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Lesson

Exploring Antisemitic Tropes in Further Depth

Students explore antisemitic tropes, their troubled history, their evolution and their present manifestation in further depth, and consider the harm that their circulation can cause.   

Published:

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • Antisemitism

Overview

About This Lesson

This is the second lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about contemporary antisemitism in a safe, sensitive and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on antisemitism – how it manifests in contemporary society and its impact – and consider what needs to be done to challenge it.

In this lesson, students explore antisemitic tropes, their troubled history, their evolution and their present manifestation in further depth. The activities provide students with the opportunity to reflect on the destructive dangers of misinformation; to explore what led to the creation of antisemitic tropes, and how they have been used to exploit societal situations and target human emotions; and to consider the harm that the circulation of antisemitic tropes can cause.  

Understanding the ways in which misinformation can be challenged and debunked is important when it comes to challenging antisemitism, particularly as many antisemitic tropes have gained wide currency on social media platforms. Teaching students about antisemitic tropes and their history helps them understand the roots of these malicious rumours and myths, as well as how they have been adapted to retain relevance in the present. These explorations can both mentally prime students to be critical consumers of antisemitic content they might encounter in the future and help counter any pernicious misinformation that may have already shaped their world view. 

Teaching students about the tools deployed to help spread these tropes can also help them challenge antisemitism. Content spreading antisemitic tropes often seeks to provoke an emotional response and/or uses tactics such as dog-whistling (when people use code words to express racist and/or hateful feelings and content to avoid being called out on what they are saying). Helping students understand the means through which antisemitic content is spread is particularly important in the age of social media, when memes, images and ideas spread with incredible speed, as it encourages students to think critically about the information that they are consuming and sharing, and can prevent students from unsuspectingly sharing antisemitic content.

We recommend that you do preparatory work on discussing antisemitic tropes with students using the lesson Introducing Antisemitism and Antisemitic Tropes if you have not already done so.

  • What are the historical roots of antisemitic tropes?
  • How have tropes helped antisemitic ideas spread and persist throughout history? 
  • How can being able to recognise antisemitic tropes be an important part of challenging antisemitism? 
  • Students will understand the history and manifestation of contemporary antisemitic tropes.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 1 reading
  • 1 classroom-ready PowerPoint
  • 2 extension activities

Antisemitic tropes are a form of misinformation that have been in circulation for milennia, having been used to ostracise and attack Jews across countries and time periods. These tropes, which have scapegoated Jews, blaming them for social ills, have persisted in the face of other cultural and social shifts, adapting to retain relevance. Their harm lies not only in the fact that they can lead to stereotyping and discrimination, but also in the fact that they can encourage conspiratorial thinking. Like all misinformation, if left to circulate unchallenged, antisemitic tropes can cause serious damage: they have the capacity to yield significant and long-lasting influence over the world view of those who encounter them. 

Beth Goldberg, Research Program Manager at Jigsaw, notes,

One of the reasons misinformation is so pernicious is its ability to continue to influence thinking long after someone initially sees it. In fact, misinformation often persists even after someone has been shown a factual correction of the false claim. This is because misinformation can be “sticky,” meaning it can have what experts call a “continued influence effect” on someone’s memory and reasoning long after seeing it.

Debunking is especially difficult with conspiracy theories, which are often believed at an emotional, rather than rational, level. 1

According to the Debunking Handbook 202o, which was collectively authored by academics from twenty universities around the world, one of the most effective ways to tackle misinformation is to ‘prevent it taking root in the first place’.  2  

Prevention strategies include ‘simply warning people that they might be misinformed’, ‘encouraging people to critically evaluate information as they read it’ and ‘helping people become more discerning in their sharing behavior’. 3  

There is also a process known as ‘psychological inoculation’. 

Beth Goldberg further explains,

Inoculation protects people against disinformation 4 by teaching them to spot and refute a misleading claim. Inoculation messages can build up people’s resistance or “mental antibodies” to encountering misinformation in the future, the way vaccines create antibodies that fight against future infection. 5

If people have already been exposed to misinformation, its misleading content can be countered by ‘debunking’ – though, as stated above, this process can be difficult. To be effective, the debunking process must be detailed and must involve giving people the facts, alongside warnings that the content they have encountered is a myth and explanations on how the myth has been used to mislead people.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Several antisemitic tropes have their origins in the discriminatory behaviour of the early Christian church and its treatment of Jews: Jews were blamed for social ills, banned from serving in most professions and accused of killing Jesus (and later Christian children). When teaching the reality of this difficult history, it is important students understand that interfaith dialogue and work has helped to heal generations of religious conflict between Jews and Christians. In 1965, for example, the Catholic Church released a declaration called the ‘Nostra Aetate’, which stated that the wider Jewish community and Jews today could not be held responsible for the death of Jesus.

The Church of England has also made attempts at religious reconciliation. To learn more about this work, see Tony Kushner’s article ‘The Church of England is apologising for medieval antisemitism – why now? 1 and the book God’s Unfailing Word: Theological and Practical Perspectives on Christian–Jewish Relations, published by the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England.

