In the ancient world they were persecuted for refusing to worship pagan idols or the Roman emperor. Later they were blamed for the death of Jesus Christ. In the late Middle Ages they were accused of sacrificing Christian children at the annual Passover observance, an absurdly false accusation resurrected by the Nazis in the 1930s to suit their purposes.
Often resented because of their success and despised because of their religious differences, animosity toward Jews has been a consistent theme throughout their history.
What is so shocking today is how quickly anti-Semitism has revived after the slaughter of the Holocaust. Less than 60 years after the Allies liberated the emaciated survivors of the death camps, the descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah find themselves blamed for a whole array of ills including 9/11, the problems in the Middle East, international economic disorder and globalization.
"They're at it again: the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world is back in session. The former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed's recent claim that the modern-day Elders of Zion 'now rule the world by proxy' not only garnered loud applause at the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), but most likely earned silent nods of approval worldwide.
"Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the oldest hatred has been making a global comeback, culminating in 2002 with the highest number of anti-Semitic attacks in 12 years," writes Mark Strauss in the British publication The Spectator ("Who Hates the Jews Now?," Nov. 22, 2003).
Why is this happening now, still within the living memory of Holocaust survivors?
International hostility toward Israel
One of the primary reasons behind the growing anti-Semitism is international hostility toward the nation of Israel, the tiny Middle Eastern state that became the first Jewish homeland in almost 2,000 years when it was established in 1948.
"Just as historic anti-Semitism has denied individual Jews the right to live as equal members of society, anti-Zionism would deny the collective expression of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, the right to live as an equal member of the family of nations," writes Mortimer Zuckerman, editor in chief of U.S. News and World Report ("Graffiti on History's Walls," Nov. 3, 2003, p. 44).
He continues: "Israel has become the object of envy and resentment in much the same way that the individual Jew was once the object of envy and resentment. Israel, in effect, is emerging as the collective Jew among nations."
Perhaps only immediately after the Holocaust and before the establishment of most independent Islamic nations could Israel have come into existence with the blessing of the then-smaller United Nations.
Today's UN has a large anti-Israel majority (with 39 predominately Muslim nations vs. a single Jewish state) that would never have sanctioned the birth of the Jewish state, and the UN's current anti-Israel bias is not likely to change. Even with the blessing of the UN at Israel's founding in 1948, immediately after the new nation was born armies from five hostile Arab neighbors tried to destroy her. Israel survived and, with later American help and support, has remained militarily strong, thus far able to fend off attacks by hostile military forces.
For its support of Israel, the United States is also viewed with hostility in the new anti-Semitic world order. A recent opinion poll conducted throughout the nations of the European Union showed that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, was considered the world's foremost threat to peace.
It ranked ahead of Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States—a group of nations Europeans essentially viewed as equal threats to the planet's safety and security.
It has long been fashionable for many intellectuals around the world to strongly dislike if not hate America. But now anti-Semitism is increasingly acceptable, loosely disguised as anti-Israeli sentiment.
Blaming all Jews for grievances against the nation of Israel has intensified even more since the U.S.-led action in Iraq, viewed by many Muslims as an attack on Islam inspired by Jews. To many Americans, the war in Iraq is a part of the war on terror that began with the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But many Muslims believe the Jews, Mossad (Israeli intelligence) and/or the CIA were the real perpetrators behind the 9/11 attacks.
Various conspiracy theories—which many in the West also believe—claim that no Jews reported for work in the World Trade Center that day, having been warned ahead of time by their own intelligence agents to stay away. (In reality, scores of Jewish-surnamed victims perished that terrible day). It's ironic that a substantial number of people in the Middle East rejoiced at the carnage on 9/11 but were soon attributing it to the Jews!
But it's not only developments in the Middle East that have intensified anti-Semitic feelings. Such tortured logic leads many to the conclusion that the Jews are responsible for virtually anything and everything that's wrong in the world.
Mark Strauss's Spectator article quotes the spokesman for Pakistan's Jamaat-I-Islami political party as complaining that "most anything bad that happens, prices going up, whatever ... can usually be attributed to the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank, which are synonymous with the United States. And who controls the United States? The Jews do."
Rising attacks on Jewish targets
Mr. Strauss's Spectator article was written just a few days after two deadly car-bomb attacks on synagogues in Turkey, a country with a majority Muslim population (though officially secular) that has had a long tradition of tolerance toward Jews going back through centuries of the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Turks ruled a vast Mideast empire for centuries until it collapsed shortly after World War I. A century ago that empire was composed of 40 percent Turks, 40 percent Arabs, 10 percent Jews and 10 percent other ethnic groups. For years all seemed to live in harmony.
