“Khazar Origin” Myth Attempts To Deploy Erroneous History To Push Antisemitism

From QAnon to neo-Nazism, the term “Khazar Jews” is one seen often. Despite its ubiquitousness, there is a short supply of accessible information on where the intended pejorative originates from, and how it seeks to delegitimize the identity of the majority of Jewish people across the world. 

Peter Smith
Canadian Anti-Hate Network



Source: Unsplash


“Those god damn dirty Khazars,” a man identified only as Joe rants on the live stream of Druthers, a conspiratorial newspaper that emerged during the pandemic, while standing outside of an Ontario school. 

“They tear apart the country from the inside out. That revolution happens without a shot.”

Part of a reported 70 people gathering to protest outside a meeting of the Thames Valley District School Board, according to Global News, trustees attempted to hold a vote on sending a letter asking the province to include the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for students.

“What people don’t know is that those god damn dirty Khazars were in Germany at the same time too,” Joe adds moments later. “I don’t like talking about this but there’s a reason why the people of Germany loved Hitler and there’s a reason why if you go to Bavaria right now you can still go into places that still have his picture up.”

The police were called, the motion withdrawn, and the protesters left claiming victory, but the invocation of “Khazars” is part of a pernicious and widespread theory about the origins of a majority of Jewish people. Largely shared in spaces frequented by equal measures of antisemitism and misinformation, the topic of the “Khazar origin” theory has been co-opted by those seeking to use pseudohistory as a narrative weapon.

In another more popular stream, QAnon influencer and “Patriot Streetfighter,” Scott McKay barked about the “criminal Khazarian cabal,” exerting its influence over the world and challenging democracy while hosting Ontario Provincial Police Constable Gabriel Proulx on his show. 

The Khazar Delusion is partially based on the hypothesis that a large kingdom of Turkish-speaking refugees adopted Judaism, and are the ancestors of present-day Ashkenazi Jews. While sometimes incorporated into actual academic studies, more often than not the story of the Khazar conversion has become a way to separate Jewish people from their roots.

From live streams to comments in public and private group chats, the Khazar Delusion is a shield for those who claim they do not hate “real Jews,” thus insinuating that the vast majority of those who identify as Jews today are impostors.

“In general, I think it's as simple as justifying antisemitism via scripture or some sort of appeal to (historical) authority. I have yet to see any actual attempts at justifying why 1000-year-old converts don't count as ‘real Jews,’ especially when most of the proponents are presumably descendants of converts to Christianity themselves,” Alex Newhouse, the deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at Middlebury, told the Canadian Anti Hate Network

“My understanding is that it's an attempt to weaponize stereotypes and warped understandings of Jewish community-building. This sort of attack line comes frequently in the allegations that prominent Jews will always be loyal to their ‘tribe’ over anything else.”

 

Fallen Empire

 

With an estimated 80% of modern Jews having Ashkenazi ancestry, according to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Khazar Delusion and its negative connotations draw from two concepts.

The first of which is an extreme interpretation of Revelations 2:9 from the Christian Bible:

“I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.”

“Especially in QAnon communities, the Khazar myth is deployed specifically in an attempt to evade charges of antisemitism. It's meant to separate Jews into two groups: ‘real’ descendants of Israelites, and ‘fake’ descendants of the supposed Khazarian converts,” Newhouse said. “The conspiracy theory usually alleges that Israel is run almost exclusively by Khazar Jews, the ‘fake Jews’ from Europe who supposedly have nothing to do with ‘real Jews.’”

Some QAnon adherents will use this to allege that Israelis aren't just evil, they are frauds and traitors to Judaism more generally, Newhouse explained. 

Often pointed to by adherents of the Christian Identity branch of white power, the Khazar theory continues to find a home where it can be viewed as relevant. According to Newhouse, this runs the gambit from QAnon to adjacent “anti-NWO” and “anti-cabal communities.”

The second part -- which includes legitimate academic discussion -- posits that the Khazars, a very real confederation of Slavic, Scythian, Hunnic–Bulgar, Iranian, Alans, and Turkish tribes who formed one of the most powerful empires during the late Iron Age, converted to Judaism in the 8th century CE.

When the empire fell, the “Judeo–Khazars fled westward, settling in the rising Polish Kingdom and Hungary and eventually spreading to Central and Western Europe,” according to a paper by Eran Elhaik, an associate professor in genetics at Sweden’s Lund University, who supports the hypothesis.

Subsequent studies have pointed to the difficulty in testing this theory in genetics as the “Khazar population has left no obvious modern descendants that could enable a clear test for a contribution to Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry,” but the answer is immaterial in the context of antisemitism. Existing in a milieu of similar coded language and attempts to revise history, the term is an overt challenge to the legitimacy of modern Jews’ claim to their identity. 

“In reality, the Khazar myth simply gets reduced to a variation on the Synagogue of Satan conspiracy theories,” according to Newhouse, “wherein all Jews are fake and someone else is the real Israelites.”

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