As anyone who has visited this blog more than a couple of times can see I am more than willing to discuss the problem of Christianophobia in modern society. I have also a time or two commented on the problem of Islamophobia. But I have not as yet commented on the issue of antisemitism. Perhaps I had not yet seen a good opportunity to discuss this type of anti-religious bigotry. Well the events of this past week have provided such an opportunity.
Obviously the biggest event was the shooting at the synagogue in California. It is not the first time a synagogue has been violently attacked, and unfortunately I doubt it will be the last. From what I have heard from news sources, it appears that the perpetrator subscribes to some type of white nationalism and was active in his church. There is research suggesting that Christians who are more likely to blame Jews for the death of Christ are more likely to be antisemitic. You throw in the white nationalist element to that type of evil belief and you have the potential to create a terrorist.
The other incident was a cartoon run in the New York Times international newspaper. The cartoon, which can be seen here, depicts a blind President Trump being led by a guide dog with the face of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. This is Protocols of Elders of Zion stuff here. If you are not familiar with what that means, the Protocols is a piece of Russian fiction that supposedly documents plans the Jews have to take over the world. It is the basis of lots of conspiracy ugliness that has been used to justify murder and oppression of Jews.
The idea that the United States leader is being led around by the “Jewish lobby” is the same kind of antisemitic conspiracy nonsense that fits in with Elders of Zion madness. Others have talked about the hateful nature of this cartoon and have pointed out their amazement that a newspaper with the status of the New York Times would allow itself to let such a cartoon appear on its pages. I too am flabbergasted at how such a cartoon escaped the editors of the New York Times.
But whatever else you want to say about the stupidity of the New York Times to run this cartoon, one is hard-pressed to believe that these editors are influenced by the ideas of white nationalism. Indeed, it is much more likely that white nationalists are influenced by cartoons like this one than cartoons like this one are inspired by them. And I do not think that the editors at the New York Times are Christians mad at Jews for killing Jesus. No, this type of antisemitism comes from a different source. It comes from a white progressive mindset.
On the plus side with Jews it appears that the level of animosity they experience is less than that of Muslims or Christians. Using the techniques in my book So Many Christians, So Few Lions on the 2016 American National Election Study, I found that only 2.5 percent of the sample are Anti-Jewish. This compares to the 16.4% that are Anti-Muslim and 29.9% that are Anti-Christian fundamentalist. If you think my work is biased then consider this poll. It shows that only 7 percent of the respondents refuse to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate. But 25 percent will not vote for an evangelical candidate and 38 percent will not vote for a Muslim candidate.
But on the negative side, the sources of animosity towards Jews come from more sources than what conservative Christians and Muslims experience. Muslims also have to contend with white nationalists, but progressives generally leave them alone or even support them. Conservative Christians are targeted by some progressives, but not by white nationalists. It is only Jews who have to deal with both of these groups, although the number in these groups that are antisemitic is lower than the number that is Islamophobic (for white nationalists) or Christianophobic (for progressives).
The dangers from each source of antisemitism are different but carry their own level of peril. White nationalism is more likely to lead to some type of violence. Adherents to white nationalism are generally individuals who are not well educated, are relatively poor, and have less to lose to engage in violence than the progressives at the New York Times. They also are more likely to come from a social system where violence is more acceptable than the average progressive. Unfortunately we are likely to sporadically get synagogue shootings from them from time to time.
Of course murder is the ultimate expression of anti-religious bigotry. It is the worst thing that can be done to a religious person. But it does not happen as often as one might imagine. According to the 2017 FBI hate crime statistics, which is the latest year there is data, there were no murders of Jews motivated by hate for that year. There were 8 cases of aggravated assault and 61 cases of simple assault, but no murders. Clearly that will not be the case for 2019 given the events of last week, but it should remind us that anti-religious violence in the United States is not common.
What is more common is the type of rejection that Jews may face from those with cultural power in our society. As such the antisemitism from progressives is more accepted and ingrained into certain social structures, even if it is less physically threatening. We can see it in the attempts to erase the Jewish presence on college campuses, the antisemitism in the Women’s March, and even comments from members of Congress. I am not arguing that antisemitism is as common as racism during Jim Crow or even Islamophobia today. But there are more wide ranging effects from antisemitism practiced by progressives, who are respected by more individuals than from white nationalists.
In one way we can see this as a perverse issue of quality versus quantity as it concerns antisemitism. The damage done by a single violent incident by white nationalism is more troubling than anything done by a progressive antisemitism. But progressives are able to spread an Anti-Semitism that is more pervasive than anything the white nationalists can do. After all, what white nationalist has the power to place a hateful cartoon into the New York Times?
We have to combat both forms of antisemitism if we are going to reduce this type of anti-religious bigotry. I believe it is best done by members within the communities where this hatred is nurtured. There is a Christian component to some of it as I noted earlier the myth about Christ-Killer. I appreciate Michael Brown’s disavowing the Christian identity of the shooter. I would like for us to go farther. We in the Christian community must be fast to let anyone holding to antisemitic tropes know that those ideas are not allowed in our community. It does not have to come down to violence before we confront such distortions. We can theologically criticize Judaism, just like we can theologically criticize Islam, Mormonism or any secular ideology, without giving in to hatred of Jews and supporting the stereotypes that have been used to oppress them. In fact, we are called to do just that.
