“I command the Jews not to agitate for anything beyond that which they have hitherto enjoyed, and not from henceforth, as if they lived in two cities, to send two embassies — a thing which never occurred before now – nor to intrude themselves into games and elections, but to profit by what they possess and to enjoy in a city not their own an abundance of all good things, and not to introduce or invite Jews who make voyages to Alexandria from Syria or Egypt, thus compelling me to conceive the worst suspicions; otherwise I will by all means take vengeance upon them, as fomenting a general plague upon the whole world.”
Emperor Claudius, Letter to the Jews at Alexandria, A.D. 41.
The above proclamation from Claudius, in response to riots between Greeks and Jews in Alexandria almost two thousand years ago, illustrates the profound lack of mystery in anti-Semitism. For Claudius, peace in the city would be restored if the Jews ceased certain negative behaviours: agitating for heightened and special privileges (“to agitate for anything beyond that which they have hitherto enjoyed”); attempting to circumvent established practices of representative politics (“to send two embassies — a thing which never occurred before now”); attempting to intrude into, and disrupt, the cultural life of the Alexandrians (“to intrude themselves into games and elections”); attempting to manipulate the demographic context of the city (“to introduce or invite Jews who make voyages to Alexandria from Syria or Egypt”); and finally, abusing and exploiting the advantage of their diaspora condition to cause problems internationally (“fomenting a general plague upon the whole world”). These basic premises of Jewish financial and political acquisitiveness, cultural intrusion, disregard for political norms, propensity to demographic warfare, and exploitation of being essentially rootless, have been mainstays of ethnic conflict involving Jews for over two millennia, with extraordinarily little variation in themes. Imagine my annoyance and amusement then, on seeing Variety’s recent announcement that we are to be treated to yet another documentary, titled “The Conspiracy,” exploring the putative mystery of anti-Semitism.
An array of high-profile documentarians have come on board “The Conspiracy,” exploring the history of anti-Semitism and archaic conspiracies against the Jewish people. “The Conspiracy” will explore various myths and inaccuracies that have plagued Jewish people and the Jewish religion through the centuries, and which have given rise to a unique prejudice that persists to this day. This documentary seeks to showcase the manner in which one of the most pervasive deceptions about Judaism of all time — that a dangerous group of powerful Jewish people equipped with mysterious powers control the world — can be traced through cataclysmic and violent events toward Jewish people throughout history and into the present. This film includes a mixture of animation and archival footage as it shows the evolution of these lies via the stories of different Jewish families throughout history.
For an apparently self-evident calumny, the Variety report mirrors ADL literature in utilizing a ridiculous array of persuasive adjectives and descriptive terminology when discussing the subject. Like some kind of inoculation for the reader, across just four sentences we are repeatedly reassured we are dealing with something “archaic,” “mythic,” “inaccurate,” “unique,” “deceptive,” involving beliefs in “mysterious powers,” and above all, riddled with “lies.” The documentary will presumably employ much the same rhetorical tactics. Maxim Pozdorovkin, a Russian-Armenian leftist, will direct the film, which is being produced by Jews Caroline Hirsch, Allison Maher Stern, Liz Garbus, Dan Cogan, and Jon Bardin — a gang that has already produced such propaganda as “Why We Hate,” and “All in: The Fight for Democracy.” Pozdorovkin, who presumably sees the project as a means to ingratiate himself with influential elites on the path to fame and fortune, has ignorantly parroted the usual non-sequiturs: “In times of anxiety and disorientation, anti-Semitism reappears with lethal force. Living through such a time now, it feels of utmost importance to make a film that grapples with the historical forces that have perpetrated the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous.”
