Shimon Samuels

The Ugly Face of an Antisemitic Easter

Despite the Netherlands government declaration of 2019 that “antisemitism is on the list of national priorities,” Judeophobia is not only the violence from radical Islamism or antisemitic terrorism.

Religious Jew-hatred has returned to the scene across Europe. An extreme-right/neanderthal Christianity crawls out of dark caves, especially at Easter.

Some could be compared to cults of a few members who would leave flyers under car windscreen wipers or house doormats, maybe a couple of hundred a day… usually ignored or scrunched up and binned. Now, through social media, that type of waste reaches tens of thousands of smartphones instantly, affecting mostly youth. Nevertheless, also “old traditional antisemitism” continues to blemish festivals or festivities around the continent.

To recall such examples:

– A painting of Jews blood-letting a Christian child – for the need to bake the Matza bread of Passover – hanging in a church of Marina di Massa, Tuscany. At the time, the church organized its annual international Easter essay competitions on the theme. Once alerted, the Italian government took the necessary measures against this blood libel.

– A village near Madrid drew lots for those supposed to play the role of Jews, doused in wine and dipped in barrels carried by bulls.

– The 2019 Aalst Carnival, in Belgium, saw floats carrying ugly caricatures of Jews, sitting on piles of gold coins – reminiscent of 1936 Nazi antisemitic propaganda chariots in Marburg. The Carnival lost its standing with UNESCO.

This year, a long-standing antisemitic tradition lives on in the scenic Ootmarsum processions for Easter week. Dutch so-called “Catholic” carolers – led by their “treasurer” playing the role of “Judas” – sing along: “Throw the Jew Down the Well”… explaining that “the Jews, who with their false council, sacrificed Jesus on the cross.”

The tradition is claimed to be over 100 years old. In conformity with the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate of 1965, the wording was changed in 1968 from “Jews” to “People”… but then back to “Jews” the following year, until present day.

The Netherlands CIDI (Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel) advised me that, in Holland, worse than Ootmarsum, are Bach’s Matthew and John Passions which highlights the “Judas” and then, Barabbas, as the true Jew that should have been crucified. The “Passion” is especially played in the days before Easter, with a focus on dramatization that can easily lead to resentment and hate.

We have urged the Dutch government to take appropriate measures.

We recall another example, non-Jewish, but an important case of hate leading to violence. We had visited Belfast, Northen Ireland/Ulster, on the day that Protestant Orange men were marching. The wall between the Protestant and the Catholic parts of town was happily closed. In the twilight, the Orange men lit a bonfire to burn the Catholic effigy. Hate was palpable, both sides were ready for violence.

A joke at the time told of the armed barrier. A car was stopped and the driver was asked: “Are you Protestant or Catholic?” The answer was: “Neither, I am Jewish!” But the guard insisted: “Yes, but are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”

May this joke be an example on how to defuse hatred…

About the Author
Shimon Samuels is Emeritus Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served in the IDF. He was Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK, where he studied as also Israel, U.S. and Japan.
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