It was the breakup of this empire that led to the present problems in the Middle East, a region that was remarkably peaceful during the four centuries the Ottomans ruled Jerusalem (1517-1917). Only after World War I were the nations of Iraq and Syria created, with Israel, Lebanon and Jordan following in the aftermath of World War II. These new nations, with borders imposed by the victorious Western powers, have contributed greatly to instability in the region.
Growing anti-Semitism in Europe
The bombings of the two Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath of Nov. 15 coincided with the burning down of a Jewish school in France. When the French president and prime minister visited the school soon afterward, both leaders condemned the return of anti-Semitism.
Yet this was just one of many anti-Semitic attacks in France in recent years. Often blamed on France's 5 million Muslims—mostly immigrants and the children, often unemployed, of those immigrants—there is also the possibility that people with extreme right-wing views may be contributing to this problem. France's far right is one of the biggest in Western Europe.
Austria's extreme right has also enjoyed considerable success in recent years. However, it is not just right-wing parties that are anti-Semitic. Left-wing parties have their own soft spot for anti-Semitism. One reason is anti-Israeli sentiment.
Quoting from left-of-center newspapers, Mr. Zuckerman expresses amazement in his U.S. News and World Report essay at what is being published in the democratic countries of Western Europe.
"In England, The Guardian wrote that 'Israel has no right to exist.' The Observer described Israeli settlements on the West Bank as 'an affront to civilization.' The New Statesman ran a story titled 'A Kosher Conspiracy,' illustrated by a cover showing the gold Star of David piercing the Union Jack. The story implies that a Zionist-Jewish cabal is attempting to sway the British press to the cause of Israel.
"In France, the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur published an extraordinary libel alleging that Israeli soldiers raped Palestinian women so that their relatives would kill them to preserve family honor. In Italy, the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano spoke of Israel's 'aggression that's turning into extermination,' while the daily La Stampa ran a page 1 cartoon of a tank emblazoned with the Jewish star pointing its big gun at the infant Jesus, who cries out, 'Surely they don't want to kill me again'" (pp. 45-46).
Other factors in today's anti-Semitism are antibusiness and, especially, antiglobalization views many on the left hold. Jews are seen as disproportionately successful in banking and business, which often leads to resentment and accusations of greed and taking unfair advantage of others. And as minorities perceived as having loyalty to Israel, Jews are often accused of being unpatriotic, a common accusation made against them since Roman times when Jews refused to worship the emperor or bow down to the Roman pagan deities.
And it is in Rome that we see the beginnings of today's anti-Semitism, 2,000 years later. As Karen Armstrong, an authority on fundamentalism, put it in her book Islam: A Short History: "Anti-Semitism is a Christian vice. Hatred of the Jews became marked in the Muslim world only after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent loss of Arab Palestine" (2000, p. 21).
Christianity's Jewish roots
Jesus Christ, whose mother Mary descended from the tribe of Judah, was a Jew. This is often overlooked by many Christians, misled by centuries of propaganda that blames the Jews for the death of Jesus.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins. For the sins of the whole world. For you and me. "And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world," wrote the apostle John (1 John 2:2, New Revised Standard Version).
His death was prophesied in the Old Testament. In the prophetic book of Isaiah we read: "He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ... He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities [sins] ... He was led as a lamb to the slaughter ..." (Isaiah 53:3-7).
The analogy of the lamb reminds us that the original Passover in the time of Moses represented the future death of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7). Just as the shed blood of the lamb smeared on the doorposts of the Hebrew slaves spared them from death at the time of the Exodus, so the shed blood of Jesus Christ saves us all from the penalties of our sins. The Bible shows a clear link between the ancient physical nation of Israel and the spiritual Israel of Christianity.
It was God's plan "from the foundation of the world" that Jesus Christ would be put to death (Revelation 13:8).
Yes, some of the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus Christ killed, even proclaiming, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25)—yet Jesus' request to the Father was that He forgive them for their ignorance (Luke 23:34). However, the fact remains that if only one other person had ever lived and that person was you, Christ would still have had to die—to save you from eternal death. In that sense, we are all responsible for the death of Christ.
We should also remember that the apostles were adherents of the Jewish faith of their day. And, like Jesus, most of them were Jews by birth. It makes just as much sense to blame the Romans for Christ's death, because the Roman governor had the last say in such matters. As the governor, Pontius Pilate expressed his life-or-death authority to Jesus Christ: "Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and power to release you?" (John 19:10).
The early Church held just about everyone responsible for Christ's death. Notice their prayer in Acts 4:27: "For truly against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together."
