By / Nov 14

Antisemitic crimes are at an all-time high in American culture, and antisemitic remarks permeate social discourse with an unfortunate frequency. Further, the Israel-Hamas war has brought the issue to the forefront of conversation. In attempting to offer a defense of Hamas’ actions in Israel, groups like the Harvard Palestinian Solidarity Group use rhetoric and language that is antisemitic. These shocking sentiments are not formed in a vacuum. Particularly within the American context, they originate within an unfortunate history of antisemitism. Throughout my studies in the Fellowship at Auschwitz for the Society for Professional Ethics, I learned how these actions and remarks are intertwined and intimately connected to the evolution of antisemitism in America. 

Antisemitism historically 

The roots of antisemitism begin long before the Holocaust or attacks against synagogues in America. For example, in Matthew 27:25, the Jews said “his blood be on us, and on our children,” when Pilate declared himself innocent of the death of Jesus. Commonly known as the “blood curse,” some early Christians used this verse to justify the claim that Jesus’ death was the responsibility of Jews, not the Roman Empire which organized his arrest, trial, and execution. The early Catholic Church officially taught this in its doctrine, elevating what had been a largely grassroots belief to be a sentiment shared on a large scale.

Antisemitism was not limited to the early Church, or even the Catholic Church. Later in life, Martin Luther, the architect of the Protestant Reformation, frequently attacked Jewish individuals because he was angered by their refusal to convert. In response to his frustrations with the Jewish people, Luther advocated for the burning of synagogues as well as the pillaging and destruction of their homes. 

Attacks on Jews in Europe were not even always religious. Various groups from the Greco-Roman period up to the Nazis in the 20th century blamed the Jews for the intentional spread of disease. Because Jewish people were not sick as frequently and lived longer, they were blamed for causing or spreading diseases. In reality, their daily practices of mikveh (bathing regularly for religious reasons) likely helped prevent sickness among their community. 

Additionally, a new theory began to percolate at the turn of the 20th century: the Jewish people were working together to assume power and control the world. Supposedly, they would do so through spending the money they had amassed to buy off unassuming and kind Christians. Propagated through the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—a fake document containing this secret plan—this view has continued to achieve mass acceptance.

Antisemitism in America

The publication of The Protocols helped increase antisemitic sentiment in the United States. Before The Protocols, antisemitic ideology in America existed, as in the lynching of Leo Frank or the rise of antisemitic remarks during the Civil War, but they were less prominent than other racial biases. 

In 1920, Henry Ford, the car manufacturer and known antisemitic, began a four-year-long tirade against the Jewish people in his weekly newspaper. By 1924, his conspiracy-laced publications had reached an audience of more than 700,000 people, earning the praise of perhaps the most notable antisemitic, Adolf Hitler. Beyond Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, a popular Catholic priest with a radio show that reached 15 million listeners each week, spewed antisemitic theology and theories for his listeners to ingest. On the eve of the Holocaust and World War II, in part thanks to people like Ford and Coughlin, antisemitism was socially acceptable. 

As America entered WWII, notions of antisemitism only increased on the home front. Coughlin began and operated a periodical laced with antisemitic writings that reached a readership of over one million between 1940 and 1942. Charles Lindbergh, the famed aviator, asserted to millions of Americans that the control by the Jewish people of “our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government” was one of the largest threats Americans faced. 

Based on the regular and prolific antisemitism Americans encountered on a daily basis, it should be unsurprising that a 1939 poll noted that more than 60% of Americans did not believe that the Jewish people should be treated equally to every other race. Congress, mirroring the will of the people, crafted legislation that reflected this attitude. Rather than opening its immigration numbers to allow persecuted Jewish people to flee the Holocaust, America kept its doors shut

After WWII, antisemitic statements and attacks began to subside, in part because of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which extended civil rights to Jewish Americans as well as African Americans. Still, antisemitism lingered in certain parts of American culture, as the creation and persistence of the American Nazi Party attests. However, the strides society took in the acceptance and embrace of the equality of Jewish people are to be welcomed. 

Rates of antisemitic crimes and violence have generally trended down, according to statistics released by the FBI which began tracking them in the late 1970s, but this trend was broken in the mid-2010s:

  • In 2014, antisemitic crimes increased by 21% nationally
  • With only a small increase in 2015, antisemitic crimes significantly increased in 2016, increasing nearly 35% since the previous year. 
  • Since 2016, the prevalence of antisemitic crimes has skyrocketed, increasing 191% in the previous seven years, with 2022 being the highest year on record for the number of antisemitic crimes.

These crimes are not abstract statistics. They affect real communities and people. For example, the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue massacre claimed 11 lives. The same is true for the mass shooting that happened at the JC Kosher Supermarket in New Jersey, where two assailants killed three people and wounded another three before being stopped by the police. And in recent days, threats of violence and intimidation against Jewish people because of the Israel-Hamas war have increased. Recent violence highlights that there is still much work left to be done in rooting out the evil of antisemitism. 

How should Christians respond?  

While we can grasp the grim reality of how antisemitic remarks developed, what should Christians do when they hear or see malice toward the Jewish people? Jordan Wooten wrote an explainer about the state of antisemitism in America today and addressed practical steps Christians can take to combat antisemitism within the culture. In addition to his suggestions, Christians can push against antisemitism in two ways:

1. The Christian must contend for the dignity of Jewish peoples based on the doctrine of the imago Dei. Genesis 1:21 states that God made man and woman in his image. The same doctrine that animates our advocacy on behalf of the unborn should guide our advocacy on behalf of our Jewish neighbors. Both are made in the image of God, and we should prevent violence against either. 

