Identifying and Denouncing Antisemitism
What, exactly, is antisemitism, and how can we identify it? In his full-length study, The Definition of Anti-Semitism, Kenneth L. Marcus explained,
Anti-Semitism consists of negative attitudes toward the Jewish people, individually or collectively; conduct that reflects these attitudes; and ideologies that sustain them. In other words, it means hostility toward Jews, including thoughts that are not acted upon and actions that are not fully thought out. As a set of attitudes, it ranges from mild disdain to virulent loathing. As a form of conduct, it embraces hostility toward individual Jews, Jewish institutions, and Jewish collectivity. As an ideology, it provides a way to make sense of the entire world and all of history, not just the relatively small territory occupied by the descendants of Jacob.
Did you catch that? For an antisemite, the only way to make sense of world history and the only way to make sense of contemporary politics is to understand “the Jews.” They are somehow pulling the strings behind the major events taking place on the globe, in particular the bad ones. “It’s those miserable Jews! They’re behind it all!” And so, whether it is world wars or world banks, whether it is the 9/11 terrorist attacks or ISIS, it is “the Jews” who are somehow controlling the outcome and directing the course of the world. It’s always “the Jews!”
“Working Up Jews Into a Distorted Image of ‘The Jews'”
The ideology of anti-Semitism can be articulated in various ways. Sometimes it is conceived in opposition to the perceived Jewish “religion” and at other times against an imagined Jewish “race.” In the end, anti-Semitism is not about race or religion. Rather, it is a process of working up Jews into a distorted image of “the Jews.” Whether this image borrows from racial or religious ideas is ultimately immaterial. Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that anti-Semitism characteristically constructs a figure of “the Jews” that is commonly characterized, at least in its extreme forms, by the related phenomena of demonization and bestialization.
So, there is a world of difference between fair and honest criticism of Jewish individuals (or groups) and antisemitism, just as there is a world of difference between, say, fair and honest criticism of African American individuals (or groups) and anti-Black racism. So, when it comes to American Jews, it is fair to ask, “Why do so many American Jews support abortion and same-sex ‘marriage’ when the Torah is part of their heritage?” There is nothing antisemitic about that, any more than it is racist to ask, “Why do so many African American Christians vote Democrat, when the Democrats embrace so many anti-biblical values?” But it is antisemitic to say, “The Jews don’t care about biblical morality,” just as it would be racist to say, “African Americans don’t care about biblical morality.”
The Role of Divine Judgment
I would also emphasize that it is not antisemitic to state that some of the historic suffering of the Jewish people is the result of divine judgment, as unpopular as that notion might be. From an Old Testament perspective, the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon was the result of our people rejecting the Law and the Prophets. From a New Testament perspective, the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile that followed was the result of our national rejection of Jesus the Messiah.
Surely, if we Jews had been in complete obedience to God and enjoying His covenantal blessings in full, we would not have been scattered around the world and we would not have endured so much pain and heartache. And it is not antisemitic to say that. At the same time, from a biblical perspective, the nations of the world consistently go far beyond Israel’s allotted punishment, seeking to wipe the people off the map. And it is clear that Satan wants to destroy the Jewish people because of their important role in God’s plan of redemption. Once again, the issue is being fair, balanced, and accurate in raising criticisms and concerns. Antisemites are none of the above.
Antisemitism is Growing
What about the charge that Jews sometimes use the word “antisemitism” as a weapon against all criticism? Is this true? Yes, in certain cases, I believe that is true. The moment a criticism is lodged against American Jews or Israeli Jews, some Jews will cry, “Antisemitism!” But just because some people use the word too much (just like the term “racism” can be overused) that does not minimize or negate the very real presence of antisemitism in the world today. It is a presence that is growing and that cannot be denied, a presence that is not just in words, but in deeds, with hate crimes against Jewish people in America and the nations rising to alarming rates — including the cold-blooded murder of Jews in Europe, America, and the Middle East.
A Jewish Professor Shares Her Concerns
Deborah E. Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and the author of several books confronting holocaust deniers. But her name is known outside of academic circles because of the movie Denial, which told the story of her victory in a British court over Holocaust denier David Irving.
In her 2019 book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, Prof. Lipstadt says this:
As horrific as the Holocaust was, it is firmly in the past. When I write about it, I am writing about what was. Though I remain horrified by what happened, it is history. Contemporary antisemitism is not. It is about the present. It is what many people are doing, saying, and facing now. That gave this subject an immediacy that no historical act possesses.
Yes, what has happened in history is terrible. But what is happening before our eyes today — not yesterday, but today — is terribly concerning. She continues:
What should alarm us is that human beings continue to believe in a conspiracy that demonizes Jews and sees them as responsible for evil. Antisemites continue to give life to this particular brand of age-old hatred. They justify it and the acts committed in its name. The historical consequences of this nefarious passion have been so disastrous that to ignore its contemporary manifestations would be irresponsible.
But it is not just antisemites in general who are spreading conspiracy theories, demonizing the Jews, and making them responsible for virtually all evil on the planet. It is Christian antisemites who are embracing and spreading these lies. And they are using the Bible to justify their viewpoints. How dangerous is that?
Lipstadt also makes this important observation:
Like a fire set by an arsonist, passionate hatred and conspiratorial worldviews reach well beyond their intended target. They are not rationally contained. But even if the antisemites were to confine their venom to Jews, the existence of Jew-hatred within a society is an indication that something about the entire society is amiss. No healthy society harbors extensive antisemitism — or any other form of hatred.
And no healthy church — or healthy Christian — can harbor antisemitism.
(Excerpted and adapted from Michael L. Brown, Christian Antisemitism: Confronting the Lies in Today’s Church.)
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.