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Explainer: U.S. faces an “outbreak” of antisemitism

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May 28, 2021

Antisemitic activity has been on the rise over the past few weeks. As The New York Times reports, there has been “an outbreak of anti-Semitic threats and violence across the United States, stoking fear among Jews in small towns and major cities. During the two weeks of clashes in Israel and Gaza this month, the Anti-Defamation League collected 222 reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and violence in the United States, compared with 127 over the previous two weeks.”

Incidents are “literally happening from coast to coast, and spreading like wildfire,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the A.D.L.’s chief executive. “The sheer audacity of these attacks feels very different.” The Times notes that, “The recent spike is occurring on top of a longer-term trend of high-profile incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States.”

While Jews make up only about 2% of the U.S. population, they are the target of 13% of the hate crimes perpetrated each year. In 2019, the FBI identified 7,314 hate crimes, of which 953 were against Jews.

What is antisemitism?

Antisemitism is hatred of and hostility toward the Jews as a religious or ethnic group, which often includes the belief that Jews pose a threat to society and should be eliminated.

The term was coined in 1879 by German journalist Wilhelm Marr, founder of the Antisemiten-Liga (Anti-Semitic League) in an 1879 pamphlet opposing the influence of Jews on German culture. (Later in life, Marr published another pamphlet, Testament of an Antisemite, renouncing his own hatred of the Jewish people, and expressing concern that antisemitism in Germany was becoming entangled with mysticism and nationalism.)

 Should it be spelled anti-Semitism or antisemitism?

Both ways are grammatically correct, though many Jewish groups prefer the non-hyphenated spelling. In 2015, a group of scholars issued a statement explaining why the term should be spelled without the hyphen:

[T]he hyphenated spelling allows for the possibility of something called “Semitism,” which not only legitimizes a form of pseudo- scientific racial classification that was thoroughly discredited by association with Nazi ideology, but also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews.

The philological term “Semitic” referred to a family of languages originating in the Middle East whose descendant languages today are spoken by millions of people mostly across Western Asia and North Africa. Following this semantic logic, the conjunction of the prefix “anti” with “Semitism” indicates antisemitism as referring to all people who speak Semitic languages or to all those classified as “Semites.” The term has, however, since its inception referred to prejudice against Jews alone.

What constitutes antisemitism?

There is no universal agreement on what constitutes antisemitism. But the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by 31 countries, defines it in terms of 11 key areas:

What is “Christian antisemitism”?

Christian antisemitism is antisemitic attitudes that are supposedly derived from or based on theological reasons. In actual practice, such antisemitism is often due more to cultural, ethnic, or nationalistic reasons than theology. ERLC president Russell Moore has said,

As Christians, we should have a clear message of rejection of every kind of bigotry and hatred, but we should especially note what anti-Semitism means for people who are followers of Jesus Christ. We should say clearly to anyone who would claim the name “Christian” the following truth: If you hate Jews, you hate Jesus.

Anti-Semitism is, by definition, a repudiation of Christianity as well as of Judaism. This ought to be obvious, but world history, even church history, shows us this is not the case. Christians reject anti-Semitism because we love Jesus.

What is the Southern Baptist position on antisemitism?

The Southern Baptist Convention has renounced antisemitism in resolutions in 1873, 1948, 1971, 1972, 1981, 2003, and 2008.

In the 2003 resolution titled, “On Anti-semitism,” the messengers of the SBC denounced all forms of anti-Semitism as “contrary to the teachings of our Messiah and an assault on the revelation of Holy Scripture”; affirmed to “Jewish people around the world that we stand with them against any harassment that violates our historic commitments to religious liberty and human dignity”; and called on “governmental and religious leaders across the world to stand against all forms of bigotry, hatred, or persecution.”