Why the church must identify and combat the last acceptable prejudice
When believers today discuss the Holocaust (or Shoah), it is not uncommon for them to shake their heads in disbelief that such a massive genocide involving 6 million Jews could have happened so recently in Christian Europe. “How did the church not see?” we cry.
We read with horror the historical accounts; we weep at the testimonies of those who survived and grieve for those who didn’t. We stare with unbelief at the grotesque photos of man’s inhumanity to man during the Nazi reign of terror, and vow with Jews all over the world: “Never again!”
Yet, only 67 years after the end of World War II, we find ourselves living in a time eerily similar to the years preceding Hitler’s “Final Solution”—a time when the unthinkable is now very possible. Results of a 2003 poll authorized by the European Commission show that 60 percent of Europeans in 15 EU countries believed Israel to be the greatest threat to world peace, greater than North Korea or Iran.
More recently, figures on anti-Semitism released by the Jewish Agency for Israel in January 2010—just days before commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—revealed that anti-Semitic incidents in Europe had reached a level not seen since the end of World War II.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when many people—Christians and Jews included—can choose the comfort of denial to the inconvenience of truth, and the escapism of entertainment to the engagement of activism. We are also living in a day when Western nations are increasingly influenced by political correctness, which demands silence rather than speaking the truth that either frightens or offends.
In our multicultural society, where humanism and “tolerance” of all things reign supreme, anti-Semitism is the last acceptable prejudice. The age-old hatred of Jews that has infected every generation since biblical times, is alive and well, only now it has a new look and a new name. Its evil intent has been masked by a politically correct focus—the state of Israel rather than an individual—and its unbridled attacks are now based upon the very existence of that state and criticism of its political actions rather than of its religion, according to Joseph Puder’s “Europe’s War on Jews” article for FrontPageMag.com.
Hidden behind the smokescreen of passionate anti-Zionism and anti-Israel rhetoric lies the same anti-Semitism that triggered pogroms, Inquisitions, The Crusades and The Final Solution—all of which denied Jews the right to live safely and with dignity as equal human beings for more than 2,000 years.
Martin Luther King Jr. both understood and clearly articulated that anti-Zionism is indeed anti-Semitism. Although the often-quoted “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend” as its source is not verifiable, the basic message of that letter was indeed and without question spoken by him in Cambridge, Mass., shortly before he was killed.
According to confirmed accounts, “a student stood up and asked King to address himself to the issue of Zionism. The question was clearly hostile. King responded, ‘When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.’ ”
The Demonization of Israel
Is all criticism of Israel anti-Semitic? The answer is of course no; in fact, some of the strongest critics of Israeli policy and politics are the Israelis and Jews themselves. So how do we distinguish between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy?
First, comparisons of Israel’s actions with the behavior of the Nazi regime, or the demonization of Israel or Israeli leaders through comparisons with Nazi leaders or Nazi symbols to caricature them, has to be seen as coming from an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue.
A 2005 case study on anti-Semitism by Rutgers University noted: “As the conflict in the Middle East increased in violence ... tension on the campus began to mount. With anti-Israeli commentary no longer limited to the college newspaper, anti-Zionist rhetoric, such as ‘Zionism = Racism,’ ‘Sharon = Hitler,’ and ‘Zionism = Nazism’ quickly made its way into flyers, chalking, banners and rally signs across the campus.”
The comparison of Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians with Nazi actions against the Jews not only perverts history, but trivializes the horror of the Holocaust; after all, “if the Israelis are no better than the Nazis, then the Nazis’ actions were no worse than the Israelis,” Asaf Romirowsky wrote in an article titled “Anti-Semitism Revisited” for FrontPageMagazine.com.
Furthermore, the characterization of Israel as an evil ”Nazi State” is especially dangerous because it can transform anti-Semitism into a “moral obligation” for (especially young) people to oppose the existence of that state.
“The Palestinian leadership uses these similarities to stimulate Arab and Western support and sympathy,” Romirowsky added in the article. “Moreover, this emphasis on a similarity between Nazism and Zionism bolsters Palestinian claims of oppression by Israel.”
This is a very effective strategy in today’s anti-Israel media, because those who are perceived as the oppressed are also automatically viewed as the underdogs.
Today, this status rewards those so designated with automatic nobility, political sympathy and emotional support, regardless of the facts. Daniel Pipes wrote about this phenomenon on FrontPageMagazine.com, citing a 2007 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin called “The Appeal of the Underdog,” which used different Israeli-Palestinian maps, graphs and images in their experiments, showing that people will shift their perception of truth and facts to support the “underdog” side.
Also to be evaluated as a form of anti-Semitism are the stereotypical accusations that there is a secret, world-encompassing Zionist conspiracy, that the Jews control everything and that Israel is so fundamentally evil above all other nations that it has no right to exist.
Anti-Semitism’s New Face
What’s so new about this new anti-Semitism? Old fashioned anti-Semitism was based on ethnicity, Aryanism, white purity, nationalism and superiority since Jews were seen as racially and biologically inferior. The new anti-Semitism manifests in words and deeds “by politically correct people in the name of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism and pacifism. ... The new anti-Semite cannot, by definition, be an anti-Semite racist because she speaks out on behalf of oppressed people. What’s new about the new anti-Semitism is the new anti-Semite may also be Jewish,” according to Phyllis Chessler’s book, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It.
What’s new about the new anti-Semitism is that the attack upon Jews is no longer limited to one continent as in the days of Hitler, but now encompasses the world, supposedly due to Israeli policy. And what’s new about the new anti-Semitism is that for 2,000 years, the persecutors of Jews have historically been those from within Christendom, whereas today, it is more likely to be secularists or Islamists. In fact, the most vocal supporters and protectors of the Jewish people and the state of Israel are Bible-believing Christians and Christian Zionists.
“Israel is the only state in the world today, and the Jews the only people in the world today, that are the object of a standing set of threats from governmental, religious and terrorist bodies seeking their destruction. And what is most disturbing is the silence, the indifference, and sometimes even the indulgence, in the face of such genocidal anti-Semitism,” Irwin Cotler wrote in an article for Aish.com (emphasis added).
Anti-Semitism is not just an attack upon the Jewish people and the land of Israel, but an attack upon all humanity and God’s plan of redemption. As Christians, we cannot be silent; we cannot be indifferent in the face of such political, cultural and genocidal bigotry. I believe God has called us to be light and salt in this hour—to speak out against injustice, to stand in the gap through intercession, and to make a difference in our generation. Christians are the spiritual hinge upon which rests the future of our society, our nation, the nations and Israel.
Our prayers and our actions in this day will determine if things grow better or worse, if we build up or tear down, if we bring blessing or bring cursing, and if we bring life or bring death. “For as history has taught us only too well, while the persecution and discrimination may begin with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews,” Cotler noted in “Identifying the New Anti-Semitism.”
Miriam Rodlyn Park is the global coordinator of the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.