The Rising Specter of Anti-Semitism

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The Rising Specter of Anti-Semitism

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There are Holocaust survivors who are telling their children: 'Look this is exactly how it happened in the 1930s. This is really reminiscent of the worst times of Europe'... It is part of an atmosphere. Not just a few hooligans" (Associated Press, April 23, 2002). World Jewish Congress Secretary-general Avi Beker said 360 anti-Semitic incidents in France during April heralded worse to come for Jewish communities in Europe.

Violent acts and statements against Jews have escalated in recent weeks since the Israeli army's counterattack against Palestinian forces in Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem. Among the acts has been the burning of a synagogue in Marseille in the south of France on March 31. In Lyon another was damaged in a car attack.

Other European countries are experiencing similar attacks. In Brussels and Kiev, synagogues have been attacked. One incident saw a rabbi beaten while a group of youths chanted, "Kill the Jews."

Under the headline "Synagogues Burn as Europeans Rage," a Washington Times article added, "In Britain, which takes pride in a 'multicultural' society, police have logged at least 15 anti-Jewish episodes this month, including eight physical assaults, synagogues daubed with racist slogans and hate mail sent to prominent figures among the nation's 300,000 Jews. One was an assault on a Jewish theological student, David Myers. He was reading a book of Psalms aboard a London bus when he was stabbed 27 times.

"The attacks prompted Jonathan Sacks, Britain's chief rabbi, to say, 'Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe as a whole.' He blamed Islamic extremists for 'whipping up' sentiment against Jews in Britain and throughout the Continent" (April 22, 2002).

Europe has a long history of anti-Semitism. Despite more than 50 years of reflection, repentance and restitution, it appears there are strong feelings lurking under a very thin surface. The war did not eliminate anti-Jewish sentiment. Less than a year ago, a survey showed that 24 percent of all Austrians would "prefer" to live in a country without Jews. And even in supposedly neutral Switzerland, a survey reported by the BBC "indicates that 16 percent of Swiss people are fundamentally anti-Semitic, while 60 percent have anti-Semitic views."

In Lithuania, Jewish leaders reported a rise in anti-Semitism that they believe is related to the prospects that property seized from Jews before World War II will be returned to its original owners. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas had asked the international Jewish community "to select representatives to open talks with the government on the issue of property restitution, Agence France-Presse reported. The extremist Freedom Union party then accused the government of 'groveling to Jews,' while another group ripped up an Israeli flag at a protest the following day" (ibid.).

Pressure on Israel

The recent Mideast crisis has highlighted the European tilt toward the Palestinian cause and against the Israeli state. Some debate whether this is due to pressure from large Muslim constituencies. France alone has more than four million Muslims living within its borders. It is estimated that 60 percent of the recent hate attacks in France come from this segment of the population.

But Israel is seeing itself marginalized in world opinion. Just last August in Durban, South Africa, a United Nations sponsored conference on racism sought to equate Zionism with racism and questioned the legitimacy of Israel's existence.

"Members of the Norwegian Nobel committee have publicly called for the withdrawal of the peace prize from the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, but not from his co-winner, Yasser Arafat. The European Parliament voted to urge member governments to impose trade sanctions on Israel but urged no action against the Palestinian Authority. Historically, the far right and far left have not agreed on much. These days they seem united in their contempt for the Jewish state" (International Herald Tribune, April 21, 2002).

There is no side, Israeli or Palestinian, which is exempt from criticism in the current crisis. The path of violence will not bring a solution or a generational peace. But when rabbis are attacked, when Nazi graffiti is smeared on public walls and when a Protestant minister compares Ariel Sharon's actions to those of King Herod who slaughtered male children under the age of 2, you have to ask, "Why is this happening?" Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said, "If you talk long enough about killing Jews, one day it will happen, God forbid."

You might also ask, "If you begin to kill Jews, who is next?"

The roots of anti-Semitism

The killing of Jews because of racial and ethnic intolerance has been going on since the days of the Persian Empire. The biblical book of Esther tells of the plot by Haman to exterminate the Jews in Persia. But for God's intervention through Esther, it would likely have happened. Since the late first century A.D., anti-Jewish sentiment in the Roman Empire has led to exile and centuries of wandering and persecution. The creation of a modern state of Israel in 1948 opened a new chapter in the plaintive story of the Jewish longing for a secure homeland.

