When I came across a video of Jews being assaulted by “pro-Palestine” protestors outside a restaurant in Los Angeles last month, I stopped in my tracks. How could this be happening in the United States? In the days that followed, similar attacks took place in New York and Florida as thugs channeled their anger over clashes between Palestinians and Israelis into random, violent attacks upon any Jew they could find.
The event that triggered these attacks was a 10-day battle between Hamas (an Islamist Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip) and Israel. But while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict evokes powerful emotions for ethnic and religious groups around the world, no emotion justifies harming innocent civilians 7,000 miles away from the battlefield simply because they carry Jewish ancestry. Furthermore, calls to dismantle the State of Israel do not help the Palestinian people but rather empower Hamas to continue terrorizing Israelis and the people of Gaza.
Catholics have a unique and urgent responsibility to confront antisemitism wherever they find it. In the words of Nostra Aetate, the first Catholic document to condemn antisemitism in all its forms, Christians are linked to the Jewish people by a “bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.” On last year’s anniversary of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, I reminded my fellow Catholics of the tumultuous history we share with Jews and called on Catholic educators to take a more active role in the fight against antisemitism. The spike in anti-Jewish violence over the last three weeks compels me to extend that call to all American Catholics.
What exactly is antisemitism? The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines it as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and which includes a variety of rhetorical and physical acts “directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The United States is a member of the IHRA and has adopted its definition. The US also maintains that expressions of antisemitism are not limited to physical or verbal attacks on Jews and Judaism, but also include “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.”
As American Catholics, we are encouraged to participate positively in our respective communities and spread Christ’s love to all. We are called to solidarity with our human family, and scripture commands us to defend those who are persecuted. In 1965, Nostra Aetate declared that “the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
Pope Francis has been outspoken against antisemitism throughout his tenure at the Vatican, and even goes so far as to name anti-Zionism as the same sin under a different name. In 2015, he told the World Jewish Congress, “To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism… There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.” In addition, two weeks ago, leading US bishops condemned the rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States and stated that “we cannot remain silent when we witness our brothers and sisters suffering on account of being Jewish, and we will never tire of our commitment to decry every form of hatred, especially those formed in contempt of faith.”
Catholics should continue to pray for peace and understanding in the land where Jesus walked. However, Catholics must also understand that invalidating Israel’s right to exist and condemning it as an “apartheid state” is not only unhelpful but antisemitic. Attacking Jews under the banner of “Free Palestine” is beyond antisemitic. It is undeniably evil. American Catholics must stand up and fight against the fast-spreading virus that is antisemitism. We can continue to stand together in solidarity against violence and pain in the Holy Land for all those who reside there, while reminding those around us that there is never an excuse to turn toward hatred. Given these responsibilities, we must, as American Catholics and faithful members of the Body of Christ, fight this injustice that has been disguised as activism.