As Israel honored her Holocaust martyrs and heroes on Yom HaShoah in April, the media reported that there is an upsurge in violence against Jews all over the world. Indeed Jews in Norway and France have been advised not to walk on the streets wearing symbols that may identify them as Jewish. Anti-Semitism is not a new arrival on the world scene. It has a history that goes back thousands of years. Many people appear to simply hate Jews and they will latch onto anything to justify this hatred. Even the attack on the Twin Towers in New York is still blamed on the Jews, despite the fact that bin Laden and his gang of thugs have laughingly confessed to the crime!
So what lies at the bottom of anti-Semitism? Or to put it another way, what are its root? To be sure this question has occupied the minds of scholars for centuries and I would not be so arrogant as to presume that I could fully answer it in this short space. However, having said that, the following are some thoughts on the subject that arise from the Bible.
- The reality of evil: We live in a world today that generally seeks to discount and ignore evil. Past generations, being more impacted by the Judeo/Christian ethic, had no such problem. Evil was a reality and was defined as that which contradicts the demands of a holy, loving and righteous God. The more one contradicts the 'values of God' as revealed in Scripture, the more evil one becomes. It was this challenge that was put to the newly created man and woman in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-17).
- The fall of humankind: The third chapter of Genesis records man’s rebellion against God and with this rebellion the entry of evil into the hearts of all men and women, and thus by implication into the world. Thus it is no surprise that thereafter murder, lying, cheating and conflict became the norm in terms of the human experience. It remains so today, as the tragic events at Virginia Tech University have just demonstrated. Evil is everywhere and clutches at every heart. God warned Cain about this and exhorted him to deal with it (Genesis 4:4-7). Paul the Apostle referred to its reality by stating that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory (character) of God.” (Romans 3:23)
- The demonic realm: Though for some it is hard to understand, the Bible acknowledges the existence of the devil and his dark hoards throughout both testaments. The devil was himself in the Garden, inducing Adam and Eve to rebel against God and embrace evil. The decision was wholly theirs; the devil merely provided the opportunity for choice. In the end, Adam chose evil over good and, as a consequence, made himself a willing ally of Satan meaning "the adversary." In some ways, the same drama is being played out from generation to generation. Not all that is perceived as evil originates with mankind. There are unseen powers seeking by every means possible to gather converts from the human race.
Once these converts have been gleaned, they are ready to further the deeds of evil and thereby to resist the purposes of God. Crucial to this purpose of God is the nation of Israel. To therefore discount the existence of the devil is to make a devilish mistake! If you don’t believe that he exists, you will never be able to fully identify the horrors of evil and of anti-Semitism. Herein lays the message of that amazing Book of the Bible called Job! (Job 1:6-12)
- The redemptive initiative: In Genesis 12, we have recorded God’s move towards this fallen world. We did not look for Him, He came looking for us! He did this by approaching a Sumerian called Abram, who later 'crossed over' into Canaan and thus became the first Hebrew, today's Jews. This is the 'dawn of world redemption' and Israel is at the heart of it. Redemption is that process whereby God buys back humanity from all that is wicked and evil. Israel is the 'vehicle' of world redemption or the 'delivery mechanism.' She is the means by which God will make Himself known to an evil world and reach out to it. For this reason Jesus said, “Salvation is of the Jews,” (John 4:22) and Paul maintained that Israel’s uniqueness lies in two things: One, she is the custodian of the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2), and two, the 'house' out of which the great redemptive acts of God for the sake of the world have arisen (Romans 9:1-5).
This reality, that no other nation lives in, has made the Jewish people the target of all that is evil and wicked kill the Jew and you will kill God and His purpose in the world! This is the dark sinister plan that lurks in the heart of men and that drives the powers of darkness. It has manifested throughout history, finding its most diabolical expression in the Holocaust.
John saw this phenomenon on the isle of Patmos when he received The Revelation. In chapter twelve of this “unveiling,” he sees a woman clothed with the sun, moon and 12 stars. She is pregnant but challenged. That is, opposing her is a red dragon who seeks by all means possible to destroy her. The dragon is identified as the devil!
The imagery here is taken from Genesis 37, where Joseph had a dream in which his father, mother and eleven brothers are presented as the sun, moon and twelve stars (including himself). So, the message is clear; the woman is Israel! She is pregnant because she births God’s redeeming purpose into the world. In fulfilling this role, she has to endure the wrath of all that is evil. This is the root of anti-Semitism.
- The human factor: The fact that the Scriptures acknowledge a demonic reality in no way gives humankind an excuse for the role that it plays in the manifestation of anti-Semitism. The human heart is a citadel of decision making and thinking. It therefore is entirely responsible for its actions. This means that it willingly entertains evil, embraces it and pursues its goals. There is no excuse for anti-Semitism. Haman, of Esther’s time, was held accountable by God and paid the price, and so have all the other anti-Semites of history. This will also be true of the future. Again I say, there is no excuse!
Today anti-Semitism has become anti-Israelism. In much of the Middle East, Hitler and the Third Reich remain admired, and Mein Kampf and the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion are still freely available. Cartoons depict Jews in much the same way as the Nazis did and the Holocaust is denied. Aspects of the liberal left are now also embracing these ideas, demonstrating yet again that education or intellectual ability is no defense against this evil. The Nazi elite who planned the extermination of the Jews of Europe at the Villa Wannsee near Berlin in January 1942 were all highly educated people. Some of them were doctors of law and theologians!
Truth that is the liberating truth of God’s Word is the only real weapon against this evil, for it leads to repentance and redemption.
Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.