Since the world is, and always has been, in periods of “anxiety and disorientation,” it would appear that we have to endure the perpetual justification that the time has come for yet more books, documentaries, museums, remembrance days, speeches, initiatives, and laws reminding us that Jews are blameless, powerless victims of a mysterious and esoteric hatred that has absolutely nothing to do with anything they might have done. In fact, this process is so obviously mysterious that we need endless propaganda reminders that anti-Semitism is mysterious, and that we require Jews to explain it to us. Hirsch and Stern add that
There is no better time than this exact moment in our shared human history to expose to the world the many historical lies, myths and incidents that have festered and evolved into the explosive Antisemitism we see today. Now is the time to put a spotlight on where and how it all began and bring greater awareness through this powerful and unique film. [emphasis added]
I’ve read the first sentence several times and it still doesn’t make any sense to me. Imagine considering the last two thousand years of ethnic conflict and deciding that “this exact moment” is witness to “explosive anti-Semitism” (have we finally graduated beyond the “virulent” kind?) and that “there is no better moment” in this history to produce such a film. Cogan remarks that the film will be “a landmark in storytelling about the Jews,” which I take to mean that we should brace ourselves for a veritable tsunami of bullshit.
Rather telling is the fact the documentary is based primarily on Phyllis Goldstein’s 2011 A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism. Goldstein, too, also played her part in perpetuating the never-ending story by promising that 2011 was the right time to finally unveil the mystery of anti-Semitism by writing “a book that would trace the history of anti-Semitism from ancient times to the present … and deepen our understanding of this pernicious hatred.” A year earlier, however, it had been decided that 2010 was the right time to finally unveil the mystery of anti-Semitism, when Robert Wistrich published his A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. This happened to be the same year Albert Lindemann and Richard Levy published their Antisemitism: A History. These publications followed the 2003 decision that the time had finally arrived to expose the irrational mystery of anti-Semitism in Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer’s Anti-Semitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present. The pair were apparently unaware that the mystery had already been uncovered in Dan Cohn-Sherbok’s 1992 The Crucified Jew: Twenty Centuries of Christian Anti-Semitism, with Sherbok in turn apparently unaware that the mystery of anti-Semitism had already been explained by Robert Wistrich (yes, the same) in his 1991 Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred. All the above were presumably unaware that anti-Semitism had already been explained in Shmuel Almog’s 1988 Antisemitism Through the Ages and Jacob Katz’s 1982 Anti-Semitism: From Prejudice to Destruction. Having read them all, I can assert that these texts are more or less identical, and I could continue with others, but the point is that the repetitive, dubiously-written, and poorly referenced grand narrative of sensationalized historical anti-Semitism has become a genre in its own right, with Amazon returning over 4,000 results for books on the subject, all of which invariably claim to once and for all expose, explain, or radically reinterpret anti-Semitism and its history.
Far from being novel, despite the almost annual and much-lauded appearance of a new volume (see the fascism genre for an equally lucrative and bastardized treatment), these texts merely shuffle what is now a standard deck of alternative and Jewish-friendly explanations of anti-Semitism. Christopher Browning, in his critical foreword to the 2020 edition of George L. Mosse’s Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism, mentions Jewish academics who draw
a straight line from early Christianity’s “teaching of contempt” and “Christ-killer” accusation to the Holocaust. Some looked to psychological abnormality, social-psychological pathology, the “authoritarian personality,” and the dynamics of prejudice. Marxists had portrayed anti-Semitism as a manipulated distraction into false consciousness to obscure realisation of the true nature of capitalist oppression and class conflict. Other scholars emphasised economic factors: envy and resentment of Jewish economic success and inordinate domination of particular professions in the wake of emancipation and the industrial revolution. Hannah Arendt added a further twist, arguing that resentment over Jewish visibility increased after actual Jewish wealth and power had peaked and were in decline.