Christians have historically persecuted Jews, as well. What lies behind this incongruous evil? Volumes have been written analyzing this fact. Gruesome stories abound of atrocities perpetrated upon Jews.

In July of 1099 when the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, they slaughtered Arabs and Jews, burning both mosque and synagogue. Even a favorite modern musical, Fiddler on the Roof, has the underlying theme of a Russian pogrom built into the story line.

Author Thomas Cahill, in his book The Gifts of the Jews, probably comes closest of anyone to uncovering the central problem behind the ancient and modern problem of anti-Semitism. Cahill tells of Israel's experience with God at Mt. Sinai where the Ten Commandments were given. God is pictured as giving a strict and unyielding moral code out of the thunder and lightning atop the mountain. Cahill shows how this one-dimensional image of God was historically transferred to Jews, depicting them as "stiff-necked," unyielding and always seeking their "pound of flesh."

"It is this supposedly 'Jewish' quality that will serve as a fundamental justification for the anti-Jewish attitudes that so infected the Middle Ages-right up to the late modern period...

"What is ghoulishly fascinating about the history of Christian depictions of that the people being excoriated are presumed to exhibit the unyielding qualities of God himself-the same God whom Christians claimed to worship and whose sacred scriptures they revered. A good case can be made that medieval anti-Hebraism and its modern offspring anti-Semitism are both forms of God-hatred, masquerading as self-justifying intolerance. The hatred of Christians for Jews may have its ultimate source in hatred of God, a hatred that the hater must carefully keep himself from knowing about. Why would one hate God? To find the answer we probably need look no further than the stark, unyielding Ten" (1998, pp. 152-153).

Cahill's book reflects a common misunderstanding-that the Jews of today are synonymous with the Israelites of the Exodus. In reality, the ancestors of today's Jews were but one clan out of 12. Still, his point about God-hating is well-taken.

Could it be that a hatred of God lies at the heart of anti-Semitism? Could it be that a hatred of God and His eternal spiritual law lies at the heart of not just anti-Semitism, but all the unsolvable problems of the human condition?

What does the Bible say?

Man has a long history of hiding from God and turning his back on revealed truth. Adam and Eve set a pattern when they defied God's instruction and took the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were ashamed because of their sin and hid themselves from God's presence (Genesis 3:8).

All of their descendants ever since have consciously or unconsciously rejected God and His way. Even Israel, the nation chosen for a close, special relationship, after witnessing the display of God's power and presence on Mt. Sinai, "trembled and stood afar off." To Moses they said, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exodus 20:18-19). History would prove this distance between God and Israel to be more than symbolic.

The prophet Isaiah said that Israel, typical of all mankind, denied God by their lifestyle, needing to learn from an ox or a donkey, which at least knew the way home to the barn. Israel was a rebellious child who did not know or understand the way to God (Isaiah 1:2-4).

To the Church of God in Rome, Paul summarized the problem of all humanity: God is not in the knowledge base of the world. Notice, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:18-21).

Paul is clearly saying that the true knowledge of the Creator was available to generations past and was rejected, "suppressed," through unrighteous conduct. God made Himself known, not just to Israel, but also to other nations in unmistakable ways.

Because true knowledge of God was not accepted, "...God gave them over to a debased mind to do those things which are not fitting" (verse 28).

Man has not wanted God, His laws or His ways to be the governing rule of life. Historically, this hatred has been laid upon the Jews, a remnant of ancient Israel that has retained its ethnic identity. The Bible is clear in showing this rebellion will continue until the end of the age when Christ will intervene with the dramatic scenes foretold in Revelation.

Sadly, the prophecies show that the age-long hatred of God will not easily be reversed. To turn people from their sins, symbolic bowls of God's wrath will be poured out on the earth, including intense heat from the sun, which will scorch men with fire. "And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory" (Revelation 16:9). Even after additional plagues, men will "not repent of their deeds" (verse 11).

It will take the final appearance of Jesus Christ to break the pride of human will and bring human beings to their knees in repentance and acknowledgement of their Creator.

Behind the dark shadow of anti-Semitism in Europe lies a fundamental hatred of God and His way. Those who seek to keep "the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17) should watch and take heed. That which happens to the Jew first can happen to others. WNP