Antisemitism is a dangerous conspiracy theory with consistent elements.
- 1How do conspiracy theories generate fear?
As your students if they have ever heard of a conspiracy theory. What is a conspiracy theory? What are the ones that fascinate them the most?
Provide the definition of conspiracy theory: “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.”
Provide your students with insights from Dr. Deborah Lipstadt (available in full here), who suggests that antisemitism “is rooted in a conspiracy theory. As such, the Jew is not just to be loathed but is to be feared.” Ask your students, “Why do conspiracy theories evoke fear?”
Furthermore, Dr. Lipstadt suggests that the conspiracy theory of antisemitism “has a structure. It is not just a haphazard conglomeration of sentiments. It generally has three to four essential elements: wealth, cunning (smarts used nefariously), and power beyond their ‘legitimate number’ (punching above their weight).”
Their task of this lesson is to identify these essential elements within specific examples and then report their findings to the whole class.
Split students into five groups.
Each group will examine one of the five examples of antisemitism shown in Antisemitism Over Time from Echoes and Reflections. Distribute one example per group.
Then, provide the following instructions:
- Read the description of the antisemitic incident or artifact carefully.
- Examine the artifact or direct quotes from the incident.
- Record which elements of the conspiracy theory emerge in this example.
- Are there implied elements that are not displayed directly? Explain.
- Does “fear of the Jew” enter into the equation here? How so?
- Generate a brief presentation for the class that summarizes the context (time, place, participants, etc.) and your findings about the themes that are most significantly expressed in the artifacts or quotations.
Wisconsin Academic Standards
This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.