2. The Christian must contend for the free practice of Judaism within the public square. While religious freedom is not exclusively Christian, it is a Southern Baptist particular. When many attacks on our Jewish neighbors are rooted in attacks on their faith, Southern Baptists should be compelled to speak up and defend their right to worship freely. This will include a renewed commitment to security and protection of Jewish people in the face of violence against places of religious worship, but also a rejection of religious ideologies that try to erase or stamp out Judaism, which is an adoption of the spirit of Satan who has repeatedly attempted to eradicate the Jewish people.

A comprehensive biblical ethic does not allow us to stop at just knowing about injustice, but requires that we take action to end it where possible. Scripture demands that we do more than profess belief; we must act on those beliefs and do the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:8-10). As Christians, we must commit ourselves to not only knowing the history of antisemitism, but working to remove it from society. As Corrie Ten Boom wrote in The Hiding Place regarding clear and aggressive antisemitism, “silence is consent.” May we not let not her statement indict us today. 

By / May 19

Simmering beneath the surface of so much of our unhelpful national rhetoric is a deep-seated suspicion of those we view as “other” than us. When that suspicion goes uncorrected, it seethes and grows until, eventually, it morphs into hate. Unchecked, hate finally lashes out in the form of nasty words or, as we’re seeing, violent actions. And in many cases, religious and ethnic minorities are the ones who bear the brunt of it.

A documented rise in anti-Semitism

Though we could point to a number of groups experiencing a rise in harmful mistreatment, a report recently published by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that in 2021 Jewish Americans were subjected to a shocking amount of antisemitic “incidents,” a term the report uses to capture a combination of harassment, vandalism, and/or assault. According to the report, “antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2021.”

The report outlines, “In 2021, [the] ADL tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the United States,” which “represents a 34% increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.” Some additional findings from the report include:

  • Of the 2,717 incidents, 1,776 were categorized as harassment (up 43% from 2020), 853 were categorized as vandalism (up 14% for 2020), and 88 were categorized as assault (up 167% from 2020). 
  • Attacks against Jewish institutions, including synagogues, increased 61%. Incidents at K-12 schools jumped 106% and incidents on college campuses rose 21%.
  • Incidents occurred in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. The states with the highest number of incidents were New York (416), New Jersey (370), California (367), Florida (190), Michigan (112) and Texas (112). Combined, these states account for 58% of the total incidents.

Furthermore, corroborating the findings of the ADL, a report produced by the American Jewish Committee and published in November 2021 “found that about 25% of Jewish people in America have experienced some form of antisemitism.” To put that number into perspective, that’s almost two million Jewish Americans (a conservative estimate) who have encountered discrimination and/or cruelty due to their religious or ethnic identity. 

The Jewish community, both here and abroad, is no stranger to injustice. For centuries they have endured some of the most abominable and inhumane treatment on record. And these statistics—what The New York Times has called “an outbreak of antisemitism“—indicate that Jewish Americans face life in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward them. So, what ought Christians to do for our Jewish neighbors?

Blessed are the peacemakers

In the first several lines of Jesus’s well-known Sermon on the Mount, it opens with a series of pithy statements known as the “Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:1-12). After ascending a mountain, Jesus sat down with a crowd of his followers and began his teaching, pronouncing a series of blessings upon some unlikely recipients. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (v. 3), he says, and “Blessed are those who mourn” (v. 4). These Beatitudes make plain what living as a citizen of God’s kingdom looks like here and now. 

And Jesus goes on, eventually uttering a statement that, for Christians in America, is pertinent for our response to the rising antisemitism in our country: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v. 9). An ethic of peacemaking, Jesus says, is central to belonging to the family of God. So, I ask again: what ought Christians to do for our Jewish neighbors? We are called by Jesus to make peace.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? It means to be an active agent in bringing the peace of God to bear in the context where we live; actively looking for opportunities to introduce God’s shalom to the people and places that we encounter every day. Making peace is a way that we love our neighbors, a way that we “seek the welfare of [our cities]” (Jer. 29:7), and a way that we mimic our Father in heaven, who is the Lord of peace (2 Thess. 3:16; Rom. 15:33). 

Making peace practically

According to the statistics above, we are surrounded by Jewish Americans who have personally experienced antisemitism, regardless of what state we reside in. So, there are ample opportunities for the church to act as peacemakers to our neighbors. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take the initiative to build friendships with your Jewish American neighbors. 
  • If you encounter hate speech among peers aimed toward Jewish Americans, speak up on their behalf. Seek to respond winsomely and charitably, but truthfully, insisting that Jewish people be treated and spoken of with dignity.  
  • When you see injustice perpetrated against Jewish Americans, speak up about it. One constructive use of your social media platform is to call attention to those who receive unfair treatment and to advocate for them, as SBC pastor Griffin Gulledge did on behalf of the Uyghur people.
  • Get to know your local elected officials. Use those relationships to advocate on behalf of your Jewish American neighbors and others. 

As Christians, we recognize that our mission is to see “God and sinners reconciled,” as the old Christmas hymn says. We are called to be agents of divine reconciliation, establishing peace between God and sinners through the person and work of Christ and by the power of his Spirit. But we might never gain the audience of our Jewish American neighbors to share that good news until we take seriously Jesus’ call in the Beatitudes to take up our post as peacemakers. Until Jewish Americans see us working to undo the injustice perpetrated against them, they may never lend us their ears and, therefore, never receive the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). 

So, let us practice the work of making peace on behalf of our Jewish American neighbors. “After all,” as Drew Griffin has written, “if one Jew was willing to give his life to save humanity, surely those of us who claim his name can stand up for the people to whom he came, and through whom the gospel came to us.”

By / May 28

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:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government, or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g., gas chambers), or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

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.”