The six texts used in the Jigsaw activity are not at the same level – some are longer than others, while others contain information that requires more advanced processing skills. It is important to think about this when you are deciding which groups students should work in. You may choose to ensure groups are made of mixed-ability students, or that some groups are given shorter excerpts or the texts that are easier to understand. Ideally, the groups would be divided in such a way as to ensure that they all finish reviewing their given text and the connection questions at the same time. If possible, print at least enough copies of each reading for sharing one between two.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

Before you begin engaging with the content of the lesson, we recommend that you create a classroom contract or revisit a previously created one. You can use our contracting guidelines for creating a classroom contract or another procedure you have used in the past.

Ask students to reflect on misinformation by responding to the following prompts in their journals:

Misinformation is false information that is spread either by mistake or with intent to mislead. When there is intent to mislead, it is called disinformation. Misinformation has the potential to cause substantial harm to individuals and society. … [It] is often steeped in emotional language and designed to be attention-grabbing and have persuasive appeal.

  1. Why might misinformation have ‘the potential to cause substantial harm to individuals and society’? 
  2. Why might misinformation be ‘steeped in emotional language and designed to be attention-grabbing and have persuasive appeal’?
  3. Have you, or anyone you know, ever been exposed to misinformation/disinformation? 
    • What happened?
    • How did you learn it was misinformation/disinformation?
    • What, if anything, were the consequences? 
  4. How do you think people can be protected against misinformation and disinformation? 

Invite students to share any responses they feel comfortable sharing with the class.

Next, inform students that they will be exploring the antisemitic tropes which were introduced in the previous lesson in further depth using the Jigsaw teaching strategy, which contains two key steps. Explain that antisemitic tropes are a form of both misinformation and disinformation. 

  1. First, students will be divided into ‘expert’ groups and each group will be given a different reading that explores one antisemitic trope and how it has manifested throughout history. These ‘expert’ groups will review and discuss the assigned materials together.
  2. Students will then be divided into ‘teaching’ groups, in which they will give an overview of what they learnt in their ‘expert’ group, and discuss new questions to consolidate their learning.

Divide the class into ‘expert’ groups of four to five students (there are six separate readings). Then, pass out a different reading contained in Antisemitic Tropes to each ‘expert’ group. 

Explain to students that each ‘expert’ group will read the group’s assigned reading together out loud, taking it in turns to read, and will then briefly discuss and respond to the connection questions in their books. Let the students know how much time they have for this first task and circulate around the room to check in with groups as they are reading and discussing the questions together.

Then, divide the class into new ‘teaching’ groups. All of the members of each ‘teaching’ group should have read a different reading in their ‘expert’ groups.

Project these ‘teaching’ group prompts on the board:

  1. Briefly summarise 2–3 key findings of your ‘expert’ group to your ‘teaching’ group (take it in turns). 
  2. How and why have antisemitic tropes persisted over centuries and millennia? 
  3. How do antisemitic tropes appeal to people’s emotions and fears? What impact does this have?
  4. Has learning about antisemitic tropes impacted your ability to help stop the spread of antisemitism? How might you use what you have learnt about tropes to stand up to antisemitism?
  5. What else might it take to overcome these false antisemitic beliefs?

Invite groups to share key ideas and insights from their discussions with the class.

Finally, invite students to reflect on the following prompt in a Think, Pair, Share, before inviting them to share their thoughts with the class.

Read the following perceptions of two European Jews concerning antisemitism, which are taken from a survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jews in the EU, and then discuss the questions: 

  • ‘Some forms of antisemitism (especially in social media) have become so commonplace that they are almost accepted. These are the sort of things that you can’t report to the police or even to the media platform, but strengthen a hostile culture. For example, references to Jewish bankers, Rothschild cults, etc etc.’

(Man, 40–44 years old, UK)

  • ‘Antisemitic thoughts that slowly enter everyday “acceptable” thinking is the biggest danger for me. There will always be someone who will let it go further and when it becomes too crude or hard to ignore, it‘ll be too late.’

(Man, 55–59 years old, Belgium)

  • How might working, studying or living in a ‘hostile culture’ in which antisemitic references are ‘commonplace’ and ‘accepted’ impact Jews?
    • What might the man from Belgium mean by ‘when it becomes too crude or hard to ignore, it’ll be too late’? 
    • How do these statements highlight the importance of understanding and challenging antisemitic tropes? 

Extensions

To help your students understand more about antisemitic tropes and their history, you might choose to share information from one or more of the following, adapting as necessary to suit the needs of your pupils: 

The Anti-Defamation League’s resource Antisemitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era.

To help students understand more about the interfaith dialogue and work that has helped to heal generations of religious conflict between Jews and Christians, you might choose to share information from one or more of the following, adapting as necessary to suit the needs of your pupils: 

God’s Unfailing Word Theological and Practical Perspectives on Christian–Jewish Relations, published by the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England. 

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