THERE is an old joke in which a Jewish man goes to heaven and
requests of the Almighty, "Can someone else be the Chosen People
for a while?"
This month brought publication of the report by the
Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism on the reported
upsurge of anti-Jewish incidents (the result of increased tensions
in the Middle East) during the summer of 2014.
Hosting the launch of the report at Lambeth Palace, the
Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of anti-Semitism as "a blasphemy".
While the report was still being compiled, Jewish shoppers were
murdered in Paris; since its publication, a synagogue guard has
been killed in Copenhagen. What the historian Robert Wistricht
called "the longest hatred" certainly seems to be both specific and
Despite this, Jews have survived centuries of destructive forces
in almost every age and location. Today, primary schools,
synagogues, and organisations like our own are being advised to
tighten up already vigilant security measures. A Holocaust survivor
tells me that he never expected to see this sort of thing again in
THERE are, of course, many reasons that certain prejudices
flourish in a society, including tribalism, jealousy, or folk
myths. European anti-Semitism has a history of all these. Jews
were, for centuries, recognisably "other" from their Christian
contemporaries, set apart through choice, or necessity.
Added to this was the Church's teaching of contempt: Jews were
not only different, but cursed; Satan's children; Christ-killers.
When the Nazi party refined its racial ideology, it was able to
plug in to this dark, deep-rooted myth, which lingered unchallenged
among the ignorant and impressionable.
Now those so inclined have another excuse for vilification of
all Jews everywhere, namely revenge for Israeli government policies
towards Palestinians. The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) is
on record as saying that legitimate criticism of Israel is not
anti-Semitic; it is apparent, however, that the line between
anti-Semitism and political comment and social activism can be
quite easily crossed.
THE relationship between Jews in the European diaspora and the
State of Israel is complex. Discussions about Israeli politics are
far more diverse, and can even be quite vitriolic, within the
Jewish community. Many non-Jews are also unaware of the Israeli
NGOs working and lobbying for Palestinian rights.
None the less, Israel is both welcoming and familiar to Jews,
with Hebrew as its national language; its calendar of Jewish
festivals; and the availability of kosher food. Many British Jews
have family there.
Should things in Europe again get tough, Israel is the
bolt-hole. Never again would Jews have to rely on the whim of
foreign governments, and risk-taking consular officials. For Jews,
wherever they live and to whichever society they belong, Israel is
both immensely precious, and terribly fragile. That the reality
appears to others different does not negate this.
IT WOULD be wrong, however, to assume that today's anti-Semitism
is simply about Israel. Old stereotypes are often rolled out in
conversation. More importantly, we as Christians need to look
closely at our liturgy and preaching, which will both reflect and
inform our own attitude. Of course, a great deal of work has been
done by theologians in the decades following Auschwitz, and it has
become easier to read the New Testament from a less anti-Judaic
standpoint. Despite this, however, it is clear from much anecdotal
evidence that many of us still believe that the Jews as a race
wilfully rejected Christ, notwithstanding the fact that the
disciples continually failed to grasp the essence of his teaching
during three years of personal tutoring.
To take just one example, the popular modern hymn "In Christ
Alone" contains the phrase "Scorned by the ones he came to save". I
wonder how we understand these words; and how this understanding
affects our view of Jews.
OUR general approach to social justice should incline us to
defend the rights of minorities and the vulnerable in our society.
But this applies even more to those whose covenant relationship
with God provided the seed-bed from which Christianity grew. (Those
who would like to be actively involved can join CCJ's newly
launched online campaign #stillanissue.)
In past times and places, Holy Week has been a difficult time
for Jews, with its emotive and sometimes inflammatory liturgies.
The development of a positive, compassionate, and informed attitude
should be part of our Lent preparations, as we seek to rid our
society of all prejudice - but most especially of this one, the
longest-lived and most pernicious of all.
Dr Jane Clements is Director of The Council of Christians