Article

4 observations about anti-Semitism

Apr 30, 2019

“All Jews must die,” he shouted. The police officers responding to a Pittsburgh synagogue on a Saturday in October found 11 Jews dead. The victims, mostly elderly, had gathered that morning for Sabbath worship. The terrorist had complained about immigrants as “invaders that kill our people” on social media.

Marching under the light of tiki-torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, self-identified alt-right, neo-Nazi, and Ku Klux Klan members protested the removal of a confederate statue. Violent clashes between rally participants and counter protesters caused the death of one person and injuries to 19 others.

A freshman Democrat in the U.S. Congress found herself in hot political water after perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. Within weeks, the House of Representatives awkwardly passed a resolution decrying a laundry list of hate expressions.

And just this week, a 19-year-old white supremacist attacked a California synagogue on the Sabbath, shooting a 60-year-old Jewish lady who reportedly jumped in front of a rabbi to protect him. Others injured include a 9-year-old Israeli girl whose family moved to the States for a quieter, safer life. 

The day after this act of domestic terrorism, The New York Times published a clearly anti-Semitic cartoon among some international editions of its Sunday paper. The “newspaper of record” later apologized and deleted it from web editions.

Behind those moments making national headlines—one each from the past three years—anti-Semitic incidents are increasing dramatically in the United States. According to FBI data, crimes linked to anti-Semitism spiked 37 percent in 2017. That followed a 50 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. Approximately half of all anti-religious crimes are anti-Semitic in nature, though Jews are less than 2% of the population.

Anti-Semitic trends are so bad in Europe many Jews consider emigrating, according to a survey by the Pew Forum. Murderous attacks in recent years include shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, a kosher supermarket in Paris, and the Jewish Museum of Belgium. The Pew survey indicated 29% of Jews in the European Union had considered emigrating at some point during the five years prior to the survey. The results from French and Hungarian Jews were, respectively, 46% and 48%.

From the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach to the live-streamed shooting of 50 worshipping Muslims in a New Zealand mosque, no faith community is left untouched by persecution somewhere on the globe. We might be tempted to view anti-Semitism as a problem only for Jews, but anti-Semitism is a unique enough expression of hate that it’s worth considering on its own.

One of the most powerful witnesses Christians can exhibit in the public square is to love and defend our neighbors of another religion, particularly in a moment when we have no immediate self-interest to do so. Four observations follow to help us shame anti-Semitism out of our own communities.

1. Defining anti-Semitism

Though consensus on a definition is elusive, it is worthwhile to enunciate what we are talking about. The U.S. Department of State uses this working definition:

“[Anti-Semitism is] a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”[1]

We are not talking about critiquing policies of Israel’s government. As people who affirm free speech and democratic government, criticism of particular policies of a sovereign nation are fair game. Conspiracy theories, however, such as those about Jews secretly controlling politics, are anti-Semitic.

Most of us recognize that overt calls for or attempts at genocide or other mass atrocities against the Jews, like the Holocaust, are anti-Semitic. But expressions of hatred occur at a personal and community level, in whispers and rumors, long before violence.

2. Anti-Semitism is anti-Bible

Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created man in His own image, He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” “In the image of God” is a distinction given only to humanity amidst a vast and diverse creation. It is not that humans are at the top of a creation hierarchy; we are in a different category altogether. Dehumanizing human beings—a hallmark of anti-Semitism—is anti-Bible.

Anti-Semitism is also contrary to—as the Baptist Faith & Message puts it—“God’s gift” of freedom of thought and religion. God created us as autonomous creatures and gave us the responsibility of choosing our eternal allegiance. Persecuting another on the basis of religious belief is anti-Bible.

The best of American values harmonize with these truths. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained, “[Anti-Semitism] is an affront to religious liberty. It denies the rights of Jews to worship their God.”

3. Anti-Semitism breeds more intolerance

Where anti-Semitism exists, we also find persecution of other ethnic and religious groups. Samantha Power (former U.S. Ambassador under President Obama) observed anti-Semitism “is often the canary in the coal mine for the degradation of human rights more broadly. When the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Jews are repressed, the rights and freedoms of other minorities and other sectors are often not far behind.”

Power’s assertion is backed up by a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that shows anti-Semitism corresponds with persecution of other minority groups. In Egypt, where anti-Semitism is commonplace, the Coptic Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’is are also persecuted. In Iran, where leaders often deny the Holocaust or call for the destruction of the state of Israel, Christian converts are imprisoned and tortured, along with Baha'i, and minority expressions of the Muslim faith. In Belarus, Baptist churches have been raided by the government.[2]

By any measure, the countries mentioned above are not healthy, thriving societies. Their governments collude with non-state actors to blame the Jewish people for poverty, violence, and instability. They persecute their own citizens or look the other way, permitting social hostilities against Jews. Hate permitted toward one group fans the flames of hate toward others.

4. Church history shows us where we were wrong

During the rise of Hitler and National Socialism there was little in the way of protest from the organized church in Germany and Europe. Instead, following the Holocaust that slaughtered six million Jews, the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Baptist Union of Germany could do nothing but issue statements of remorse, confessing they shared in the guilt through their “omission and silence.”

Regrettably, Southern Baptists were not exempt from this guilt. In 1936, Southern Baptist leaders visited Berlin to attend the Baptist World Alliance Congress. Historian Timothy George writes, “They met under the banner of the swastika, received greetings from Hitler, and returned to America with glowing reports on the great things happening in Germany. They specifically minimized the totalitarianism and glaring anti-Semitism which was obvious even in 1936.”[3]

Southern Baptists must—with God’s grace, and hopefully a broad spectrum of Christianity—stand up in our own communities and yell, “stop” on behalf of our Jewish neighbors.

During recent remarks in Warsaw, Poland, Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom under President Trump, urged action among his international peers: “[Anti-Semitism], is not a relic of the past but a present reality” and “taking responsibility means taking action.”

Anti-Semitism is not merely a Jewish problem. May we not be guilty of omission and silence.

This article is an updated and revised version of an article originally published in 2016.

Notes

  1. ^ The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.” http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2011/working-definition-antisemitism Retrieved February 2013, since removed from the EU web site. Nevertheless, the definition remains in use by the U.S. Department of State https://www.state.gov/s/rga/resources/267538.htm, Retrieved March 2019.
  2. ^ Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. March 2012.
  3. ^ George, T. “Southern Baptist Heritage of Life.” March 1993. Address given to ERLC 26th Annual Seminar, “Life at Risk: Crises in Medical Ethics.” Available at http://erlc.com/article/southern-baptist-heritage-of-life/.

Matthew Hawkins

Matthew Hawkins previously served the ERLC as a Policy Director in Washington, D.C. Presently, Matt is  pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the meantime, he is writing and consulting at the intersection of religion... Read More