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Angela Tilby: The Left’s problem with anti-Semitism

19 July 2019


THERE are several reasons why the Labour Party has become vulnerable to accusations of anti-Semitism (News, 12 July). The first is that, having swung so far to the left, it has forgotten the distinguished Jewish politicians who have contributed to its history. Second, sympathy for the Palestinians has led to a worrying tolerance of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories from the Nazi era, which are widespread in some pro-Palestine groups.

But there is also a hidden, perhaps more disturbing, factor behind the party’s problem with anti-Semitism, and that is the illusion that a programme of universal progress confers automatic moral superiority on those who promote it. In Jungian terms, a self-righteous community projects its own shadow on to the Other: in this case, the Jews. Anti-Semites imagine that the Jews are authors of an international conspiracy, oiling the wheels of global finance and driving imperialism.

The irony is that world domination has never been a Jewish theme. Jews want to be Jews, and, not surprisingly, have prioritised their own survival, hence the State of Israel. It is internationally minded Socialists who are determined that their ideology will prevail over all others. In a parallel, and perhaps softer sense, the hope that their “faith” will one day win the world is not unknown to Muslims and Christians.

Anti-Semitism has Christian roots. It was vigorously promoted by the second-century heretic Marcion, who rejected the God of the Old Testament as the enemy of the kindly God and Father of Jesus. Marcion reduced scripture to an edited version of St Luke’s Gospel and a few of St Paul’s letters. Christians of a Marcionite tendency continue to contrast law and gospel, to the detriment of the former. Luther was unashamedly anti-Semitic.

Christians often like to see themselves as “progressive”, and tend to identify Christianity with a set of correct ethical impulses such as “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man”. Except that the Jews fall outside that philanthropic brotherhood. Karl Barth was perhaps correct in seeing that the optimistic Liberalism of 19th-century German theology ultimately paved the way for the Third Reich. The belief in moral superiority allied to nationalistic yearnings led directly to the Holocaust.

We should not forget that humans tend to be a selfish lot. Love is not the enemy of the law but the fruits of the law properly kept. Above all, we owe our faith to the Jews (one Jew in particular) and not to our own “good” impulses. Evil runs through the human heart, our own hearts included. What we fail to see in ourselves we invariably project on to others (motes and beams). When I hear Christians contrast the simple gospel of Jesus with the “angry God of the Old Testament”, I shudder. Anti-Semitism begins in an uncritical belief in our own innocence.

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