It came as a shock, but it came as no surprise.
Following the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie, a Muslim terrorist stormed a kosher supermarket in Paris and assassinated four Jewish shoppers.1 The attack was just the latest in a series of recent anti-Jewish hate crimes that included the slaying of children at a Jewish school in Toulouse2 and the murder of four visitors to the Jewish Museum in Brussels.3 In a chilling echo from the past, protestors at demonstrations in Germany were heard to chant, “Gas the Jews,” during last summer’s conflict in Gaza.4
In 2014, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a report on the degree to which a given country’s population harbored anti-Semitic attitudes. In Western and Central Europe, the populations with the highest percentages were Poland (45% of the population); Hungary (41%); France (37%), Austria (28%), and Germany (27%).5
Why the persistent hatred of us Jews? In his book, “Constantine’s Sword,” James Carroll, a former Catholic priest, states that much if not most of the blame can be traced to the legacy of anti-Jewish teachings in the Church. Carrol states that Christian denigration of the Jews has been “the source of anti-Semitism” for the past nineteen hundred years.6
But to lay the blame entirely upon “Christendom” is too simplistic. Attempts to annihilate us pre-date the Christian era by at least 1400 years, when the Egyptian Pharaoh ordered all Jewish infant males to be drowned. And the present-day anti-Semitism of Muslim extremists isn’t rooted in any form of Christianity, but in nationalism and in Islamic Jihad.
So how do we make sense of anti-Semitism? Where do we find the root?
The Politics of Persecution: An Ugly Parade
Pharaoh’s motive for persecuting us is clearly stated in the book of Exodus. In the interest of national security, he enslaved us and sought to control our population by drowning our infant sons in the Nile. Slave labor and systematic annihilation—clearly, a harbinger of the Final Solution, long before Christianity came upon the scene.
Haman’s efforts to destroy us in the 5th century B.C., as recorded in the book of Esther, came about because Haman took offense when Mordecai refused to bow down! Antiochus Epiphanes IV forbade circumcision, desecrated the Temple with the sacrifice of swine (168 B.C.), and had Jews killed who didn’t conform to Greek ways. And Rome’s barbarity—both in 68 to 70 A.D., and during the second-century Bar Kochba revolt—simply fit her response to any subjugated people that dared to rise up against Roman rule.
Then things got worse. In the fourth century, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Connection to the Jewish origins of the faith was not just uprooted; it was lost. Anything “Jewish” was viewed as a rival to the official faith.
Enter the cry, “The Jews Killed Christ!”
By the time we come to the early Middle Ages, Judaism is viewed as the foil to Christianity, and “the Jews” are held uniquely responsible for Jesus’s death. Over the centuries, from papal edicts, to the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the blood libels and the pogroms – the charge of deicide underscores much of what takes place.
There’s a grotesque paradox in all of this. Hatred of the Jewish people stands in stark defiance to what Yeshua (Jesus) taught, to what Jesus did, and to how Jesus felt—and still feels— toward his Jewish people today.
There’s a grotesque contradiction as well. The charge of deicide directed against us Jews betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the gospel message. At the heart of that message is the conviction that every person, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, is personally responsible for Messiah’s death. To call Jesus your Savior is to acknowledge that he paid for your sins, including the sin of putting him on the cross. A failure to understand that truth reveals a failure to grasp the meaning of his execution.
In light of that, you could argue that the presence of anti-Semitism in the Church is a gauge of how inaccurately and ineffectively the genuine gospel message was ever proclaimed and received. Were “Christians” who committed acts of anti-Semitism genuine believers? The very nature of their acts calls into serious question the sincerity or orthodoxy of their faith.
The New Face of Ant-Semitism
The nineteenth century saw the introduction of a philosophy called “Social Darwinism,” which argued that Darwin’s law of natural selection could be applied to the social realm as well. Proponents of the philosophy used the phrase “survival of the fittest” to explain why certain social structures, cultures and races would rise above others. A by-product of this philosophy was an allegedly scientific belief in the supremacy of the Aryan culture and race. The term “anti-Semite” first appeared at this time, and as the name suggests, antipathy toward us Jews became a matter of race.7 This racial anti-Semitism found a home in the National Socialism of the Third Reich.
If we’re going to understand the root of anti-Semitism, then an important distinction needs to be made at this point. We make a serious mistake when we think that Nazi anti-Semitism was simply a continuation of a medieval church-based hostility toward us Jews. Yes, the Nazis played heavily upon religious hatred ingrained so strongly in segments of European culture. But according to Nazi ideology, Jews, along with Poles and Slavs, were members of an “inferior” species. Our existence posed a contaminating threat to the purity of the Aryan race. As such, the threat of contamination had to be removed and destroyed.
We should note another important difference between the anti-Semitism of church doctrine and the anti-Semitism of Nazi ideology. Carrol explains, “Christianity’s self-awareness depended upon the continuing existence of the Jewish people as the negative other against which positive Christian claims were made.”8 But whereas “Christian” anti-Semites acknowledged the need for our continued existence, albeit as the enemy, the Nazis sought our annihilation.
