis of antisemitism during the two world wars, in which one could witness both a political antisemitism, because Blum was leading the French state, and an economic antisemitism, because Blum was seen as the puppet, if you want, of capitalism. He was seen both as a leader of socialism and seen also as the puppet of the economic owners dominating the French power.

Prof. Pierre Birnbaum

We have discussed how, following the rise of Capitalism and Socialism in the 19th century, Jews became increasingly identified with each of these systems.

What happened to these perceptions during the interwar period – a time of growing economic strife and instability?


  • Birnbaum, Pierre, Anti-Semitism in France: A Political History from Léon Blum to the Present, trans. by Miriam Kochan (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992).

  • Birnbaum, Pierre, Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).

  • Penslar, Derek, Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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