Any civilized person should still be reeling from the barbarity of the slaughter perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. Propagandists, fellow-travelers and ‘useful idiots’ are claiming online that there is “no proof that these events actually took place”. This has been accompanied by an unprecedented surge of raw antisemitism, where some of the worst themes of Nazi and Soviet antisemitism have bubbled to the surface – quite separately from political attacks on Israel. Jews cannot be trusted; they are racist; they follow mysterious and secret ‘agendas’. To the list are added new, fashionable accusations of ‘colonialism’ and the like. As Sean Thomas wrote in the Spectator online, the Palestinian “protest” in London on Armistice Day included “levels of anti-Semitism … like nothing I have ever seen in the UK or indeed any western nation. It made me despair for our media and for the future of Jews in the UK.”
But there is a deeper background to all of this, and one which has a specific Christian background. The status of Jews as the permitted focus of hatred stems from centuries of Christian antisemitism.
There were two accusations which Christianity had hurled at Jews and Judaism which were deadly. The first was that of Deicide – that the Jews killed Jesus and thus killed God. No more fundamental charge could ever be levelled against any group. Regardless of the historical accuracy of who tried and executed Jesus of Nazareth, in the mind of the people guilt was attached to the Jews for eternity. (Has such guilt ever been imposed for ever on any other group. For anything?) And, although the Catholic Church attempted to lift that guilt in 1965, such absolution was effective mainly in the rarified circles of the senior Church – it did not necessarily reach the masses, or non-Catholic churches.
The second charge was the Supercessionist claim – that the Church has replaced the Jews as the group with which God had made His covenant. So the Jewish people were accused of killing God, and then stripped of their spiritual legitimacy. They were now fair game for what followed – centuries of hatred and pogroms , preached week after week from Church pulpits all over Europe. The poison of antisemitism took root. Allegations of ritual murder, well-poisoning, ‘world domination’ compounded one on top of the other. Jews could be blamed for everything and anything. “Die Juden sind unser ungluck – The Jews are our misfortune”– the Nazi slogan summed it up; European Christianity found it an easily digestible motto.
Much as it pains me to say it – and it does – the Churches bear a great deal of historic responsibility for antisemitism. No one seriously disputes this, except dyed-in-the-wool antisemites, who argue that the Jews brought it all on themselves.
So I challenge the Churches. With few exceptions, I don’t hear your voices at the moment. Face your history, and in these times of virulent antisemitism, do something about it. Confront the elements in Islam that peddle hatred and racism.
Reach out to the isolated Jewish world with messages of support. Embark on education programs. Affirm the strength and validity of today’s Jewish faith, teach about the Jewish origins of Christianity (yes, Jesus was Jewish); and most of all, make it clear that there is no place in today’s church, or in today’s society as a whole, for ANY antisemitism. Welcome the State of Israel. Object loudly, publicly and immediately to the antisemitism of others – on campuses, in public life, on the streets. Where are the Christian demonstrations demanding that the hostages be freed?
The twentieth century saw the rise of Nazism in Europe. The record of the Churches at that time was dismal – with some rare, but heroic exceptions. Even where solitary voices were heard deploring the violence and racism directed against Jews, there were often background murmurs (sometimes voices) saying that the Jews deserved what they got as punishment for rejecting Christ. As I once heard the Bishop of Oxford say, “The Holocaust took place in a landscape studded with Church spires”.
The current situation provides an opportunity for the churches to redeem themselves in the eyes of God – and in the eyes of Man. Are you going to speak up?