A New Year’s Resolution, An Ancient Evil: Combatting Antisemitism in 2019
Few concepts are more misunderstood than antisemitism. While the word is usually reserved for heinous anti-Jewish acts like painting swastikas on community centers and killing worshippers at synagogues, antisemitism really encompasses any unjust deed or word aimed at the Jewish people. It may include denying Jewish identity, equality, or security; holding the Jews to a standard that isn’t applied to anyone else; refusing the Jewish nation a rightful place in the community of nations, or challenging the Jewish right to live at peace in their homeland.
Antisemites may exhibit any number of irrational biases, but antisemitism is no ordinary prejudice. As an ideology, it runs deep. Fundamentally it is a rebellion against what happened at Sinai, that desert mountain where the Israelites encountered a supernatural being who gave them a special revelation for the ages. Antisemitism climaxes in violence against the Jewish people, but it begins with a loathing of the Jewish God and his message to mankind.
The disease manifests itself in many forms, but it almost always grows from a resentment of “chosenness”: the idea that the Jewish God appointed one nation, the nation of Israel, to play a special role in history. The early Israelites saw themselves as the terrestrial agents of this celestial being, the means by which all nations could encounter him, and they dwelled apart to maintain purity as they worshipped him inside their empty temple. This caused outsiders like the Roman historian Tacitus to view them as self-righteous misanthropes who sought to undermine the universal myths of the ancient world. Still today, twenty centuries later, Jewish particularism continues to frustrate the totalitarian dreams of nationalists and globalists alike.
Next comes a denial of the moral vision contained in Hebrew scripture. No one better epitomized this denial than German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the son of a Lutheran pastor who wrote at least three books excoriating the “ascetic ideal” that the Jews brought into the world. It was the Jews and their concept of sin, Nietzsche argued, that corrupted the innocence of man; it was the Jewish Bible, spread to the world by their Christian offspring, that destroyed the primal beauty of classical civilization. Nietzsche may be dead but his postmodern heirs carry on his legacy, cursing Hebraic morality and doing their best to upend it.
Last comes a denial of responsibility and, typically, a casting of blame on the Jews. If the Hebraic tradition teaches us anything, it’s that man has agency – and therefore responsibility – before history. Neither king nor peasant can escape the judgment seat of God. Fatalism, determinism, and passivity have no place in the world governed by Sinai. Because the Jews burdened the world with the weight of responsibility, many muddled minds throughout history have believed that the Jews also bear responsibility for all the world’s ills. “The anti-Jewish myth…,” Jacques Maritain observed, “endows any fool with a means of explaining the misfortunes of history and of shifting on to somebody guilty of everything, the burden of his anguish and of his unhappy memories.”
These three evils – resentment of particularism, rejection of morality, and denial of responsibility – are prompted by, and initially aimed at, the Jewish people. But it doesn’t take long for them to be directed at others. Eventually, antisemitism leads to monolithic, amoral, and irresponsible societies that are bitter at the world and eager for violence.
Antisemitism may start with the Jews, but it never ends there.
HERE IS WHERE Christianity comes in. There is no question that Christians played an important role in bringing the Jewish revelation to the world. But, paradoxically, Christians also played a role in spreading anti-Jewish sentiment to the nations. The persistence of Jewish particularism presents a challenge to Christian universalism, and some Christians today still feel a strong antipathy toward the Jews for any number of political or theological reasons.
This ought not to be. All of us, regardless of our tradition or affiliation, must recognize that antisemitism is an attack on Christians as much as on Jews because Christ was a Jew and Christianity was born out of Judaism. Biblical theology sets particularism and universalism in sequence, not in opposition. Right-thinking Christians will stand up to antisemitism not just because it is unjust toward Jews, but also because it undermines their own faith.
If they are Americans, they should know that it also undermines their country. After Israel, the United States stands alone in history as a “Hebrew republic” consciously modeled on the ethical vision of the Hebrew Bible. Antisemitism on our shores is a cause for special concern since any attack on the Jewish God, Jewish people, or Jewish revelation is also an attack on the American idea. Radical nationalists, leftists, and Islamists may tout rival ideologies but they are united in their hatred of the Hebraic tradition and, in most cases, the Hebraic people.
While not a foreign policy problem per se, antisemitism carries foreign policy implications too. Virtually every bad state and non-state actor in the Middle East is infected by this disease. Not by coincidence, the same people who want to destroy Jews are also trying to destroy Christians and other non-Muslims in the cradle of civilization. A new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights finds rampant levels of antisemitism in almost every corner of the Continent as well. Meanwhile, South American Marxist leaders frequently mix anti-Jewish tropes into their rhetoric.
That many geopolitical trouble spots are linked by a common resentment of the Jewish people and/or the Jewish state should inform our policy. A balance of power should be central to any American grand strategy, but no less important are the spiritual factors that drive the deployment of that power against our interests.
The Global Problem
ANTISEMITISM IS NOT just a Jewish, Christian, or American problem. It’s a global problem, and Christians must stand up to confront it. But the best way to confront antisemitism is not by fighting it as some would urge us to do. “Anti-antisemitism” is redundant and nonsensical. Forcing anyone to like the Jews will never work.
The best response to antisemitism is to elevate, for lack of a better word, Semitism. Expanding on this point requires a separate essay, but promoting Semitism must involve, among other things, raising biblical literacy in Christian communities and, where possible, beyond; bringing young Christians to visit the land where the Hebraic tradition was born; building stronger bonds of friendship in the spirit of our common heritage between different Christian sects and of course between Christians and Jews; and exploring new ways to infuse our culture with that heritage. Christians spend a lot of time trying to influence culture, but they have prioritized law and government at the expense of myth and imagination. They have been active in almost every arena except culture. Victory in Congress and the courts is important, but it will not save the republic.
Only by teaching Americans, in a historical and un-denominational way, about the grand narrative that gave birth to our civilization (and the Hebraic sources from which it comes) can we eradicate this disease from our coasts. That will be my focus this year, and I call on my fellow Christians to join me.
Politics lies downstream from culture, and in a society where three-quarters of the population identifies as Christian, culture lies downstream from the church. Eliminating antisemitism and restoring the Hebraic tradition to its rightful place is a task that only American Christians can do. It is time for us to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to act.