From Arafat to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to ISIS
In more recent times, anti-Semitism has become the fundamental ideology of the Muslim and Arab world. After 9/11, conspiracy theorists claimed the attack on the Twin Towers was the work of Israelis and Jews. “Never in the history of the Jewish people has one terrible lie about ‘Jewish control’ spread so quickly and with such power, captivating not only those on the extreme fringe but the educated elite, particularly in the Muslim and Arab world,’ said ADL National Director Abe Foxman.9
The call for our annihilation is now back with cries for Israel to be “driven into the sea,” and “wiped off the face of the earth.” Some argue that the wave of violence arising in many European cities is simply a protest against Israel’s policies toward her Palestinian neighbors and citizens. The outcry is not anti-Semitic, the argument goes, but anti-Zionist. But during the Gaza conflict in 2014, the chants of the crowds at demonstrations in Germany and France were not directed against “Zionists” but against “the Jews.”
Finding the Root
So what are we to make of all of this? Where does the root of anti-Semitism really lie?
To find answers, we have to deal with the fact that anti-Semitism is not just a sociological ill; it’s a spiritual evil. Are we uneasy with talking about spiritual concepts like “good and evil?” We shouldn’t be. The extremity of the crimes committed against us throughout our entire history should awaken us to the fact that something more than human hatred is at work. The atrocities of the Holocaust were not just “wrong.” They were evil.
King David understood the spiritual dimension beneath the military and geo-political battles that he fought.
“Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed [Messiah].…Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way” (Psalm 2:1–2, 10–12).
Ultimately, anti-Semitism is rooted in an evil attempt to thwart God’s plans to bring an estranged and hostile world back to Himself. At the heart of God’s plan is the Anointed, or Messiah—a Jewish Messiah—whom David mentions in his psalm. Messiah will offer his life as a payment for all of our sins, and his subsequent resurrection provides the proof that the debt we owe has been paid. That payment becomes our own when we cease our “uproar” against God and willingly surrender to His rule—when we “do homage to the Son.”
Central to the outworking of that plan is the existence of the Jewish people, because it’s through us Jews that God chose to bring forth the Scriptures, the Messiah, and the message of God’s offer of peace. We Jews were chosen or called to carry that offer of peace to all the nations of the earth: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5–6)
The Jewish people have always had opponents, because God’s plans have always had an opponent, one whom the Scriptures call the adversary. Had that adversary succeeded in destroying us before Yeshua’s coming, there would have been no birth, death and resurrection of the Messiah. If the adversary can destroy us now, then the message won’t go forth from our lips, and Yeshua won’t come back, because it must be a repentant Israel that calls for his return with the words, “Baruch haba b’Shem Adonai,” — “Blessed is he who comes in the same of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26; Matthew 23:39)
Throughout history, God’s adversary has motivated men and women to attack God’s plans, and the target of the attack has always been us Jews.
But before we try to take any solace in our persecution or in the knowledge that we occupy a central position in the outworking of God’s plans, we need to take a candid look at ourselves. Though we’ve been victims throughout our history, we’re not innocent victims. We Jews, like everyone else, are guilty of turning from the Lord and from His Anointed. The prophet Isaiah explained: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
The question facing us is this. “Will we turn to God? Will we repent and, as King David counseled in Psalm 2, “do homage to the Son”?
Getting at the Root
Will anti-Semitism ever be rooted out? Not by us. By the Lord. David declared in Psalm 22, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee” (Psalm 22:27).
The unity that God promises between the nations will be achieved through our mutual repentance and submission to the Son of Psalm 2. In the meantime, we have the certainty of knowing that as a people, we Jews will survive because of God’s promises and because of God’s plans: “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10).
Our national preservation is guaranteed, and the fulfillment of our call—to proclaim the Messiah’s name to the ends of the earth—is assured. But what about our personal security? David could confidently assert, “The Lord is the light of my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1). In the same way, Paul, a first-century Jewish follower of Yeshua, knew that whether in life or in death, he was secure: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).
David’s and Paul’s confidence was rooted in their faith in the Anointed One of Psalm 2.
1 Atika Shubert and Nick Thompson, “Charlie Hebdo attacks: Families lay kosher store victims to rest in Jerusalem,” CNN, January 13, 2014
2 Nick Schifin and Christophe Schpoliansky, “Gun in French School Shooting linked to Prior Attacks,” ABC News, March 19, 2012
3 Scott Sayare, “Survivor of Attack on Jewish Museum in Brussels Dies,” The New York Times, June 6, 2014
4 Marie Tessier, “Readers Respond: On European Anti-Semitism,” The New York Times, August 22, 2014
7 Michael Berenbaum, “Anti-Semitism,” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 11, 2014
Avi Snyder is a veteran missionary and director of the European work of Jews for Jesus. He pioneered Jews for Jesus’ ministry in the former Soviet Union, before launching works in both Germany and Hungary. He will share with you what is happening in Jewish evangelism in Russia and Eastern Europe. Avi received his theological training at Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Ruth, have three grown children, Leah, Joel and Liz.