The term "anti-semitism" was coined by German agitator Wilhelm Marr, who founded the League for Anti-Semitism in 1879. Marr advocated pseudoscientific biological and anthropological ideas which held the "Jewish race" inferior to the "Aryan" or "Teutonic" race. He created the term "anti-semitism" to distinguish this secular hatred of the "Jewish race" from earlier religious prejudice against Judaism.

What was this earlier prejudice? Prior to the 19th century, prejudice against Jews was largely founded upon suspicion of their religion and its practices, or of their insularity as a community. The Catholic Church taught that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, and that their rejection of Christianity was an ongoing affront to God. (Indeed, some anti-Jewish doctrines remained in the Catholic catechism and liturgy up through the 1960s.) In Spain and France, the Inquisition tortured or killed openly Jewish men and women who would not convert. Martin Luther and other Protestant leaders fulminated against the Jewish community both as Christ-killers and as conspirators. Many European Christians believed the myth now known as the blood libel -- the idea that Jews drank human blood (or specifically that of unbaptized Christian children) in their religious rituals. Many Christian Europeans also suspected Jews of economic collusion and political conspiracy -- allegations still parroted today by anti-semitic conspiracy theorists. It was this cultural background which formed the environment for later racial anti-semitism.

Since Marr's time, and particularly since the time of the Holocaust, the term "anti-semitism" has come to refer to any form of prejudice against Jews -- whether racial, theological, economic, or otherwise. Some Zionists have attempted to broaden the term to include political opposition to the modern nation of Israel, although this is more accurately anti-Zionism.

In the Western world today, anti-semitism is thankfully rare. It is chiefly represented in so-called "hate groups" -- clubs, churches, and gangs focused on their hatred for racial and religious minorities. Examples include America's Ku Klux Klan and World Church of the Creator; England's National Front; small neo-Nazi gangs throughout Europe; and Scandinavia's White Power organizations and racial nationalist political parties.