Anti-Semitism's ancient roots
But the universal church (in contrast to the true body of Christ), holding sway over the minds of men in the Middle Ages, constantly blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. This church, which historian Paul Johnson wrote "still spoke for the Empire" (The Offshore Islanders, 1972, p. 57), was infected with anti-Semitism from the beginning.
This has been passed down through the centuries. Even as recently as World War II, history shows the institutional church did little to help the victims of Nazi persecution, while many supposed Christians participated in the extermination of Jews and others.
Even the universal church's triumph over the minds of men toward the end of the Roman Empire had its origins in hatred of the Jews.
Three decades after the death of Christ, the Jews in Judea revolted against Roman rule. Rome crushed this rebellion, burning the city of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70.
At this time, the fledgling Christian Church was considered a Jewish sect. Its members kept the seventh-day Sabbath just as Jesus Christ and the apostles had done (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14; 17:1-2). The early Church began, significantly, on the biblical Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) as recorded in Acts 2.
The Jewish Revolt and subsequent retribution from Rome's legions led to the Jewish Diaspora, the fleeing of those Jews who remained into all parts of the empire, in an attempt to get away from the persecutions at home. A second Jewish revolt from 132-135 brought further Roman hostility toward anything Jewish and led to the banning of Jews from Jerusalem on pain of death.
Hatred for Jews shapes the apostate church
Wherever they went, the Jews were hated and often persecuted. Interestingly, the Encyclopaedia Britannica's definition of anti-Semitism says that it is "hostility toward Jews ranging from mild antipathy to a violently expressed hatred; it has existed to some degree wherever Jews have settled in the Diaspora" (15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 1, "Anti-Semitism," p. 426).
The early Christians, who based their beliefs on the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the sayings of Christ, often suffered along with them. However, with the death of the original apostles through martyrdom, the tendency of many later Christians when faced with persecution was to compromise with Rome to find acceptance.
This totally changed the character of the major, visible church. Barely three centuries after Christ, the Sabbath and the Passover were no longer being observed by most professing Christians, who now worshipped on Sundays like the pagan Romans and kept the Roman holidays under different names—the Saturnalia renamed as Christmas being the most notable example. The new church simply inherited the anti-Jewish prejudice of the Roman imperial system.
The prevailing hostility toward anything considered Jewish was summed up well by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. He directed in a letter written about A.D. 325 that the churches would henceforth celebrate Easter on Sunday instead of the biblical Passover on the 14th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar.
"When the question arose concerning the most holy day of Easter, it was decreed by common consent to be expedient, that this festival should be celebrated on the same day by all, in every place ... It seemed to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches! having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds. It is fit, therefore, that, rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite in a more legitimate order ...
"Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews ... In pursuing this course with a unanimous consent, let us withdraw ourselves, my much honored brethren, from that most odious fellowship ... For what can they rightly understand, who, after the tragic death of our Lord, being deluded and darkened in their minds, carried away by an unrestrained impulse wherever their inborn madness may impel them" (quoted in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Isaac Boyle, translator, 1995, p. 52, emphasis added).
Anti-Semitism remains— and remains wrong
The anti-Semitism that had become ingrained in the universal church continued in its daughter churches after the Protestant Reformation. "There were periodic persecutions, massacres, and expulsions of Jews until the 18th century, when the Enlightenment brought Europe a new religious freedom," states the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on anti-Semitism. Continuing: "When the nationalism of the 19th century swept Europe, however, the basis of anti-Semitism shifted from religion to racial pride and gained a new respectability and much popular support."
This shows how anti-Semitism adapts. Once religious prejudices were looked on as superstitious and backward, racial prejudices took their place. Now that racism is politically incorrect, anti-Semitism has had to adapt again. Today, it is often disguised behind anti-Israel sentiments—with Israel almost always depicted as the aggressor—and concerns about globalization.
"The insight of Amos Oz, the liberal Israeli writer, is pertinent," concludes Mr. Zuckerman in his U.S. News and World Report essay. "He is haunted, he said, by the observation that before the Holocaust, European graffiti read, 'Jews to Palestine,' while today it has changed, to 'Jews out of Palestine.' The message to Jews, Oz says, is simple: 'Don't be here, and don't be there. That is, don't be'" (p. 51).
Jesus was a Jew. The apostles were Jews. The early New Testament Church consisted primarily of Jewish members. It was a Jewish ministry who initially took the Christian faith to other parts of the ancient world.
In reality, hatred of the Jews—or any other nation—shows a rejection of the founder of Christianity, Himself a Jew, and of all that He stood for.