In the spring of 2001 Jews for Jesus released a documentary entitled Survivor Stories,” featuring the testimonials of seven Holocaust survivors who now believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The documentary met with acclaim (winning several film awards), as well as harsh criticism from Jewish community leaders. One influential New York Jewish publication, “The Forward,” acknowledged, “The tactic [release of Survivor Stories] suggests that the organization [Jews for Jesus] has a finger on the pulse of the American Jewish community.” The article cited recent surveys suggesting that remembering the holocaust and fighting anti-Semitism are easily the most significant components of American Jewish identity. For most, these factors far outweigh attending synagogue services or observing Jewish holidays.
So as we approach “Yom HaShoah,” (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on April 18, please understand its significance for your Jewish neighbors and friends.
Through the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” the public has a new awareness of just how frightened many Jewish people are of anti-Semitism. Many Christians who saw the film concluded that it was not the least bit anti-Semitic. As a result, some may falsely conclude that the Jewish community had no basis for fear, or that anti-Semitism is not a problem for Christians to concern themselves with today.
We need today’s Christians to understand that passion plays throughout the ages consistently portrayed the Jewish people in a very ugly light that fomented violent anti-Semitic outbursts throughout Europe—and even here in the United States. I don’t say that to condemn Gibson’s film or any other attempt to portray the gospel events, but rather to explain the reaction. An old proverb says that a cat once scalded will fear water, no matter what the temperature. That is certainly the case with the events that have sparked anti-Semitism. And the greatest fear of all is that the horrors of the Holocaust will be repeated.
It is hard for some to believe that recent history could produce an event of the magnitude of the Holocaust—yet for those whose relatives were slaughtered the Holocaust continues to be a ghastly reminder that as long as anti-Semitism is allowed to flourish, we will never be safe in the world. Never.
Some see the Holocaust as a distant memory, an aberration of history that could never be repeated. Hitler is dead. Nazism is completely discredited. Those who feel that way may view Yom Ha-Shoah as a self-pitying preoccupation with the past. And that in itself gives cause for alarm, because a growing number of people either minimize the horror of the Holocaust or insist it never happened. That kind of denial creates a perfect environment for history to repeat itself.
Ugly seeds of anti-Semitism were sown in many places and cultures over a long period of time before they yielded the horrible fruit of the Nazi Holocaust. Many such seeds remain, some dormant, some growing, especially in Europe—the soil where they once fared so well. Just last month the European Union released the preliminary results of a study entitled “Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the EU 2002-2003,” by the EU Monitoring Centre for Xenophobia and Racism (EUMC). The report’s 22-page summary notes a marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. This increase in anti-Semitism has been linked directly to the intifadah, the Palestinian uprising that began in September of 2000.
The EU report reveals what European media have downplayed—that the majority of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have been committed by young Muslims of North African descent. The Middle East crisis has given cover for a “new” anti-Semitism. It cloaks itself in today’s political rhetoric, yet it leads to the same conclusions as the old anti-Semitism, including denying Israel’s right to exist by denying her right to defend herself. This anti-Semitism is fueled by a radical Islamic propaganda machine, whereby Israel becomes the scapegoat for the Middle East and, indeed, the rest of the world. When Israel is thus demonized in the media, hatred and violence against her are justified by the insidious notion that those attacking her are simply victims who have no choice. Jews worldwide experience the contempt that the media, influenced by Islamic propaganda, expresses towards Israel and her policies. It is a political cloak for hatred of Jews.
Even in the U.S. a climate exists where anti-Semitic remarks and attitudes often go unchallenged. For example, the media reports Iraqi insurgents’ claims that they are “fighting the Jews first and the Americans second.” I’ve heard no outcry in response to these claims; no one seems willing to condemn this virulent anti-Semitism. Jewish people see those who hate us treated with kid gloves and are more aware than ever of the precarious position we find ourselves in today. As we remember the Holocaust this month, it would be dangerous to think such a thing could never happen again.
Christians have the “inside scoop” needed to recognize the spiritual dynamic in the rise of anti-Semitism. Hatred of the Jews is not merely some political or social phenomenon. It is a vile, satanically inspired evil that springs from the fact that God has staked His reputation on the perpetuity of the Jewish people. The prophet Samuel, in addressing Israel said: “For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you His people (1Samuel 12:22). Going back even further, all the way to the Abrahamic covenant, God promised, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis12:3).
God’s covenant love for the nation of Israel has made Jewish people the eternal object of the devil’s wrath. In the 20th century that wrath was expressed most clearly through Hitler’s diabolical mass murders. In the 21st century the same evil expresses itself through Islamic hatred of the Jews.
Would America allow Israel and the Jews to become scapegoats once again in order to deflect the antagonism of the Muslim world? Might we ever see our policy toward Israel affected by how it will play in the Arab world? Friends, to some extent we have already seen just that. Even worse, I have sensed a subtle shift in American Christian attitudes toward Jewish people in recent months. Some sectors of the Church are being influenced by anti-Jewish propaganda. I’m not talking about a reasonable compassion for the many Palestinians who are caught in the middle of a conflict against their wishes. I’m talking about those who allow compassion (or in some cases, ignorance) to become a point of manipulation, so that they become polarized against the Jewish people.
I believe that God’s blessing has rested on this country, in part, because of how we have treated Jewish people here and around the world. God’s promise to bless those who bless the Jewish people has not expired. Let’s pray that neither our leaders nor our lay people will trade that blessing for political expediency.
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, I know that most who read our publications have a genuine love for Israel and the Jewish people. We Jews for Jesus thank you for having the courage to stand by Israel and love the Jewish people at a time when it is unpopular to do so. I encourage you to take the occasion of Yom HaShoah to convey to your Jewish friends and neighbors your love and commitment to stand with them against anti-Semitism and to explain to them that your commitment is based on your understanding of God’s love and His eternal promises. That will mean a whole lot to your Jewish friends. It will also go a long way toward building the kind of relationships where meaningful spiritual discussions can take place. If you haven’t yet seen “Survivor Stories” (mentioned at the beginning of this article), now would be a good time to witness these amazing testimonies. The next time someone mentions the Holocaust, you may have the opportunity to invite them to view those testimonies with you, now available on DVD and VHS. If interested go to our bookstore.
“Survivor Stories” is a powerful reminder of how God’s loves for His people can break through even the darkest circumstance.
None of us can give a pat answer to the anguished questions people ask concerning the Holocaust. But we can stand with people as they grieve over this tragedy. And we can share the love of God that promises not mere survival, but ultimately a bright future for Israel under the rule of her King Messiah.