In a recent exhaustive study of anti-Semitism, the German scholar Clemens Heni explains the significance for Christian theology of the story of Ahasver, a Jewish shoemaker in Jerusalem who, legend has it, refused Jesus a resting place as he made his way to Golgotha bearing the cross on his back. Ahasver’s punishment, says Heni, was to wander the world for eternity, an image that formed the basis for what the Nazis famously called “der ewige Jude”- “the eternal Jew.”
“The attribute ‘eternal’ cries out for redemption,” writes Heni. “For Christianity, it embodies the refusal on the part of the Jewish people to accept the coming of Jesus as the Son of God.” Of course, as Heni points out, this was a particularly strong theme throughout the Middle Ages. What’s notable, though, is that this same noxious depiction of the Jews is enjoying a new lease of life in certain sections of the Church today.
At the beginning of May, the Church of Scotland published a document called “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land.'” Doing what I do, I spend a great deal of time reviewing anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic literature, and I like to think that I am passed being shocked. Reading the Church of Scotland report, was, therefore, something of a rude awakening. So immersed is the text in anti-Semitic clichÃ©s and malicious distortions of Jewish theology that I wondered whether I had been transported back to a time when people didn’t wash or brush their teeth, had a lifespan of 30 years or so, and spent their time on this earth living in fear of Jewish devils.
Clearly, the Church of Scotland didn’t expect its report to be greeted by a chorus of dismay, led by the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, Daniel Taub. Only a few days after its publication, the report was removed from the church’s website, amid reassurances that, in the words of the anti-Israel newspaper the Guardian, “the church has never challenged the right of Israel to exist.”
Anyone who has read the report knows that’s nonsense. The Church of Scotland didn’t challenge just Israel’s right to exist, but the legitimacy of Judaism as well!
Much more than a perfunctory apology for causing offense is needed. If the church wants to declare that its war on Judaism is over, it must ditch the report in its entirety and cut ties with Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian institute whose mission is to attack both Zionism and Judaism, and whose poisonous ideology was cited by the church’s report.
The purpose of the report was to dismiss the claim that the “Hebrew Bible” – heaven forbid that these people should use terms like Torah or Tanach! – provides grounds for a privileged connection between the Jewish people and the “Promised Land,” which we Jews sinfully refer to as “Eretz Israel.” What follows is a frontal assault on Jewish “exclusivism” that deploys the tired old trick of citing a Jew – in this case, Mark Braverman, an arch opponent of Zionism – in order to protect the text from accusations of anti-Semitism.
But anti-Semitic it most definitely is. Some choice excerpts:
“Braverman is adamant that Christians must not sacrifice the universalist, inclusive dimension of Christianity and revert to the particular exclusivism of the Jewish faith because we feel guilty about the Holocaust. He is equally clear that the Jewish people have to repent of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. They must be challenged, too, to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special, and recognise that the present immoral, unjust treatment of Palestinian people is unsustainable.”
“As long as Zionists think that Jewish people are serving God’s special purpose and that abuses by the state of Israel, however wrong and regrettable, don’t invalidate the Zionist project, they will believe themselves more entitled to the land than the Palestinian people.”
“Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism, but the people of Nazareth were not ready for it…. Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple means not just that the Temple needs to be reformed, but that the Temple is finished.”
Let’s translate the above lines minus the academic, ostensibly reasonable tone in which they are couched: “Jews! Stop whining about the Holocaust. Stop making us feel guilty about the Holocaust. Repent, every single one of you, for the evil you have committed against the Palestinians. And, oh yeah, enough of the ‘Chosen People’ thing – you people are so arrogant, no wonder nobody likes you. Even Jesus himself ran out of patience with you…”
The moral crime committed by the Church of Scotland – and I use that phrase deliberately – is rooted not just in the trashing of centuries of Jewish learning and scholarship, nor the wholesale fabrication of a Jewish “crime” in the form of the “ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinians. More than all of that, this report is a declaration of war against Judaism itself. If the “Temple is finished,” then the only form of Judaism that is acceptable is the one subscribed to by collaborators like Mark Braverman, who want us to adopt an eternal posture of repentance and shame.
Sabeel, the Palestinian Christian institute whose ideology is reflected by the report, makes no distinction between Zionism and Judaism; just as the ideologues of the now dead Soviet Union insisted there was no difference between the two, so do these radical Christians. And to add grievous insult to heinous injury, Sabeel, as the Israeli organization NGO Monitor repeatedly has pointed out, receives funding from the governments, and thus the taxpayers, of countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, and Canada, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The consequences of all this are clear, at least to my mind. To posit that Jews might engage in constructive dialogue with the Sabeels of this world is utterly ludicrous. They want to destroy us, and their war is a zero-sum game. Our response should be equally harsh: we must seek to destroy them.
That means confronting and exposing them every time they raise their heads, whether in the comments section of a blog or at a student meeting on a college campus. It means highlighting their ideological support for the terrorism that targets Jews solely because they are Jews – when it comes to Sabeel’s worldview, an outrage like last year’s massacre at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse logically should be regarded as the natural result of Jewish crimes that go back to the time of Jesus.
Above all, it means targeting their funding sources. And rather than just arguing for funding to be cut, let’s approach that aim more imaginatively. Approximately 100 million Christians today, most of them in Muslim countries, live with persecution of the most grotesque kind: pastors are locked up in Iran, churches are bombed in Nigeria, Copts are ethnically cleansed-yes! -in Egypt. The money that would be otherwise squandered on the irredeemable anti-Semites of Sabeel, along with their global echo chamber, should be transferred into a global fund to help the persecuted Church.
In both the Jewish and Christian traditions, such an act would be regarded as both charitable and just. jns.org