I hold out little hope that white nationalists will rigorously police their group for antisemitism. It seems that the point of white nationalism is to put down non-WASPs. I may be wrong about that as it is not a group that I have examined that deeply, but I have seen no sign among white nationalists that they want to address antisemitism. I suspect that the best we can do is hope that the shame of being linked to violence may make some white nationalist more willing to challenge overt antisemitic expressions.
But I do hope that progressives will do a better job of dealing with antisemitism within its ranks. Just as Christians do not give up their rights to criticize Judaism as a religion, progressives do not give up their rights to criticize Israel by addressing the use of antisemitic ideas. In fact, their criticism will gain more legitimacy if they admit that they have a problem with a type of anti-religious bigotry and take steps to address it. To that end, the watered down generalized anti-hate resolution passed after Congresswoman’s Omar’s antisemitic remarks was a lost opportunity for progressives.
Is antisemitism the worst form of anti-religious bigotry in our nation? I hate to play the victim Olympics but I would argue that, in the United States, Jews are not worse off than several other religious groups. But even if there are other types of religious bigotry that do more damage to the adherence of those faiths, it is still the case that antisemitism is hateful, wrong and immoral. Our society should do all it can to reduce, or possibly eliminate it from our society. Challenging those in our own social circles to rid themselves of antisemitic ideas and practices seems to be a small price to pay for our society to head towards ridding ourselves of this type of hatred.
Oh dear, oh dear… I think you have got this entirely wrong, Dr Yancey.
Before going any further, let me say clearly that yes, anti-semitism exists and yes, it is always wrong. Yes, Christianity has a sad history of contributing to anti-semitism and yes, this needs to be acknowledged and repented of.
However… there is a clear and essential distinction between anti-semitism and legitimate commentary on/criticism of the policies and actions of the government of Israel. As I’m sure you are aware, there is abundant evidence that the Israeli government and their apologists elsewhere (especially in the US and UK) deliberately confuse these issues, so that all critics of Israel’s behaviour – even Jewish critics – are labelled as anti-semitic. It is a blatant and crude attempt to shout down legitimate criticism of actions that all too often are violent, oppressive and discriminatory to the point of being racist. Thankfully, the current odious regime in Israel is not representative of all Israelis and certainly not of all Jews, many of whom are at the forefront of opposition to the Netanyahu regime and its policies.
Speaking as a non-American and from outside the US, one of the most worrying features of the Trump presidency is the way he has abandoned any pretence of even-handedness on the Middle East, in favour of an openly partisan, unconditional support for Israel. Unilateral actions on the status of Jerusalem and on Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights demonstrate Trump’s contempt, not just for the Palestinian people and Israel’s Arab neighbours, but for International Law, for the role of the United Nations and for any concept of the international community as ‘honest brokers’ in the Middle East conflict. There are growing concerns that Trump’s actions are encouraging Netanyahu and his cronies to press ahead with even more extreme measures, from claiming Israeli sovereignty over illegal West Bank settlements, all the way to annexing the entire West Bank into the state of Israel.
Such measures would not only be catastrophic for the Middle East – they would also be hugely damaging to the US, which could not avoid its major share of responsibility for the disaster that would follow. Of course, there are many areas where Trump is undermining US interests and standing in the world – but this is unique in that he is damaging US interests (and abandoning long-standing US principles) to promote the interests of a foreign power (i.e. Israel). Many respected commentators have described this situation in terms of the US being ‘blindly’ led by Israeli interests in its policies on the Middle East. In that context, the NY Times cartoon was an entirely legitimate political comment on the current relationship between US and Israeli interests in Middle East policy. Placing a kippah on Trump’s head was clumsy and unfortunate, but apart from that I would see the cartoon as entirely political (and legitimate) in its orientation, with no religious overtones whatsoever. Indeed, the cartoon was saying nothing that has not already been said by many serious political commentators, including several Jewish commentators.
The response to the cartoon was entirely predictable, with the usual, vague assertions of ‘anti-semitic tropes’ coming from the usual sources. Given its ambivalent, mealy-mouthed track record in relation to commentary on Israel, it is no surprise that the NY Times has caved in and issued an apology of sorts. Despite the loudness of the shouting, none of this actually establishes any basis for describing the cartoon as anti-semitic, nor does it undermine the validity of the political point being made. Presumably it will, however, have the intended effect of intimidating some who might otherwise dare to voice some criticism of Israeli actions. I am saddened to think that you might be lending your weight (even if unintentionally) to such attempts to suppress legitimate political commentary.
“…Challenging those in our own social circles to rid themselves of antisemitic ideas and practices seems to be a small price to pay for our society to head towards ridding ourselves of this type of hatred.”
I don’t think Christians can really deal with anti-semitism or racism when they dismiss the Christianity of anyone who does overtly racist or anti-semitic things. It’s self-serving for public Christians like Michael Brown to dismiss the Christianity of people who don’t fit their marketing strategy, and it fools no one outside the Evangelical community.
But believe it or not, my main purpose is to commend you for this article. Moderates, atheists, progressives, Christians… we all have to face our own biases and deal with them. Being prejudiced is a human weakness to which no belief system or philosophy is immune. Thank you for what you’ve said here.