The historical roots of contemporary antisemitism

By David I. Goldenberg, Beta Epsilon (Michigan State University) 2000, and Thomas (Tom) C. Homburger, Delta (Columbia University) 1963

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has recorded a 60% increase of antisemitic incidents over the past five years, the highest total since we began tracking more than 40 years ago.  These incidents of harassment, vandalism and assaults have instilled a new level of fear and anxiety among members of the Jewish community.  Equally concerning is the continued mutation of age-old antisemitic tropes adopted by a new generation of conspiracy theorists and extremists to spread hate and lies.

For example, the targeting of Jews and accusation of them holding too much power is an age-old antisemitic trope.

In 1898 – the year ZBT was founded – a political cartoon appeared in the French humor magazine Le Rire depicting a caricatured member of the Rothschild family holding the world in his hands.

This was not the first time the Rothschilds, a Jewish family, would be the victim of antisemitic conspiracies, and it also wasn’t the last.  The family had been targeted with conspiracy theories since their Frankfurt, Germany, bank grew to prominence in 19thCentury Europe.  These misguided condemnations have had less to do with the family or its behavior than with millennia-old stereotypes of Jews as disloyal, greedy abusers of power.  Antisemitic conspiracy theorists believe the Rothschilds impeded the American Revolution, financed Nazism and the Bolshevik Revolution, carried out the 9/11 attacks and built the state of Israel.

More than 120 years later, in 2017, this antisemitic trope remains quite prevalent.  Here is a political cartoon by well-known alt-right political cartoonist Ben Garrison portrayed Generals McMasters and Petraeus as puppets of the Rothschilds and George Soros, who is also Jewish and common target of antisemites and conspiracy theorists.

Sadly, we have seen these conspiracies and antisemitic lies pushed by politicians and global leaders across the political spectrum.

In many ways, history continues to repeat itself as the most common antisemitic tropes morph and manifest, including:

  • Jews have too much power
  • Jews are disloyal
  • Jews are greedy
  • Jews killed Jesus
  • Jews use Christian blood for religious rituals
  • Holocaust denial

For each of these tropes, ADL has tracked countless examples in recent months, years and decades.  We are deeply concerned they are no longer relegated to the left and right fringes of society, but again becoming mainstreamed.

For each of these tropes, ADL has tracked countless examples in recent months, years and decades.  We are deeply concerned they are no longer relegated to the left and right fringes of society, but again becoming mainstreamed.

So, what do we do about it?  ADL has developed a response plan focused on three major actions:

  1. Speak Out: Do not be silent when you hear lies and misinformation, or when an individual or community is attacked because of its identity. Use your voice and help respond.
  2. Share Facts: We know hate is often rooted in conspiracies and falsehoods. When you see or hear a lie – whether on social media or at the dinner table – don’t just let it go.  Respond and use facts.  You can visit ADL’s website at org for important information, including Antisemitism Uncovered, a tool we created to unpack old myths in a new era.
  3. Show Strength: Be an ally to those who are attacked. Just like Jews will not end antisemitism alone, it will take allyship to end the spread of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, islamophobia, Sinophobia and other forms of hate.

As we celebrate Zeta Beta Tau Founders Day 2021, each brother and chapter has an important role in building a just and inclusive society.

ADL has worked to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and ensure justice and fair treatment for all for more than a century.  During this time and before, ZBT has grown into one of the largest fraternities in the world whose brothers are committed to Intellectual Awareness, Social Responsibility, Integrity and Brotherly Love.

Consistent with our Credo, we cannot allow the continued normalization of hate and antisemitism on our college campuses and across the country.  Each of us as a responsibility to respond to antisemitism and hate whenever and wherever they show their ugly face – and we urge you to do your part.


Brother David I. Goldenberg is the Midwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).  He received his undergraduate degree from James Madison College at Michigan State University in 2000 and was an undergraduate brother of the Beta Epsilon Chapter from 1996-2000.


Brother Thomas (Tom) C. Homburger is a member of ADL’s Global Leadership Council and the ADL Midwest Executive Council.  He is an attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Arizona Law School.  He received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and was an undergraduate brother of the Delta Chapter from 1959-1963.