These excuses are in fact the leitmotifs of Jewish historiography, with all hints of common-sense approaches to the problem of European-Jewish ethnic conflict relegated to an almost comical periphery. An excellent example is the treatment of Claudius and his Letter to the Jews in Simon Schama’s lavishly-praised 2013 The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BCE–1492 CE, which devotes a single sentence to the Emperor, with the middling comment that he was “astute and not inhuman” and tried “to make peace between the now warring Egyptian and Jewish communities in Alexandria.” A single sentence for an Emperor who intervened decisively in one of the most intense inter-ethnic conflicts of the first-century Empire, and who was reported by Suetonius to have taken the related and hardly insignificant later action of expelling the Jews from Rome. Remarkably, the same minimal level of attention to Claudius is found in Goldstein and Almog, while Wistrich, Lindemann, Levy, Perry, Schweitzer, Cohn-Sherbok, and many others dining out on the sensationalist anti-Semitism literary genre are unanimous in acting like he never existed.
One of the most astonishing features of this genre is that, despite their claims to vast sweeps of history, they remain stubbornly narrow in their chosen points of discussion, omitting much that contradicts the above shopping list of alternative interpretations of anti-Semitism. On a personal level, I find it rather compelling that, outside the Old Testament, some of our oldest protestations of ethnic hatred are found in relation to Jews. In a Hellenistic papyrus dated to the first half of the first century B.C., for example, we find the letter of a man named Heracles in which he writes, “You know that they detest the Jews.” The intricacies of socio-economic inter-ethnic rivalry are significantly under-discussed in relation to the Jews and anti-Semitism, with much greater focus placed on events, trends, personalities or texts that lend themselves more easily to narratives of irrational hate, conspiracy theory, and esotericism in general.
After my recent discussion with Frodi Midjord on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it dawned on me that today’s Jews must really rather appreciate the Protocols, not necessarily for the content but for the extremely neat way they can used as a byword for anti-Jewish conspiracy thinking among Europeans. Why analyse Claudius, with all the uncomfortable attending context, when you can point to a sensational account of Jews meeting in graveyards at midnight to discuss global domination? Small wonder then, that the first detailed information on the origins of the Protocols, in a plagiarism of Hermann Goedsche and Maurice Joly, was given to the Irish Times journalist Phillip Graves by an anti-Semitic Russian nationalist concerned that the text, intended originally as an artistic riff on well-established political commentary, was going to backfire in a tactical sense. This individual, whoever he was, was probably correct. One need only look at texts like Stephen Eric Bronner’s 2000 A Rumor About the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion, to see how, in Jewish hands, the Protocols is a useful tool for discrediting anti-Semitism in toto. For Bronner, the Protocols, a niche and stylistically outlandish document but for its startling popularity, is nothing less than “part of a broader assault on the civilising impulse, and the liberal, secular, egalitarian heritage of the Enlightenment. … This infamous forgery fashioned the Jew as the quintessential “other” of European civilization, how the self-absolving bigot sees himself, and the peculiar appeal of anti-Semitism to the “losers” in the struggle over modernity.” The history of anti-Semitism according to the Jews is therefore the history of the Protocols, with equally sensational sprinklings of Martin Luther, some expulsions of moneylenders, and the narrative goldmine of the medieval ritual murder accusations.
A curious feature of the history of anti-Semitism is of course the prominent role that Jewish converts have played in producing some of the more sensational and outlandish content and accusations. In fact, but for its obviously plagiarised content, I think I would have suspected a Jewish authorship of the Protocols. In one of the earliest examples, from the early sixteenth century, the German-Jewish converts to Christianity Victor von Carben and the former thief Johannes Pfefferkorn produced a series of quasi-esoteric and highly inflammatory (not to mention financially lucrative) pamphlets calling for the burning of all copies of the Talmud and, in Pfefferkorn’s case, the expulsion or enslavement of all Jews. Pfefferkorn, who was a major promoter of the host desecration idea, was in turn denounced even by many contemporary anti-Jewish agitators, who, despite their support for the burning of insulting passages in the Talmud, accused him of subversive activity and heresy regardless of his superficial fanaticism (Pfefferkorn oscillated between extreme suggestions of physical harm and appeals for no physical harm). A public debate between Pfefferkorn and his accusers ensued, in which Pfefferkorn was defeated, a later pamphlet on the affair bearing a woodcut depicting “Pfefferkorn in the hands of two executioners, one of whom punctures his leg with a sharp-edged sword, while the other beats him repeatedly on the head, whence issues a fetid blood, which is lapped up by a dog.”
