Once upon a time (in the 1930s and 40s to be exact) a bunch of baptized Christians got together and murdered a huge number of Jews in civilized Europe. There were some Christians who opposed this violence and paid for their opposition with their lives, but most Christians just stood by and watched while their co-religionists committed genocide. Some took pictures.
It was a bad thing.
In the decades after this catastrophe, Christian intellectuals got together in a number of different venues and declared, “We did a bad thing and we need to make sure this never happens again. Maybe we shouldn’t call the Jews Christ-killers anymore.”
One big statement came when the Catholic Church issued a declaration called “Nostra Aetate” (Latin for “In Our Time.”) This statement said that Catholics were no longer going to hold Jews collectively and eternally responsible for the death of Christ in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. It also declared that antisemitism was a bad thing. A very bad thing.
In the years after the Catholic Church issued Nostra Aetate, other churches, liberal Protestant churches especially, issued similar statements about how antisemitism was a very bad thing and that they were very sorry.
The people rejoiced. “The great dragon of Christian antisemitism has been relegated to the ancient past! Us moderns? We got Christianity right! Halleluiah!”
Under the new rules, any time Christians fell off the wagon with anti-Jewish rhetoric, Jews and their allies only had to remind everyone of the statements that churches had issued in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
“Remember, you promised! You said, ‘Never again!’” folks would say.
But as it turned out, there were a few unwritten qualifications to the Christian statements declaring antisemitism a very bad thing.
The first qualification was that they did not preclude the demonization of Israel, the Jewish state. Christians could lie by commission and omission about Israel’s response to Arab and Muslim violence against its civilians and it would be OK. They had peace to make!
The protections (if we can call them that) against the evils of antisemitism offered in Nostra Aetate and similar statements applied to beleaguered, defenseless, and dead Jews. They were not offered to living, breathing and armed Jews.
Obscured in all of the fanfare over the dawning of this new era in Christian-Jewish relations was the fact that Christian ambivalence and hostility toward Jewish power and success were still persistent aspects of Christian attitudes about Jews. The notion that something is fundamentally wrong with the world when Jews are successful, safe, and happy remains an unspoken source of anti-Jewish animus in the Christian mind. “If Jews are happy, we ain’t happy,” is the unspoken calculus.
Another unspoken qualifier to the new arrangement between Christians and Jews is that the prohibition against antisemitism does not apply to the Jew-hatred expressed by certain protected groups — most notably Arab and Muslim extremists, African Americans and Palestinian Christians. Anyone who had a grievance against the United States or the West is, in our time, allowed to defame Israel and Jews as sort of a reparation for what these communities have suffered.
This exemption is extended to guilty white Westerners (i.e., Christian peacemakers and secular human rights activists) who stand in solidarity with these aggrieved communities. These folks are allowed to speak about Israel and Jews with the same hostility that was supposed to be an artifact of pre-Holocaust Christendom.
As it turned out, the prohibition against antisemitism really only applied to conservative Christians, who ironically enough, supported Israel in its struggle with its neighbors in the Middle East. These pro-Israel folks are the only antisemites that can be called out in our time.
Everyone else gets a pass.