In the 1860s, a similar figure emerged in the form of Jacob Brafman, a Russian-Jewish professor of Hebrew, and convert to Christianity. In the late 1860s Brafman published The Book of the Kahal and Local and Universal Jewish Brotherhoods in the course of which, as one contemporary explained:
We learn that each Christian landowner is sold by the Kahal to a Jew. Yes, sold like an investment, both in his person and in his property. It is not just a way of speaking, but a legal term because the transaction is sealed by a special sales contract. Similarly, villages, whole sections with their inhabitants (Christians of course) are bought and sold. Under the cover of our civil laws there exists a radically different legal code, secret and negative, that rules over and subjects to the jurisdiction of the Jews not only the Jews but also the Russians, without their knowledge. … The brotherhoods are the major arteries of Jewish society. … They link all the Jews scattered over the globe into one powerful and invincible body [allegedly then based in France].
Brafman’s work, of course, laid some of the groundwork for the production of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion a few decades later, and thus the entrenchment of the caricature of a coherent and intensely political, and corporately organized, international Jewish conspiracy with a single leading council. This aspect of Brafman’s work stands somewhat apart from the genuine issues his work occasionally touched upon, such as the clear practice of ethnically-exploitative monopoly capitalism by the kahals and the trade in debts within the Russian Pale’s vast Jewish communities. A book strictly on such themes would have been a bombshell then, and a bombshell today. As it happened, however, the effect of Brafman’s intervention was, like Pfefferkorn’s, to add certain mysterious or esoteric airs to what had been for the most part a straightforward matter of material and cultural conflicts of ethnic interest, with the result that both texts became in time a matter of embarrassment to certain nationalist circles, and a useful old horse for the Jews to flog.
The irony in all of this is that, if anything, Jewish interpretations of anti-Semitism are considerably more esoteric than the phenomenon itself. Ideas about Christianity, that anti-Semitism is a “virus,” that anti-Semites inevitably have authoritarian personalities, or that ethnic conflict can be abstracted into myriad impersonal systems are all mere flights from reality and the universal principle of cause and effect. The Jews propose an effect without direct cause, a negative miracle if you will. As a result, this endless production of documentaries, books, and “revelations” to uncover this “pernicious hatred” — none of which addresses or mollifies the inevitable antagonism, prompting the Jews to assert that the only way to deal with Europeans is to introduce laws punishing them if they deviate from the given message. Thus we return, in a way, to Claudius, who warned Jews against an overreach in places “not their own” that would arouse “the worst suspicions.” Why have the Jews always aroused the worst suspicions? Claudius gave us the answer almost two thousand years ago. Jewish financial and political acquisitiveness, cultural intrusion, disregard for political norms, propensity to demographic warfare, and rootless activism. There’s no mystery here. But, with Claudius relegated to a mere footnote in history, the Never-ending Story will continue, as will the proliferation of weird and esoteric theories like the Protocols that are useful to Jewish propagandists. And I’m sure that next year we will have a few more books and films promising to lift the veil at last.
 Translation found in H. Stewart Jones, “Claudius and the Jewish Question at Alexandria,” Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. XVI, Part I (1926), pp.17-35.
 G. L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2020), xiii.
 Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: The Deified Claudius, (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), 171.
 Quoted in Almog (ed), Antisemitism Through the Ages, 16.
 For more on Pfefferkorn’s remarkable career see J. Adams (ed) Revealing the Secrets of the Jews: Johannes Pfefferkorn and Christian Writings about Jewish Life and Literature in Early Modern Europe (De Gruyter, 2017).